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Work begins on new border highway, but bridge still needs approval

WINDSOR, Ont. - Construction began in earnest in November on the new $1.4-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway, or as the rest of the province will know it, the continuation of Hwy. 401 to the border with Detroit.


WINDSOR, Ont. – Construction began in earnest in November on the new $1.4-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway, or as the rest of the province will know it, the continuation of Hwy. 401 to the border with Detroit.

A great swath of clear-cut muddy land, with piles of timber, black canvas snake fencing (to literally prevent snakes from entering the site), and construction crews with excavators, are now fully engaged along the 11-km route.

Up to now, truckers entering the city on their way to the existing Ambassador Bridge may have wondered why so much of the property alongside Talbot Rd. and Huron Church Rd. (Hwy. 3) seemed forlorn with abandoned buildings.

Now it is becoming evident that a major new roadway, which the province has called “the most significant, single highway investment in Ontario’s history,” is well under construction with completion set for 2014.

Over the next several months and years, Parkway officials say that, despite the enormity of the project, there should be no interruption in traffic along the current border route. Two lanes will be maintained in each direction. But traffic could be reduced to one lane during late night hours. Cindy Prince, spokeswoman for Parkway Infrastructure Constructors (PIC), which is overseeing construction, says managing traffic “may be the most challenging part of this project.”

In fact, not only is a new six-lane controlled access, mostly sunken freeway being built, but the current road from the end of Hwy. 401 to the E. C. Row Expressway – a couple of kilometres from the Ambassador Bridge – will be replaced by an entirely new four-lane highway.

Next up will be the construction of temporary diversion roads around various bridge and tunnel projects. Prince likens these to “an artery bypass” – slight loops that will be “the same standard of the existing road.”

Once completed, the new four-lane service road will have access limited to several intersections, as opposed to the various private driveways and municipal roads that intersect the current route. But there will still be access north of the E.C. Row for vehicles to enter the central city as well as the existing Ambassador Bridge.

A few cynics have dubbed the new Parkway the “road to nowhere.” That’s because it’s being constructed with no agreement in place to build a connecting bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

The bridge has the backing of Ottawa and Ontario as well as the US government. The one stumbling block is Michigan. The state Senate has held up a bill to approve funding for the project. After months of deliberations – including whether to proceed with a $550-million upfront offer from Canada to kick-start the project – a Senate committee defeated the bill in October.

While Senate Republicans were skeptical that taxpayers would not be on the hook for bridge costs, Democrats abstained from the vote because they said the project did not guarantee sufficient community benefits.

That seems to have brought the effort to build the bridge – known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) or, in Michigan, the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) – to a halt.

But within weeks Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican and champion of the project, told an international relations conference in Ottawa he would press forward, expecting to get the project underway in “months, not years.”

Ontario Trucking Association senior vice-president Stephen Laskowski also remains optimistic. He expects the project to go forward, saying supporters outnumber opponents and that “reason and common sense will eventually prevail.”

Meanwhile the owners of the Ambassador Bridge continue to pursue their own vision for a new six-lane span. They have been waging a public relations campaign against the DRIC/NITC bridge. This has included a $5-million TV ad campaign arguing the company could build a new bridge at no cost to taxpayers.

The company has been accused of buying support of local, state and federal politicians through as much as $1.8 million in political campaign contributions. But at a public forum in late November, Ambassador president Dan Stamper said this was perfectly legal. “The investment of our private money in the political system is something we are proud of,” he said.

But the company, which has already built access ramps to the proposed new structure, has been stymied by Canadian and US regulatory authorities over issues related to property acquisition, zoning and environmental safeguards.

On another matter, in January, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Maroun could face jail time at a sentencing hearing after his company was found in contempt of a Detroit judge’s order to complete its share of construction of the $230-million Gateway project, a reconfiguration of the existing bridge plaza, including a new truck ramp, to Interstates 75 and 96.

Currently, trucks, after clearing Customs, are awkwardly directed onto congested Fort Street before heading to freeways.


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