Are we finally getting close to a decision on Windsor?
For years I have been relaying the anecdote I heard from a trucker that goes: “You can take a truck from Toronto to Miami and you’ll go through 15 stop lights – and 14 of them are in Windsor.”
It has since been borrowed by just about anyone else with an interest in this matter. I have called the situation in Windsor – where the last nine kilometres to the world’s major border crossing is on a municipal road – a national embarrassment for a country that is so reliant upon trade. (Not to mention an intolerable situation for local residents.)
The tragic events of September 11 and the resulting border tie-ups brought the issue to the public’s consciousness. When that happened, the politicians got interested.
Remember in September 2002 when Jean Chretien and Ernie Eves went to Windsor and announced a joint $300 million package to provide short-term relief for the congestion on the approach to the Windsor-Detroit border? We were told at the time that this was a matter of vital and urgent national and provincial interest. A joint committee of federal and provincial bureaucrats was given 60 days to come up with a recommended solution.
At the time of writing, rumors were rampant that the Ontario and federal governments may finally be close to finalizing an agreement. If indeed an agreement has been reached or is pending, this is certainly welcome news. However, we appeared to have been close before, only to learn that one or the other level of government was being the stick in the mud, or that the decision was being paralyzed by local politics.
This issue is of paramount importance, not only to Ontario’s trucking industry but also to Ontario’s economy as a whole. In fact, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has identified the Windsor border situation as one of the biggest problems for Ontario businesses.
It is therefore extremely important to us that both levels of government move in a concerted and decisive way to address the extremely dysfunctional situation in Windsor.
There were three principal proposals for resolving the Windsor situation in the medium-term: one from the Ambassador Bridge; one from the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership; and one from the joint federal-provincial committee.
OTA’s position from the outset has been not to support one of the Ambassador Bridge or DRTP proposals over the other. Both have merit in our view. All we are interested in is improving the flow of trade across the U.S. border and minimizing the disruption to the Windsor community from the truck traffic carrying that trade. And we have always felt that a case could be made that both are needed. We realize that the bi-national process (which may lead to a second bridge) will take at least 10 more years, and much more likely 15 to 20 before anything is actually built.
When the joint committee’s report was made public late last year, it seemed to balance the competing plans by providing basic infrastructure improvements that would facilitate all of the proposed border crossing schemes proceeding. By creating the link to EC Rowe/Huron Church/HWY 3 intersection, we hoped the Ambassador Bridge could proceed with its plan. DRTP indicated that if the government could provide the truck route to the EC Rowe/CN rail line intersection the project could proceed. It was also apparent that the joint committee’s plan would facilitate the eventual consideration of a second bridge to the west of the Ambassador Bridge.
We believe there would be significant benefit from the Ambassador Bridge proposal and the DRTP proposal moving forward on a parallel track.
It would create a competitive alternative to the bridge which, from a consumer/user point of view, is a good thing.
And should one of the crossings be shut down or have its capacity reduced either because of security concerns or regular maintenance, the availability of another Windsor route would be very beneficial.
Clearly, the concerns of Windsor residents are also very important. We understand that in order to secure support from the City of Windsor, the Lauzon Parkway extension/EC Rowe expansion scheme may end up being added to the final package. No doubt that will be helpful in terms of local development. But that development is also likely to increase the number of trucks choosing the Lauzon Parkway/EC Rowe route over the 401/HWY 3 route.
However, if the improvements to the HWY 3/Huron Church corridor (which we also understand are part of the package now) are sufficient to allow the relatively free flow of trucks from Highway 401 up to EC Rowe, then perhaps this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Let’s hope that by the time the next edition of Truck News comes out, we actually have a solution.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
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