WINDSOR, Ont. — The embattled Mayor of this border town once said he’d sue if he thought federal and provincial officials failed to give the city’s preferred border highway proposal a fair shake.
And he would if he could, now that the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study team has effectively dismissed Windsor’s favored GreenLink plan and declared it will go with its own solution.
In an interview with Todaystrucking.com, Eddie Francis said he was shocked to learn that DRIC didn’t include a final environmental assessment (EA) when it announced last week that it had chosen to build a six-lane, below-grade feeder highway from Highway 401 to a new proposed bridge location a few kilometers southwest of the Ambassador Bridge. (See Related Stories links below for full coverage of the announcement).
“They were supposed to do the (EA) study and announce their conclusion. They announced the conclusion with no study,” says Francis. “That’s not a normal EA process.”
“That totally blew me away because it’s going to put things a year behind schedule. So, our point was ‘what are you actually announcing here?’ They have industry thinking this a done deal and it isn’t.”
DRIC’s $1.6 billion Windsor-Essex Parkway calls for 11 short tunnels, which will provide about 2 kilometers of coverage over the Huron Church-Talbot Road corridor — up from 1.5 kilometers (25% of the route) originally proposed last year. The updated version also doubles the amount of green space along the route to 240 acres.
City Council instead wanted DRIC to approve its much-hyped GreenLink plan. That project — designed by NY traffic expert Sam Schwartz — offered to tunnel 60 percent of the route over four kilometers to better link communities and protect them from noise and vehicle emissions.
The mayor told Todaystrucking.com weeks ago that he would consider legal action if he wasn’t convinced DRIC followed its own EA mandate to properly consider the solution that best protects the health of citizens and the environment.
Though, local media reports in Windsor stating city council is threatening legal action are premature, Francis told us. Until all the details are published in the EA, there’s little the city can do. “We would be having a different conversation today if the EA was completed.”
And that would be…? “It would be about what our next step is and (if) we unwind the process. It’s an option-one we want to avoid-but an option.”
The EA will be completed by December 2008, DRIC officials said at the press conference. It will then be submitted to the Ontario Environment Ministry — which could take up to eight months to review it — and clear a number of other regulatory hurdles. So, in all likelihood, shovels may not break ground until late 2009 or even 2010.
Francis suspects DRIC’s latest announcement to increase the tunnel coverage by half a kilometer was a stunt to take some wind out the city’s pro-GreenLink campaign. By hinting that the Windsor-Essex Parkway moves closer in line with GreenLink, officials thought they could appease the latter plan’s supporters, he claims.
“Anybody that was there will tell you that it was a dog and pony show intended to quell GreenLink support.”
It’s no real surprise that DRIC eventually dismissed GreenLink. In recent months, high-ranking Ontario Liberals openly called for DRIC to officially endorse its own Parkway plan. Meanwhile, the agency itself recently questioned the cost projections for GreenLink, claiming the city’s $1.7 billion estimate is about a $1 billion short.
Francis counters that there isn’t anything wrong with the city’s peer-reviewed cost analysis, which has been public for months. “They can come out and make all the claims they want, but they have no support behind their own claims.”
The mayor suspects some politicians at Queen’s Park are fearful of setting a precedent with the more elaborate GreenLink design. “Then there’s Sarnia and Fort Erie (to consider) … But Windsor is different,” he explains. “Nowhere else across Ontario does (border traffic) slice through an urban environment because the border is 11 km away from the main highway. (Windsor) didn’t create the problem. Now it’s time to fix it.”
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