BREAKING NEWS: Ambassador twinning, DRTP don’t make list for next crossing; Binational backs new bridge

by Passenger Service: State troopers ride-along with truckers in crash study

WINDSOR, Ont. — A bi-national task force in charge of choosing the next border crossing across the Detroit River has knocked two of the three leading proposals off its list — although officials from both projects say they may proceed without government support.

The Border Transportation Partnership — a joint group made up of local and federal government and transport officials on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit border — says it has decided to concentrate “future study of a new border crossing and inspection plazas to the industrial area of West Windsor.

“This area extends north generally from Broadway Boulevard to the vicinity of Brock St. on the Canadian side, and a corresponding area on the U.S. side extending upriver from Zug Island to just south of the Ambassador Bridge.”

The Study’s location for a new bridge
coincides with where Windsor wants it too

That means that the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership’s Jobs Tunnel project — which would have converted the existing rail tunnel into a truck corridor — and the Ambassador Bridge owner’s plan to twin the existing span are no longer in contention for government support.

“The capacity provided by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership’s two-lane truckway proposal was determined to be inadequate to serve the long-term needs,” today’s report states.

“Twinning the existing Ambassador Bridge was determined to not be practical based on the community impacts of the proposed plaza and access road in Canada … The Partnership will continue to explore the U.S. Customs plaza area of the Ambassador Bridge to connect to a potential customs plaza on the Canadian side in the remaining area of continued analysis.”

An official final announcement is still slated for 2007, but with those two proposals scratched off the list, the binational Partnership has effectively given the green light to other interests that have been pushing for an entirely new crossing in southwest Windsor and Detroit.

The Mich-Can group, authors of the third major plan, wanted a new bridge built in an industrial sector a few kilometers west of the Ambassador. However, that plan was dependant on a new Hwy. 401 link to E.C. Row Expressway and expansion of the highway — a plan the Partnership all but ruled out as well.

That leaves some suggestion that a similar plan designed by New York traffic expert Sam Schwartz, and endorsed by Windsor City Council, is today’s big winner. That plan also proposes a new crossing, but is based on a $300 million “horseshoe” bypass, which would lead trucks off Huron Church en route to the new bridge via Talbot Rd. to Ojibway Parkway.

Mayor Eddie Francis says Schwartz’s plan to take trucks
off Huron Church moved closer to reality

It’s clear that the DRTP anticipated this announcement. In an exclusive interview with last week, Marge Byington, government affairs director for the DRTP team, said that inside sources had told her the process for selecting a new crossing had been hijacked by special interests strongly opposed to the Jobs Tunnel.

“We have heard from inside sources that the process has turned completely political,” she said. “And because of that we really believe that the process has lost its transparency.”

In an interview with this afternoon, Byington said despite today’s announcement, she isn’t ready to put the Jobs Tunnel project to rest just yet. “We’re absolutely not closing the door,” she said. “This is a private (venture) and we could go ahead with it at any time. Fortunately we are in a position where we have very strong partners.”

The DTRP is a joint venture between Canadian Pacific Railway and Borealis Transportation Infrastructure Trust.

Skip McMahon, spokesperson for the Ambassador Bridge Co., was in meetings today and could not be reached for comment. However, he told local media in October that the company’s goal is to move forward with the twinning project regardless of what the bi-national study concludes. He also said that the company would go ahead with plans to construct a new customs “superplaza” near the Ambassador on the U.S. side.

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis agrees that the possibility of a new bridge in southwest Windsor leaped closer to reality today. “What the Bi-national has done is basically confirm that Schwartz was right in terms of the corridor,” he told this afternoon. “There’s still a lot of detail work to be done, however.”

Francis added that today’s announcement is the strongest public indication that Transport Canada is behind the concept of a new bridge near the area Schwartz recommended. Over the last year, Windsor and Ontario government officials vocally supported the plan, but the feds declined to weigh in several times for fear of prejudicing the selection process.

South-West Windsor Ratepayers Corp. lawyer and activist Ed Arditti is also applauding today’s announcement, but for different reasons than what Mayor Francis is promoting, he says. Arditti — the man behind — says he doesn’t think the Partnership endorses Schwartz’s plan at all.

Instead, he says it opens the door for the Ambassador Bridge company, whose owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun has land on both sides of the border near the proposed bridge. And like it or not, governments on both sides of the border are going to have to play ball with him. “Sure Schwartz supported the Ojibway crossing but so did everyone, including the bridge company, who have (previously) said they would go there if governments wanted them to do so,” Arditti says.

So what does the Canadian government have to say? Transport Canada spokesman Mark Butler acknowledges that the Partnership has narrowed the new trade corridor in the geographic area where Schwartz proposed a new bridge and truck route. “I think what we could say is that it’s perhaps a hybrid of the Schwartz report,” he says. “We’re looking at an industrial area to the west side of Windsor which is very close to one of the Schwartz proposals, yes.”

As for the Partnership’s commitment to continue studying the Ambassador’s U.S. Customs plaza idea, Butler reiterated that it has nothing to do with keeping the window slightly open for twinning the Ambassador in the future. “In regards to a (new bridge), the U.S. likes the concept of the bridge where the current plaza is or an expansion of where the current plaza is,” he said. “We wouldn’t (rule out) a bridge that would be on a diagonal. What we’re saying is we want to get it as close to where the U.S. wants a landing site.”

Sources tell Today’s Trucking that Moroun has several contingency plans in place no matter which specific site authorities decide on to launch a new bridge.

While a bridge landing near the Ambassador’s U.S. Customs plaza would benefit Moroun, he’s also said to be seriously interested in land directly across river from the proposed Canadian landing site. That land — which includes the former Detroit Coke plant site — is privately held by the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. One source said the land includes specifically identified easements for bridge piers and overhead rights for a bridge.

The Border Transportation Partnership will soon hold public meetings to present the technical assessment to date, and seek public and stakeholder comments on the preliminary list of practical alternatives. Public Information Open Houses are scheduled in the Windsor area during the week of November 28, 2005 and public meetings are scheduled in the Detroit area during the week of December 5, 2005.

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