Detroit-Windsor not in need of second bridge: Ambassador advisors

DETROIT — Two consultants hired by the Ambassador Bridge Company scoffed at the suggestion another bridge is needed at the world’s busiest trade gateway and called the government study that is proposing a new crossing “flawed.”

In an article for the Detroit News, Gary Wolfram and Craig Ruff — both with Michigan-based public policy consultancy firms — wrote that their home state “should not commit precious transportation dollars to an ill-advised project.”

Consultants hired by the Ambassador bridge say capacity
doesn’t justify two crossings at this important border

Instead, the authors argue that the border region’s problems are not due to shrinking capacity at the Ambassador, but poor and outdated infrastructure on feeder routes and inspection facilities leading to the main bridge in both Detroit and Windsor. Money, therefore, should be spent on improving roads.

“There is no need to spend $3 billion of Canadian and American taxpayer money for a new bridge, plaza and roadway connections. The bottleneck in the crossing is not in span width, but in inspection facilities,” they wrote in the Detroit News. “Second, there is certainly no reason for the government to build a bridge because there are plenty of incentives for the private sector to expand the crossing if the need develops.”

Last year, the Ambassador’s parent company, the Detroit International Bridge Co., released a report contesting projections that the Ambassador would reach capacity by 2015. The bridge company stated that traffic has dropped along the U.S.-Canadian border the last few years. The number of U.S.-bound trucks fell to 6.8 million in 2003 from 7 million in 2000. In Detroit, incoming trucks dropped to 1.6 million from 1.8 million during that time. Car traffic crossing into that city also fell to 6.3 million from 8.4 million, the company said.

The authors of the Detroit News article (read the whole article by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page) follow up by saying that while the same number of commercial trucks have crossed the Detroit River between 2000 and 2004, total vehicles are down by as much as 25 percent by month over four years ago.

They cited the nearby Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia-Port Huron as a warning to officials who want to build a new crossing without solid demand.

The authors say if money is going to be spent by Windsor
and Detroit it should be on outdated feeder roads

“The three-lane Blue Water Bridge experienced backups in 1992 when its annual traffic was 6 million vehicles,” they wrote. “In 1998, the second three-lane span opened, and traffic stood at 5.2 million vehicles annually — nearly 15 percent lower than in 1992. The bridge still does not carry enough traffic to justify the second span.”

Last November, the Border Transportation Partnership — a joint group made up of local and federal government and transport officials on both sides of the border — announced that it had narrowed down its selection to a new border crossing in southwest Windsor-Detroit.

The group decided not to support the other two major proposals on the docket — 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’s plan to twin the existing span.

The Partnership’s recommendation is supported by the City of Windsor and many of its residents. The Big Three automakers, their unions, the Ontario Trucking Association, and other major shippers are also on the record as supporting the idea.

In early 2005, N.Y.-based traffic expert Sam Schwartz — a.k.a. Gridlock Sam — unveiled his own report, commissioned by Windsor Council, which also concluded a new bridge should be built in an industrial area 3 km southwest of the Ambassador. His report found that — based on freight volume patterns, demographic trends, and other data — the Ambassador would reach “an unstable zone” at about 2017, and would go beyond capacity at around 2024.

The consultants, however, lend little credibility to projections based on government or the Partnership’s estimates. “The (partnership) has a poor track record on projections. In the last three years, its models projecting demand have been overhauled twice,” they wrote. “What confidence does this give us in the project’s use of a 30-year projection of demand to defend its conclusion that a new bridge must be built?”

That said, the authors insists that if for some reason future demand warrants a new bridge, it should be privately owned-one like the Ambassador. “If a new bridge is needed, the private sector will have every incentive to build one because delays on the bridge mean lost revenue.”

— with files from the Detroit News

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