EXCLUSIVE: Ambassador bridge urges MDOT to lift hazmat limits

DETROIT — The privately owned Ambassador Bridge is trying to siphon cross-border hazmat business away from the Detroit Windsor Truck Ferry. But it’ll need help from the Michigan government first.

According to documents obtained by the truck ferry’s owner Gregg Ward through the Freedom of Information Act, the Detroit International Bridge Company is requesting a change to the National Hazardous Materials Route Registry (NHMRR), to allow certain flammable, corrosive, and explosive materials to cross between Canada and the U.S. via the 75-year-old Ambassador Bridge. Many of those materials are currently barred from the bridge.

FOIA documents also reveal that the State of Michigan initiated a review of the NHMRR earlier this year, which includes reassessing the non-radioactive aspects of the rule. It’s unclear, though, where the Ministry of Transport is in the process. 

The Windsor Detroit Truck Ferry is the only
transporter allowed to carry hazmat material
across the border. That could change.

Although the Truck Ferry is the only mode designated to transport hazmat trucks across the Detroit River, several media — including todaystrucking.com — have reported that the bridge (which has complete autonomy over its own operations) routinely allows such vehicles to cross anyway, via special permit that it writes for select fleets. Some of those passing trucks belong to carriers controlled by the bridge’s owner, Matty Moroun.

It appears, then, that the private company is seeking to more openly accommodate all types of hazmat transporters.

According to documents obtained by todaystrucking.com, Ambassador President Dan Stamper wrote to The MDOT last fall officially requesting a change to the NHMRR. He suggested that the state relax restrictions so that they’re more in line with allowances given to the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia-Port Huron. 

In addition to the security issues "these dangerous trucks would pose" to what is currently the only major span at North America’s busiest trade gateway, Ward also points out the "obvious detrimental impact" on his business.

Furthermore, the loss of the truck ferry "would eliminate the primary crossing for very large shipments of oversize, overweight trucks, which are essential in support of manufacturing and energy projects," says Ward. "Repeatedly the ferry has played an important role in keeping manufacturing facilities open when there has been severe delays at the bridge."

Signs in Windsor direct hazmat truckers to the ferry.
Curiously there are few, if any, such signs in Detroit.

Not only would such a move "strengthen the bridge’s monopoly on cargo traffic," says Ward, but it would also eliminate any crossing redundancy, which is essential in the event of a major hazmat-related accident or terrorist attack on the privately owned bridge.

"I do not think people really appreciate the danger of allowing Moroun as the owner of a private bridge to be in total control of the border."

Not too long ago, Ward wrote to authorities asking them to do a better job enforcing the hazmat restrictions outlined in the NHMRR.

Officials on both sides of the border promised to investigate, but according to Ward, not much has changed. 

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