Feds focused on second Windsor bridge; Minister says Ambassador at capacity

TORONTO — Canada’s trade minister says a series of border investments his Conservative government announced in last week’s federal budget will help speed up cross-border transportation — especially of auto parts — and thin out traffic congestion at the nation’s busiest land ports.

Speaking to the Toronto Board of Trade, MP Jim Prentice said that in the current era of just-in-time delivery and inventory control, border disruptions are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour.

“An automotive part can cross the Canada-U.S. border several times before it is installed in a vehicle. We cannot remain competitive with a border that clogs and slows down the smooth operation of an integrated industry,” he said.

Prentice highlighted aspects of the government’s $33 billion infrastructure funding pledge contained in last week’s budget — said to be the largest such investment in 60 years. He said the money will go towards building infrastructure for the free flow of goods; harmonize the regulatory standards so that products can be traded easily; and enhance the security of the international border.

Prentice said it’s amazing how 40 percent of all trade
crosses into the US on a private bridge that’s 80 years old.

Prentice reminded Board of Trade members that Ottawa has committed an initial $400 million to fund 50 percent of the eligible costs of improving the Windsor-Detroit crossing, including the Ambassador Bridge.

However, he emphasized that the status quo at the country’s busiest trade gateway is unworkable and that a second crossing downriver is essential.

“I make no secret of the fact that one of the most surprising things I have encountered since coming into government is the fact that 40 percent of Canada’s commerce with the United States passes across a single, privately owned bridge that was built in 1928 — before the Great Depression,” he said. “As we all know, that bridge is well past capacity. It represents a potentially devastating weak link in our auto trade.”

Prentice explained how last October he witnessed the problems at the crossing first hand, when Linamar Corp. allowed him to cross the border in a truck loaded with auto parts.

“It was a real eye-opener and reinforced the need for our government to maintain momentum in the design, approval and construction of an alternative bridge crossing to increase our trade throughput,” he said, adding that Ottawa’s goal is to have a new crossing built by 2013.

“We are determined to build this bridge as part of building a stronger auto sector, where parts and vehicles are easily transported back and forth.”

Prentice’s colleague Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, has said repeatedly that Ottawa is seeking a private-public partnership for the design, construction and operation of a new structure.

The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) committee is expected to make a decision on the location of the new bridge in April.

As important as infrastructure is, Prentice stressed that it’s just as critical that all crossing points are fully staffed.

The budget also provides $75 million over the next two years to increase the number of border services officers at key crossings.

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