Let’s Play Bridge

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

Riddle me this: How does one claim that the Ambassador Bridge has substantial capacity to handle increasing freight volumes on its own at the world’s busiest trade gateway, while at the same time insist the lighter border crossing down the QEW at Fort Erie-Buffalo needs a second bridge?

Well, when you have a virtual monopoly on one region and nothing but an itch to take over the latter, it’s easy, I suppose.

But that’s precisely the sort of double speak emanating from Ambassador Bridge execs these days. Recently, the bridge company — owned by billionaire trucking mogul Matty Moroun — trotted out two Michigan-based public-policy consultants to criticize the “ill-advised” new bridge to be built at Windsor-Detroit 3 km southwest of the Ambassador. However, despite its confidence in current bridge capacity, the company is reportedly forging ahead with plans (turned down last fall by a binational border-selection committee) to build a twin span across the Detroit River.

Furthermore, even though Moroun has claimed he has no interest in the new crossing, sources say he’s been busy securing land on both sides of the bridge’s proposed landings downriver, putting him in position to make a serious pitch for either its ownership or operational control.

Today’s Trucking learned Moroun was seeking a face-to-face with high-ranking Transport Canada officials earlier this year. A source told me that the intent was to bend the minister’s ear on what role the bridge company could play in regards to the new crossing.

The architect of the new bridge, NYC traffic expert Sam Schwartz, once said that highway designers made a major mistake with long-term consequences when they ended Hwy. 401 11 klicks away from the river. Moroun’s critics say the same about handing over the Ambassador to private interests.

I disagree for the most part. The bridge company has done a decent job running things to date. Crossing the border at Windsor has always been a chore because of choked feeder arteries, and it’s gotten worse since the U.S. has mandated redundant security protocols, but the bridge really has no responsibility over those issues.

As a general rule, I have little patience for state involvement in most affairs — be it in controlling airwaves for broadcasting or in taxpayer-funded documentaries on “the History of the Bed.” (I’m not kidding). However, as drayage fleet owner Coleman Tokie told me as we discussed an entirely separate issue, freedom is about the ability to make distinctions. And I think a distinction should be made about Windsor — Canada’s economic spine — which could be severed in an instant by a single act of terrorism.

I know, I know, why would you trust a bunch of bureaucrats to keep the Ambassador safe when — as one of my favorite pundits writes –every single big-name government acronym (FBI, CIA, TSA, FAA etc.) failed so miserably on 9-11? Moroun himself hinted the same when he told The Windsor Star in a rare interview: “So what’s bad about an ownership that is private, that takes things to heart and has their hands in it for immediate action to everyone’s benefit?”

Fair point. Except the Ambassador has showed its own benefit trumps “everyone” else’s — as discovered a couple months ago when it was reported that management was instructing bridge workers to wave through hazmat trucks in violation of a U.S. ban on dangerous goods.

Governments, as sluggish and top-heavy as they are, are at least somewhat accountable. Right now, Ambassador execs operate the bridge with full autonomy and have the right to refuse law enforcement or safety engineers from the crossing.

A new federal bill tabled in April looks to change some of that by allowing Transport Canada to control the purchase and sale of all international bridges and tunnels in Canada and regulate security, maintenance, and other operational practices.

Whether the government can wrestle back some control of the Ambassador remains to be seen. Bridge officials have apparently brushed off the proposed legislation, and it’s no wonder why since their boss is as tough a bull as there is when the fighting pit is a courtroom.

Generally speaking, I think the company should be permitted to exercise its right as a free-market enterprise and run the bridge the way it chooses. But we can no longer afford to let Moroun & Co. have it all. In this new world the bridge’s security is our business and that much at least must be taken back immediately.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.