WINDSOR, Ont. — There’s no bigger issue facing Canada than building a new international bridge to the U.S., Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon declared yesterday as his government finally disclosed the official location of the much-hyped structure.
As far as the location for the bridge was concerned, there were few surprises at yesterday’s press conference. A private partner is still being sought to operate the publicly supported structure, and, interestingly, Cannon revealed that a familiar player is in the running. (More on this front a little later).
The announcement by the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study team was in line with recent published reports that indicated the new bridge would be built in the Brighton Beach area, just off Ojibway Parkway on the west end of Windsor, between the power plant and Canada Salt company.
The 43-acre Canadian inspection plaza will be bounded by Broadway Street on the south side, Chappus Street on the north side, and the Essex Terminal Railway line on the east side. It will consist of 29 total lanes (19 for trucks); and 103 secondary inspection parking spaces.
The span will be about 850 meters long and is expected to cost $800 million, plus another $200 million for the plaza. There is still no word whether the bridge will be cable-stay structure or a suspension bridge. But if it’s the former, it will be the longest such span in the country.
It’s believed that on the U.S. side, the bridge will land in an industrial area known as Delray. But an official announcement is pending the completion of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the fall.
DRIC confirmed that construction would likely begin in late 2009, with a target completion date of 2013.
Reportedly, up to 30 homes on the city’s west end and a few businesses near the riverfront will have to be acquired before construction can begin, however.
The head of Windsor, for one, is glad the selection process is finally complete.
"The City of Windsor is the largest land owner and it would be easier to facilitate, if you will, a new plaza and border crossing," Mayor Eddie tells todaystrucking.com. "This is a location that we are very pleased with, something that we support, and it’s something that we really have worked for the past four years to get."
It seems like the Mayor has a love-hate relationship with DRIC these days. While he may applaud this announcement on the bridge location, Francis and much of city council have been embroiled in a bitter disagreement with the binational selection team over plans for a new feeder highway from Highway 401 to the new crossing.
In May, DRIC presented its preferred Windsor-Essex Parkway plan, consisting of a six-lane below-grade access route with 11 short tunnels along the Huron Church Road-Talbot Road corridor. Francis and council instead want the city’s GreenLink plan approved. That alternative nearly doubles the tunneling and adds more green space. He admits that the federal wing of DRIC has been friendlier to City council.
"The provincial government, through DRIC, have admitted they have not analyzed, not evaluated, GreenLink. And that’s the issue," he says. "We applaud the federal government and we thank them for listening to he community … I hope in the time that is remaining that the province will do the same and engage the city to work together towards arriving at a better solution for the roadway before it’s too late."
CAN’T WE JUST BE FRIENDS?
It’s no secret that the Ambassador Bridge Co. has been publicly trashing the DRIC concept since the bureaucratic team dismissed in 2005 the private bridge’s own proposal to twin the current span instead.
The Ambassador folks have forged ahead with that project anyway and construction on both sides of the border has been underway for months.
"The decisions were made long ago and they have been since working on making the study support those decisions," Ambassador President Dan Stamper said in an interview.
Interestingly, though, Stamper seemed to lament not being able to partner with the Canadian government on a joint border solution.
"Could you imagine if the government of Canada and the Ambassador Bridge cooperated? How much better would the border be?" Stamper says. "I don’t know how much they’ve spent on this (DRIC process), but I think that money could have been used for better things if there was better cooperation. Together we could have done a lot of good."
Those comments come just after the Windsor Star reported that Minister Cannon indicated the bridge company could be among those considered for private sector investment of the new bridge.
When asked directly, Stamper didn’t clarify if, by cooperation, he meant partnering with Ottawa on the bridge’s own twinning project or whether his company would have considered an opportunity to deal with the feds on a new structure downriver. "I mean cooperate on the development of how to improve the border," he said.
It could be that government wants to avoid a drawn out legal battle with Matty Moroun, the billionaire and Detroit-based trucking mogul that owns the bridge.
There’s reports that Moroun (who is said to own some of the non-public land on or near the preferred bridge location sites on both sides of the border) could sue if another private sector player — subsidized by the government — threatens the Ambassador’s near monopoly on truck traffic.
Moroun’s executives have spent years denouncing the concept of a second bridge, but as Today’s Trucking speculated years ago, it’s not that big of a leap to imagine the crafty tycoon running two bridges in the end.
Asked about the possibility of a potential lawsuit, Stamper said: "We would rather cooperate than fight, but we have to protect our business and our shareholders. What we’ll do, I don’t know. I just look at today and say things would be a lot better if there was cooperation."
Ontario’s trade-based economy has been taking a beating lately, and this new crossing will do much to provide a renewed sense of confidence in supply chains, commented Ontario Trucking Association President David Bradley.
However, "there are still further hurdles to cross before construction can begin," cautioned Bradley. "The environmental departments on both sides of the border need to give their final approval to the DRIC recommendations, there may be self-interests who will want to try and delay construction through legal action, and the politicians on both sides of the border, from all levels of government, need to get on-board.
"But reaching this milestone gives us hope that the commencement of construction may not be too far away."
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