WINDSOR, Ont. — It’s no secret that the biggest problem with the Windsor-Detroit gateway is the lack of infrastructure available for the number of trucks that bottleneck at the mouth of the border.
For decades, there’s been an avalanche of “solutions” proposed to fix the situation. Some of them make sense — expanding border capacity with a new bridge or twinning the current Ambassador, for example — but almost all attempt to put the trailer before the tractor, so to speak.
That, anyway, is what Ann Arquette and Kathy Ouellette believe. They have a point — and, of course, their own plan.
“It’s a matter of building foundations first,” says Arquette, director of corporate affairs for Border Gateways, a Windsor firm that’s been pitching an ITS-based truck traffic management system for southern Ontario border crossings.
The company is vying to manage a public-private “truck marshalling yard” being proposed by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation in Windsor, Sarnia-Port Huron, and Fort Erie-Buffalo. The facility — to be located on the outskirts east of Windsor, off Highway 401 — would act as the staging area for a complete “trade corridor management system,” as Ouellette dubs the concept.
The theory is that a truck marshalling yard in the Windsor-Essex area would reduce border queuing by ensuring all truckers’ administrative and Customs reporting info is completed before approaching the border. It would also provide truck storage real estate during periods of high congestion. Once cleared, the trucks would be metered through to the border, resulting in more efficient flow and less trucks idling close to homes and businesses inside the city.
The concept has been discussed for a while, but moved a step closer to reality this month when Border Gateways secured capital financing by signing a partnership agreement with John Laing PLC, a UK-based specialist in public sector infrastructure assets. The up-front capital could make Border Gateways the frontrunner for a long-term concession agreement with provincial and federal governments.
Some argue, however, that there’s little justification for such a facility if other capacity expansion plans proceed, such as the construction of a new bridge in southwest Windsor and a supporting dedicated truck route.
But the way the Border Gateways ladies see it, a truck marshalling yard would only complement those solutions. And once implemented, it would paint a clearer picture on how to proceed with those and other projects in the future.
“We continue to discuss increased capacity as the way to solve the world’s problems. But if you look at Sarnia, which already has increased capacity and double-stacked rail tunnels, and all these wonderful things, they still have backups. So, what’s missing?” the spirited Arquette asks rhetorically. “If not this, than what?”
While a separate bridge would give the region badly needed border-crossing redundancy in the event of a terrorist attack, there’s still no mechanism to organize and prioritize freight so that chaos at the border would be mitigated during such a catastrophe, Arquette argues.
“From a security standpoint, if we understand we live in a post 9-11 world and disruptions should be planned for, what is our recovery plan?” she continues. “How do we take 16 kilometers of trucks and prioritize who’s going to go and when? What would a new border crossing do for that?”
But even if we’re spared from another attack, the facility’s main purpose would be to assist truckers — especially owner-operators — with the myriad pre-crossing processes, explains Ouellette. Effectively, RFID and weigh-in-motion technology would electronically capture carrier and shipment information from the highway and by cross-linking the info with Customs databases, the center would clear drivers to proceed to the border or, as needed, assist them with paperwork or e-manifest transmissions.
Reportedly, about 30 percent of the vehicles heading to the U.S. through Windsor every day arrive at the border with incomplete paperwork. That translates into a lot of trucks idling in the most populous parts of the city.
“Drivers are transient. They don’t have administrative help or informational help. But when they show up at Customs they’re sitting ducks,” says Ouellette.
Indeed. ACE pre-notification rules require carriers to file e-manifests an hour before they show up at the border (30 minutes, if they’re FAST-approved). If Customs hasn’t processed it — or more accurately, their broker hasn’t sent it — the shipment gets turned away.
“If they happen to not be an important account,” says Ouellette, “then their phone call goes to voicemail and they have to wait.”
The point is understated in the LTL realm, where a single, non-compliant skid can hold back the entire load. With the marshalling facility in place, says Ouellette, those carriers could temporarily store the problem freight at the shipper’s expense and proceed to the border. “Effectively,” she says, “the good freight goes.
“A lot of carriers and shippers have invested fortunes in these processes and it sometimes gets them nowhere once they get to the bridge.”
— Be sure to read the entire story in the April issue of Today’s Trucking.
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