February 2, 2009

The Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detriot

As I discussed earlier in my Squamish, BC post, I finished an assignment about Place in Human Geography. One of those questions asked about a favourite place and explaining what made it special, and so I discussed the Ambassador Bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor:

The leftmost Canada-bound lane in the middle of the Ambassador Bridge on the border between Detroit, Michigan, United States and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Latitude 42.311908 Longitude -83.073970. From that spot on the Ambassador Bridge one can see the American and Canadian sides of the Detroit River separating the cities of Detroit and Windsor. The openness of the area, the visually pleasing nature of the waterfronts, and the fact that boats and swimmers are at least physically free to cross the border is symbolic of the fluidity in which I left and returned to Canada many times a year.

I’ve been across the US/Canadian border many times throughout my life but that specific place is important to me because it is where I really thought about the concept of home. Having lived most of my life in the US, but traveling to go “home” to visit family was special for me and formed my view of where my ‘place’ is. The from repetition and being told I was going home, the physical act of being there and seeing the surroundings and crossing the border make me feel at home every time I was there, although until now, except for one year, I had not lived there since I was four years old.
I had just been looking up information about Obama visiting Canada on his first state visit and came across a few recent news articles relating to the border crossing. It turns out there are plans to build another bridge about a mile down the river from the Ambassador. Chances are I won't be living South of Detroit in the foreseeable future, so it doesn't affect me directly, but especially if the original Ambassador Bridge will no longer be used (as in
Moroun's alternative plan below) it in a way makes it a more important memory...in that retiring a jersey makes it seem more important...but either way it would be interesting to see the bridge from another perspective if I am ever back that way.

Detroit Free Press

January 15, 2009

Downriver Detroit-Canada bridge plan wins OK

But span faces hurdles, possible legal challenges


The U.S. Department of Transportation has given final environmental clearance to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor -- though the project faces considerable hurdles before it becomes a reality.

Technically, the "record of decision" signed by U.S. officials Wednesday allows Michigan to begin acquiring land and planning construction for the new bridge, to be built about a mile downriver from the Ambassador Bridge.

However, the Detroit River International Crossing project must get further approvals from governments on both sides of the border, and it must overcome stiff resistance, including threatened lawsuits, from Manuel (Matty) Moroun, the Warren-based businessman who owns the Ambassador Bridge.

Michigan also would need to acquire land in southwest Detroit's Delray neighborhood, setting up possible battles with residents.

Despite those hurdles, Gregg Ward, the operator of a hazardous-materials ferry between Detroit and Windsor, called the U.S. action "one more positive step toward a new bridge."

The Department of Transportation said that, if approved, the new bridge could open as soon as 2013. But that seems unlikely given the extent of issues yet to be dealt with.

Some state legislators have objected to spending more state money on even planning a new bridge, let alone finding the estimated $1 billion for construction.

Moroun, meanwhile, has pledged for years that he will go to court to block construction of the DRIC bridge project because it would compete with his own plans to build a privately owned bridge next to his Ambassador Bridge.

Dan Stamper, president of Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Co., said Wednesday evening that the U.S. environmental study was flawed and open to challenge.

"I'd say it was a step forward, but they have a long way to go, and they've now opened up their study for people to pick it apart," he said.

Asked whether Moroun's company would go to court to stop the DRIC project, Stamper said, "We haven't waived any of our rights to protect our business."

Meanwhile, former state Rep. Steve Tobocman, who represented the southwest Detroit area for the past six years, said planning for the bridge must include ways to mitigate the impact on the Delray community.

"Obviously, there's going to be some pollution," he said. "There's going to be more truck traffic and noise and vibrations and air-quality concerns. We're going to be sure we can work to create community benefits."

Residents and business owners in the area generally support the project, said state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who succeeded Tobocman.

"The southwest Detroit community has been in support of the Detroit River International Crossing from the beginning because they've been included in the discussions," Tlaib said.

Tlaib and others also see the project as a way to help revitalize southwest Detroit and the region by creating businesses and jobs.

Debra Williams, 61, a resident of the Delray area, said she supports the project, but hopes officials provide help for any homeowners who might be displaced, address environmental concerns and create greenways along with jobs.

The U.S. government's environmental review for the Detroit side of the project began in March 2003. The project is a joint effort by four units of government: Michigan, Ontario and the U.S. and Canadian federal governments.

A similar review of environmental impacts on the river's Canadian side conducted earlier this year by Ontario and Transport Canada is nearing completion.

The politics of bridge building are complicated on both sides of the border. On the U.S. side, conservatives contend that Moroun, as a private businessman offering to pay his own way, should be allowed to build his second bridge at no cost to taxpayers.

But Canadians oppose Moroun's plans. They say any new international border crossing should be publicly owned, as would the DRIC project. And, they said, Moroun's plans to twin the Ambassador Bridge would disrupt neighborhood life in Windsor.

For years, Windsor politics has been roiled by protests to the stream of trucks coming from Canada's 401 expressway down Huron Church Road through Windsor to the Ambassador Bridge. A new Moroun bridge, critics have said, would only worsen that problem.

The Canadian government passed a law in 2007, the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, which asserts control over any new international border-crossing projects.

Even if Canadian federal authorities approve Moroun's plans, Windsor city officials have pledged to block him from building a new bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge, opened in 1929, has been privately owned for many years by Moroun, head of a trucking and real estate network. Moroun's company wants to build a six-lane span next to the four-lane Ambassador, close the old bridge, conduct maintenance and reopen it for only emergencies and special events.

With hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. and Canadian trade crossing the Ambassador each year, mainly in the form of auto parts, the Detroit-Windsor crossing ranks as one of the most important trade links on an international border in the world. The bridge had nearly 3 million crossings in 2008.

Planners for the DRIC project rejected almost all of the possible routes, including a twinning of the Ambassador Bridge, because of impacts on Detroit and Windsor residents. They narrowed their list to the single crossing spot approved Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER at 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com.

Additional Facts

Windsor Star

U.S. pushes ahead with new bridge

Dave Battagello
Windsor Star

A new bridge that will link Windsor and Detroit crossed a key hurdle late Wednesday when the U.S. government gave final environmental approval for the multi-billion-dollar project.

The decision allows the State of Michigan to begin property acquisitions and design work.

"It's a key milestone to ensure this project moves towards construction," Doug Hecox, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Thursday. "This signifies, as far as the U.S. government is concerned, all environmental reviews have been completed," Hecox said. "This has been a pretty rigorous process. What this decision does is indicate everything looked at is fine."

The bridge will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach, in Windsor's west end, and Delray.

Construction of the bridge, plazas and roads to Highway 401 on the Canadian side and I-75 in Detroit is expected to cost about $5 billion. It will create an estimated 12,000 jobs on the Canadian side.

The Detroit River International Crossing project still needs state, provincial, local and Canadian government approval before construction can begin.

The Ambassador Bridge -- which has a competing proposal to build a twin span -- has said it may take court action to block the new crossing.

Bridge president Dan Stamper could not be reached Thursday for comment, but told the Star last week he believes the DRIC process has "fatal flaws."

"We have no information on that and generally don't comment on litigation," Hecox said.

He said the bridge should not be looked at as a replacement for the Ambassador Bridge since there will be plenty of traffic for both crossings.

"This has been a long time coming and will help improve traffic flow in the Detroit-Windsor area. It can't come soon enough," Hecox said.

"It will augment the area so people won't have to wait as long to cross. Waiting is something economically on both sides we can't afford anymore."

Construction of the bridge is expected to begin in 2010 and be completed by 2013.

The approval by Washington turns over the lead on the DRIC bridge project to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck said property purchases on the Detroit side are unlikely to begin until summer.

Preliminary indications are that 257 residential dwelling units, 43 active businesses, and nine non-profit entities will need to be bought out.

"This is extremely positive," said MP Brian Masse (NDP -- Windsor West) whose riding includes the site for the new bridge. "I didn't know it was this advanced. It's a signal Washington is very serious about getting a span built through this process. It's reassuring that on their side there are no hiccups.

"Over 75 years ago, they created a rail tunnel, vehicle tunnel and Ambassador Bridge at a time when there were no transport trucks or as many commuters. But they had the foresight to lay the groundwork that helped make this a manufacturing base for decades.

"We need this to happen for the sake of the next 50 to 100 years. If we fail there will be negative consequences for decades. This is our opportunity to seize and make it a reality."

A Transport Canada official called the environmental approval "another significant milestone" for the DRIC partnership.

"It's critical because this is an end-to-end solution that will need approvals from all levels of government," said spokesman Mark Butler.

The DRIC process is in the midst of a 32-week review by Ontario's environment ministry and a parallel review by federal environmental authorities, he said.

The two sides are hoping to issue a joint approval sometime this summer. A key hurdle will be whether the city can iron out differences with the Ontario government over how much of a new $1.6-billion feeder highway in Windsor should be tunnelled.

"The final decision will either say 'go ahead,' or 'no it can't go ahead because of significant adverse effects' or it will be referred to a tribunal or mediator," Butler said.

Mayor Eddie Francis said the city has been working closely with Ottawa because the feds must acquire city property in Brighton Beach for the bridge and plaza.

"We are very comfortable with those discussions taking place," he said. "We hope soon the federal government can make a similar announcement."


The fate of Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun's twin span proposal remains uncertain. The U.S. Coast Guard station in Cleveland was assigned as lead authority on whether a federal permit will be issued to the billionaire transportation mogul in the U.S.

But a top Coast Guard official in Cleveland said Thursday the application was recently taken over by Coast Guard authorities in Washington and would not comment on its status. Moroun has been lobbying the Bush administration heavily to also give him final approval before he departs on Tuesday. One source suggested the administration may do that.

Lindsay Boyd, chairman of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has worked closely with counterparts in Detroit to push DRIC forward.

The local chamber supports DRIC and Moroun's proposal, he said.

"If we have two, what's to stop this region from being the next Chicago or Boston?" Boyd said. "But (the DRIC bridge) would be the biggest single shot in the arm we need to start in terms of the jobs it would bring, getting us past this downturn and giving Windsor time to reinvent itself economically.

"This is excellent news and brings it that much closer to the reality of getting shovels in the ground. There is one less thing to worry about now with the federal approval given in the U.S."

State transportation director Kirk Steudle said construction on the Michigan side is expected to create 10,000 jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs.

"This is a significant milestone," he said. "Once built, the new crossing system will boost U.S. and Canadian trade by expanding the busiest trade corridor in the western hemisphere.

"We will be building the most modern border crossing system in the world."

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson -- who joined with Francis last summer on Detroit's waterfront to lend his powerful political support in favour of the DRIC bridge over Moroun's proposal -- also applauded the decision in Washington.

"This great news could not come at a better time," he said in a statement. "Construction of this new crossing will be a huge stimulus to our sagging economy. The green light has been turned on. Let's get going."

- - -


"The new border crossing system empowers Michigan's economic recovery and revitalization .... An expanded Detroit-Windsor border crossing system will benefit every traveller who relies on safe, efficient border crossings." - Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm

"It makes me feel wonderful. I know there are a lot of obstacles to come, but I think governments will do the job on this in these economic times. I thought the waiting period would be longer ... but it looks like it went through with flying colours" - Activist Mary Ann Cuderman

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