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Hundreds of trucks rumble through Olde Walkerville via Wyandotte Street, both day and night.

Stuck on the Border

by Chris Edwards, Publisher

The Detroit-Windsor train tunnel in 1912

Most folks in this fair community realize border truck traffic has gone mad. Trucks are frequently backed up for miles along Huron Church Road waiting to get on the Ambassador Bridge.
How did it come to this?

Blame it on free trade. Instead of ruining our economy as predicted by naysayers, free trade has created a trading bonanza, with most cross-border goods shipped by truck.

Since Canada signed Free Trade Agreements, first with the USA and then with Mexico (the current NAFTA deal), traffic waiting to cross the bridge has more than doubled.

According to recent studies, our bridge handles about one-quarter of the $400 billion dollars in trade between Canada and the USA. A potential for lots of trucks stuck at the border.
With the adoption of “Just-in-Time Delivery” (a system used by virtually every automaker and auto parts manufacturers to reduce inventory and warehousing by relying on parts that arrive only when needed) combined with the cross-border trade of everything from household goods to Mexican produce, and there are just too many trucks trying to make it across.

The downside of “Just-in-Time” has been the decline of freight train use. Freight trains would ease much congestion and would be far better for our environment. However, realistically most shipping will be done by truck for the foreseeable future.

The September 11th terrorist attack brought tightened security at the border and exposed a huge problem – the bridge is vulnerable to slowdowns because it only has four-lanes. It became fairly evident that greater capacity would be required to prevent a meltdown of our economy, should another border crackdown occur, such as the one anticipated by a war with Iraq. Both the federal and provincial governments have pledged funds – up to $1 billion to fix the mess.

We have now come to the proverbial crossroads; decisions made this year by the federal and province governments will impact everyone in our community for years to come.

Currently, there are four main proposals to increase capacity at the border: the Canadian Transportation Company/Ambassador Bridge Corporation By-Pass Concept, to redirect truck traffic off Huron Church from the E.C. Row to Ojibway, and circle back to the bridge through Olde Sandwich Towne; the Mich-Can group proposal to build a new bridge from Detroit to Ojibway connecting to the E.C. Row and presumably to Hwy. 401; the City of Windsor’s proposal to extend E.C.Row to the 401 with a Lauzon Parkway extensions; and a consortium called the Detroit Railway Tunnel Partnership (DRTP) a plan to convert existing rail lines into a dedicated two-lane truck highway, a “Tradeway” from the 401 along the Canada Southern rail lines through the old Michigan Central Railway Tunnel and onto the I-75 freeway in Detroit. The DRTP Tradeway includes plans for a new train tunnel to handle inter-modal freight.

Four proposals for Windsor truck traffic: winners and losers
Click here or on the map for a larger view

To date, the “Stop DRTP” camp has been winning the local PR campaign, if media coverage is the barometer. Little has been made of the Ambassador Bridge Company’s proposal to build a super-highway through the west end (nicknamed “the Sandwich Moat,” as it would carve the historic community in two) and virtually nothing has been written lately about the Mich-Can bridge deal – the only proposal NOT seeking government money. It is instructive to note that Mayor Hurst and Windsor City Council are opposed to all three proposals (more on this later).

Could it be a coincidence the “Stop DRTP”camp – opposed to the Tradeway route because it passes near their spanking new homes built along the railroad tracks – has more money, more influence and bigger houses than the folks in Sandwich? (Ironically, the supplies to build those shiny new homes were delivered by the very trucks they now want to ban from the DRTP Tradeway.)

What we are witnessing is simply a form of neighbourhood discrimination on the part of the “Stop DRTP” camp – in other words, NIMBYs (“Not In My Backyard”) in action: the “Stop DRTP” group is focused on their own backyard, and not the proposal to gut Sandwich Town.

Despite the rhetoric employed by “Stop DRTP,” the DRTP Tradeway route does not “cut our city in half.” Construction of the two mile Michigan Central Railway Tunnel, begun in 1908 and completed in 1910, was considered an engineering marvel at the time. At its peak, more than 100 trains passed daily through this tunnel en route to points east; small wonder lands along the rail lines were left largely vacant, until the recent building boom.

In November, I had the opportunity to ride along the route proposed by the DRTP, a consortium of Canadian Pacific Railway and Borealis Transportation, owned by The Ontario Municipal Employees Union.

As we made our way along the proposed Tradeway route,
I couldn’t help but notice new housing right up against the tracks. At the time, I wondered who would want to build a quarter million dollar house next to a railroad line?

The DRTP route makes much sense and is forward-thinking, and here’s why: trucks will be taken off our roads. A huge border bottleneck will be addressed; congestion at the bridge will be eased – not solved – but eased.

Other solutions will have to be considered, including the Mich-Can proposal and Bridge’s by-pass off Huron Church Road. This is bad news for both Sandwich and the “Stop DRTP” camp.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the original DRTP proposal that stirred the folks now living on the wrong side of the tracks – the DRTP concept has existed for over a year. The Canada-Ontario Joint Management Committee’s recommendation, released late last year, supporting the DRTP route and an expanded E.C. Row from Dougall to Huron Church Road, grabbed headlines and marshalled the troops.

What was surprising was the mayor and some city councillors’ reactions – fierce opposition to this proposal that would ”cut through the heart of our community.”

The proposed by-pass to the bridge, dubbed the Sandwich “Moat” by locals.

I am still trying to figure out how the use of E.C. Row in the joint committee report differs from Mayor Hurst and Chief Traffic Engineer John Tofflemire’s “farsighted” proposal to solve the border bottleneck, unveiled last year.

If you’ll recall, the mayor supported expanding E.C. Row to 6-lanes, and the creation of an international “super-highway” from Highway 401 along a Lauzon Parkway extension, for truck and car traffic headed to the bridge.

The big problem with this plan is that it doesn't relieve truck traffic along Huron Church Road to the border, nor does it create greater access or options for trucks travelling to the USA. The mayor simply wanted a new way to direct traffic to Huron Church – after that, same old bottleneck at the bridge!

Many more residents living along and using E.C. Row would be impacted had the mayor’s proposal been adopted by the Canada-Ontario Joint Management Committee, including folks who live in Forest Glade and commuters from Tecumseh and points east (if you really want to see poor traffic engineering in action, try commuting on the E.C. Row from Lakeshore to the city in the morning or vice versa in the afternoon).

Those of us who actually live in the “heart of the city,” (a buzzword used time and again by that civic-minded “Stop DRTP” camp) have seen the 18-wheelers parade down Walker Road onto Wyandotte Street, through Walkerville, seeking a shortcut to the bridge. Other favoured truck routes include Ouellette, Goyeau and MacDougall.

Three years ago, we wrote an editorial and complained to city traffic engineering (an oxymoron in this town) about trucks rumbling down Wyandotte. We called for a complete ban of 18-wheelers on Wyandotte (read this @ www.walkervilletimes.com/wyandotte.htm). At that time, Katnandu owner Nancy Drew said: ”I counted 69 trucks passing by my business on Wyandotte and Windermere – in half an hour.” Three years later it’s no better here in the “heart of the city.”

Banning trucks from Wyandotte would be “impossible,” came the reply from councillors and engineers alike. No doubt it was just a coincidence that Tofflemire proposed removing parking on Wyandotte in the WALTS study, which would’ve turned Wyandotte into a highway. That nonsensical idea has at least been put on hold for now.

The real issue in this debate, largely ignored by the NIMBYs, is truck capacity at the border, which has become the very engine of our booming economy. If we want to continue to attract automotive plants to the region, then we’d better get our border truck traffic moving and open new crossings. Otherwise, those plants are headed to Arkansas and Mississippi (can you say “recession”?)

And some body will have trucks passing near their homes; that much is certain.

If, as the mayor declared in his recent state-of-the-city address, he is truly concerned about creating automotive jobs, then he should focus on solutions to our border mess by adding capacity either through the Tradeway, or with a new bridge – or both.

One more thing – the DRTP corridor would provide local traffic engineers with the impetus to completely ban 18 wheel trucks from the city’s centre, with some exceptions; in effect, removing much of the truck traffic from the inner city. Imagine a truck free “heart of the city.”

Now there’s a breath of fresh air!


 

 

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