Predicting The Future
Same old stuff:
- hire an expert for a study
- huge increase in traffic means we may need a new crossing
- tunnel and bridge operators do not think it is necessary
- US Customs is the problem due to understaffing
- who can afford to pay for it
- public vs. private debate
- US Government plays a key role
- Bridge Company spending money for improvements to ease Windsor traffic congestion.
Compare traffic volumes today with those 34 years ago. Numbers have dramatically increased yet we still have the same two crossings and are coping. What makes us think that the traffic and crossing capacity projections are any more valid today than 34 years ago. Heck, we cannot get them right after only a few years. The Bi-national Engineers had to revise their projections downward already.
It makes for an interesting read though, doesn't it?
A second tunnel joining Detroit and Windsor may be needed within 10 years to handle an inticipated increase in traffic between the two cities, and Windsor is preparing to engage in a $400,000 transportation study which, among things, will examine the adequacy of the present tunnel and bridge.
The requirement of a second tunnel is the prediction of Windsor’s traffic engineering director, Eric S. Wiley. It drew mixed reactions from the operators of the two existing facilities – the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge – that link the two cities facing each other across the Detroit River.
"He (Wiley) could be in the right ball park," said William S. Burton, president and general manager of the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corp., owners of the tunnel.
"But if he is, I don’t know who’s going to pay for it. It would have to involve public money."
THE PRESENT TUNNEL, Burton said, was opened Nov. 3, 1930, and it cost $22 million.
"Construction costs today would be $75 million to $100 million for another tube," Burton said.
Roy G. Lancaster, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co., said he can’t accept the Wiley forecast.
"The bridge," he said, "has never been operated at capacity. I don’t know how long it will be before we require another international facility, and I don’t want to predict the date, but it will be several decades, not one."
The bridge, which opened a year before the tunnel on Nov. 11, 1929, also was built for $22 million. Today’s replacement cost would be from $60 million to $90 million, Lancaster said.
Wiley talks of "twinning" the tunnel (constructing a new tube parallel to the existing one), rather than building a new bridge, for a reason not known to many.
When the bridge was built, it was the first river-spanning project for cars here and the private company which built in was given a "perpetual grant" by the two cities.
WHEN A SECOND private company was created to build the tunnel, the cities had second thoughts. This company got a "restricted grant," which says that in 1990, the company must hand the tunnel over to the two cities.
In 19 years, the tunnel becomes publicly owned. The bridge does not.
Also the government of the province of Ontario is shifting its transportation policies.
The provincial government insists on solid, long-range planning before it authorized speeding of funds.
This is why Windsor has ordered the "in-depth" study of its transportation resources and also why Ontario is willing to pay three quarters of the cost of the survey, Wiley said.
IN RECENT HISTORY. Ontario has been the major partner in building international bridges. The structure over the St. Mary’s River, between the Canadian and American Soos is the prime example. The Canadian money came from the provincial government, the American money from Michigan and the federal government.
It is more likely that a second tunnel between Windsor and Detroit would be built through a partnership of this kind by a private company.
Burton said "At today’s costs, a project like this would have to involve public money."
Wiley believes that, if there is to be an additional public facility; the tunnel is the more likely place to start because it is going to be public in 19 years.
The tunnel has the lesser capacity of the two facilities – two lanes with a 12 foot, six inch ceiling. The bridge has four lanes and can take trucks of unlimited height.
There also is speculation that President Nixon may have more to do with the deciding how soon a second tunnel is required because, according to Lancaster, the 10 percent surcharge on imported goods is likely to cool the growth of business between the two countries.
HE KNOWS the value of an international trade agreement because the largest single jump in traffic for the Ambassador Bridge can be attributed to the 1965 auto trade agreement between Canada and the United States.
This, in effect, created a free border on new cars and parts.
The bridge gained huge two-way truck traffic as a result. A decade ago, 800 trucks a day crossed the bridge. Today, 2,000 to 2,500 make the trip daily.
Until the Nixon freeze and surcharge, the United States and Canada were drifting closer to an economic integration. A free-trade agreement on farm implements predated the auto pact. Three additional industries were in the talking stages of a free-border arrangement, according to Lancaster –chemicals, household appliances and rubber.
"Maybe they’ve backed off that now," Lancaster said, "but if any of those agreements are written our traffic would increase dramatically."
BOTH BURTON and Lancaster are wary about forecasts on traffic because the whole picture can be changed with the stroke of a pen at the international governmental level.
"The saturation point of the tunnel, under our particular kind of operation (with customs and immigration inspection at both ends), is roughly 7 million to 7.5 million vehicles in a year," Burton said.
Current traffic "has leveled off in the last couple of years" to about 5.9 million, Burton said. Until the levelling off, the growth rate was running at 5.5 percent a year, Burton reports.
The tunnel handles between 16,000 and 18,000 cars and about 1,000 trucks on an average day.
There has been an adjustment in car traffic between the tunnel and bridge, brought on a year ago after the bridge was connected through the Fisher and the Jeffries highway system.
"I figured that when the bridge got a freeway connection, it would take about 20 percent of the tunnel’s car traffic," Wiley said.
Burton and Lancaster are agreed that the shift ran between 10 and 12 percent, with the bridge gaining by that amount.
In an average day, 2,000 to 2,500 trucks and 10,000 to 12,000 cars cross the bridge.
WHEN THE BRIDGE opened, Lancaster said, the predicted capacity was 5,000 vehicles an hour. Traffic consultants today put it at 4,800 an hour. "We have never reached that peak," Lancaster said.
Without customs and immigration inspection, Lancaster said, the bridge is capable of carrying 2,400 vehicles an hour in one direction.
Both Burton and Lancaster complain that the U.S. customs and immigration services are undermanning their checkpoints and causing the public "to suffer unnecessary delays."
Wiler complained about this, too.
"The other night," he said, "I sat in my car for 27 minutes waiting for customs at the Detroit end of the tunnel."
INTENSIFIED CUSTOMS inspections in Detroit by U.S. authorities have made a mess out of Windsor traffic all summer, especially on Sunday nights, Wiler said.
"On the mere whim of a customs officer in Detroit," Wiley said, "traffic can get held up, and over here it backs up from the tunnel for two miles.
"On Sunday nights particularly, we have to put police officers on point duty to handle this traffic in order to make sure that our east-west streets are kept open and that fire trucks and ambulances can get through.
Tunnel traffic always backs up two miles on Sunday nights, Wiley said, and without the officer on point duty, the north-south traffic jam would "cut the city in two."
Windsor, with its population of 200,000, has this special traffic problem, making it different from all other Canadian cities. It is Canada’s largest port of entry for American tourists, and 7.5 million enter the country through the bridge and tunnel every year.
Added to this is the steady flow of trucks and commuters between two cities whose industries are closely linked, Wiley said.
Lancaster said the bridge company spent $100,000 for exit ramp improvements to ease Windsor traffic congestion. It has plans for a ramp project in Detroit costing 2 million.
This project, Lancaster said, will separate cars and trucks and give better access to the freeway connection "which we consider very adequate now."
The plan which includes a new customs and immigration building, has been approved by the Wayne County Road Commission and the State Highway Department. It is never before the Department of Transportation in Washington for approval.