Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, April 07, 2006

Windsor Declares War On Detroit

Councillors Jones and Postma will get their way after all.

We will have a new Sandwich festival celebrating an event that is now taking place that will attract tourists in droves to our new "Heritage" district from both sides of the river .

Windsorites will be active participants so that we can tell our children and grandchildren about it from actual experience. University students from the media program will visit us and record on tape our words for posterity

It is the War between Canada and the not that minor skirmish, silly. Not the War of 1812. It is the war that is developing between Canada and the US as to the location of the new bridge.

In other words, which Community should be destroyed: Sandwich or Delray.

We were good friends with Detroit at one time: their Mayor said "the best regional partnership for his city is not with the suburban cities in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, but with Windsor...The best opportunity Detroit has and Windsor has for survival into the future is to join together and market each other jointly" Can you imagine, a city in Canada was key for Kwame and he wanted to work together with us! The Big City and region of 5,000,000 people would work with the Smaller Region 1/10th its size for our joint prosperity

Then our Mayor showed his gratitude just before the election day in Detroit when Kwame was in the fight of his electoral life by butting into their election to try and salvage a business deal that he wanted to do ie to operate the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel.

You could feel the chill start almost immediately thereafter. For the so-called International Super Bowl partnership, Kilpatrick thanked Eddie for an offer to send snowplows and crews across the river if it snowed on Super Bowl Sunday.

Then escalating the issue to try to usurp Kwame's role, Eddie and Windsor Council held what was called a Joint Councils meeting in Detroit which was in fact nothing more than a sales pitch to block the Bridge Co. from redoing their Tunnel deal with the Mayor and letting Windsor be the partner of choice (notwithstanding that the 1/10th the size "partner" has so far been making 10 times the revenues!)

Unknown to most people on both sides of the river, the Detroit Mayor had already struck and struck hard a few weeks before the meeting. He followed up on his Council's oppostion to a new bridge in Delray by writing to the Governor demanding that no bridge be built in Delray and that Windsor and Ontario be told to fix up its roads as Detroit and Michigan had already done.

It was a huge blow to Eddie when Kwame's letter became public. After all Eddie was conceding all over the place that Windsor was sitting on $300 million to fix the mess on our side. It was hardly good for the "Eddie" image being cultivated as a fighter for Windsor when he was the problem for Windsor. His snub of the Senior Levels and his indecisiveness on the border issue for almost his whole Mayoral term was becoming known to the Governor, the Detroit Mayor and Council and the entire Michigan House and Senate.

Windsor had to rattle its sabres since it was only a few months to the next municipal election and Eddie's E-Machine strategists could see Eddie losing badly.

First it was Gord Henderson
  • "Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis isn't rolling over. He wants the DRIC to remove Crossing Alternative C (the C surely stands for Crazy) from consideration since it amounts to an 18-wheeler assault on the historic Sandwich neighbourhood, and is insisting it focus on the tunnel proposal."

Then it was the Star Editorial Board
  • "City residents should also lobby fiercely against Option C for the location of the proposed crossing, which would all but destroy historic Sandwich, a culturally significant community that has embarked on a commendable self-improvement program.

    The Sandwich crossing would be the shortest of the three spans at 735 metres and would have the least impact on U.S. residents..."

Then it was Liberal Cabinet Minister Sandra Pupatello
  • "Calling recent comments by Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick about being no need for a third border crossing "electioneering," Windsor West MPP Sandra Pupatello said Friday "the border remains my main focus and we are still committed to meeting the announced timetable for a new crossing."

    Pupatello, [then] minister of community and social services, said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon that "the issues relating to the border are more important than one political career and we cannot, and will not, allow election schedules and politics on either side of the border to slow down this process.

    "I was very happy to see the mayor's comment shot down," said Pupatello. "This is a long, involved process and it goes beyond one political career."

The gloves were off now. No more being a nice guy. It was out there in the open for all to see. To hell with Delray, Sandwich had to be preserved at all costs. Let there be an impact on Delray, it did not matter to us.

And Sandra, dumping on the Mayor----did she not understand that he was amongst the most powerful political leaders in Michigan and that her insults would not help Windsor or Ontario? But then again, she was safe. She could always escape to Newfoundland and run for office there now given her hubby's new job!

The United Nations Security Council is setting up a meeting to try to stop the war from escalating. UK's Prime Minister Blair will try and draw upon his friendship with both combatants to reduce tensions. China's President, Hu Jintao, is threatening to cut off the sale of consumer goods to both nations and turn them into Third World countries while Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that Japan will not build any more automobile "New Domestic" plants if they both do not come to the table to resolve their issues in a more friendly fashion.

Stay tuned to this Blog-channel for the latest news.

Too Good To Be True

Wow, the numbers being thrown around for the cost of a road PLUS tunnel to the border! They were big but I thought that they should be bigger. A lot bigger. It seemed like a bargain basement price to me that should have been snatched up quickly by our soon-to-be litigious Mayor and Council.

In Gord Henderson's Thursday column, he stated:
  • "Ottawa and Queen's Park will develop terminal sticker shock over the eye-popping price tag, an estimated $759 million, for a border truck route that includes a six-kilometre tunnel."
Saturday's Windsor Star Editorial stated:
  • "The costs of constructing the tunnel, estimated to be $759-million, could easily be recovered over time"
When I asked Dave Wake of the Ministry of Transportation about these can-you-believe-it tunnel and road costs he stated:
  • "We do not know the cost of a tunnel at this time. The figure quoted in the Windsor Star is an estimated baseline cost of at-grade construction.

    Over the next several months, the DRIC study team will be developing the advantages and disadvantages of all the options, including cost and constructability. When this additional technical information is available, we will be able to develop an accurate cost estimate for all the alternatives, including the tunnelling option."
In fact, I understand that the cost of building the road through the Ojibway nature preserve is even less expensive than the number quoted by the Star, about $150 million less. Those DRIC guys did not pick the cheapest route! But those pesky environmentalists won't let that happen especially since Eddie may be afraid that Alan McKinnon might deliver another barn-burner of a speech and that they may picket again his State of the City speech on May 1 as they did last year!

Why the big fuss over some numbers? There is enough disinformation and misinformation around that we do not need more. We do not need incorrect numbers to be passed off later as the real numbers to confuse the issue further.

Remember the Cansult Report that ended the Schwartz Horseshoe Road. Here is what it had to say about tunnelling to give you some idea of how low the Henderson and Star amounts are:
  • "Cansult Limited 29 September 2005

    In researching the concept of using Tunnel Boring Machines for the 1.3 km tunnel proposed in the Schwartz Report, the following cost estimates were identified:

    • 57 km twin transportation tunnels through the Swiss Alps - $100,000,000 (US) per km;

    • 4.5 km twin transportation tunnels in Dublin, Ireland - $125,000,000 (US) per km; and

    • 300 m twin LRT tunnels (6 m in diameter) in Alberta - $100,000,000 (CAN) per km.

    Without knowledge of the subsurface conditions along the proposed route of the truck bypass, it is not possible to develop a firm cost estimate for the tunnelling (tunnelling cost is expected to vary significantly on the basis of the diameter of the tunnel, as well as the subsurface material to be tunnelled through). Even using a conservative estimate of $100M (CAN) per km (based on the Alberta LRT tunnelling project cost), however, would yield a cost of at least $65M for a single tunnel, or $130M for a twin tunnel and potentially much higher. It is reasonable to expect the cost of construction for an urban at-grade truck bypass (including property acquisition costs) to be in the order of $10 – 15M per km. Therefore, the total cost of construction for a two tube truck bypass should be expected to cost at least $200M and, with reasonable contingencies factored in (together with the premium cost of such a short section of tunnel), could easily reach a cost of over $200M. If all three tunnels of the ultimate Schwartz-proposed tunnel were constructed, the cost of construction could easily exceed $300M.

    For the same $200 - $300M expenditure for constructing a potentially short-term 8 km truck bypass, a six-lane urban at-grade freeway of anywhere between 14 – 30 km (depending upon the details of the alignment) could be constructed in a location suitable for the long-term border crossing ultimately selected by the DRIC project."

To do the math, the six kilometre cost of building a six-lane tunnel alone could exceed $1.8 billion plus several hundred million more for roads. If you throw in plaza and other infrastructure costs and bridge construction (and then double it for two sides of the river)...well my calculator overheated and exploded!

I wonder if the Governments will really Choose Tunnelling and perhaps see their budget projections Crash no matter how much one may want to Protect Windsor.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Another Slap In The Face For Windsor

From, this very interesting story.

I saw also in the Windsor Star that Eddie said that "Council will meet with Pupatello and Duncan on Friday as part of a regular series of get-togethers to discuss issues."

Perhaps grovelling and apologizing could be Item #1 on the Agenda so some of that $300 million can be used for infrastructure work and JOBS in building the road to the existing bridge at least until someone figures out what we are doing! We cannot afford the snubbing any longer.
  • Sault Ste. Marie to get road makeover from the province

    By: Steven Macleod
    TORONTO, Ont. -- The Ontario government is investing $9 million for the City of Sault Ste. Marie to improve its municipal infrastructure, announced Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar.

    "More than 130,000 commercial trucks transport approximately $3.6 billion worth of goods through Sault Ste. Marie to get to the International Bridge crossing each year," said Takhar. "It is vital these roads are kept in good repair to improve safety and traffic flow until the new truck route is complete."

    The investment is part of a larger plan to improve traffic flow and remove truck traffic from downtown streets, which will assist the city in maintaining and repairing roads, which have been used to link provincial truck traffic to the bridge crossing.

    "The elimination of truck traffic from our busy downtown streets is great news for Sault Ste. Marie drivers," said Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti. "Our government's $9 million dollar investment will be used to significantly improve these roads, which over the years, have incurred substantial wear and tear from highway traffic."

For those of you who do not remember what I wrote before "For those of you who do not know, the Soo is looking at MULTI MODAL opportunities [BLOG: February 17, 2006 "Highway 401 Has Been Completed To The Border"]

  • "Our position at the north end of US Interstate 75, an underutilized highway that connects with Highway 17 at our City and the International Bridge between Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is not congested unlike other border city locations in Southern Ontario. A Multi Modal Transportation Hub in Sault Ste. Marie would help ease congestion problems in Southern Ontario."

Now not only do we have to worry about Sarnia taking our business, now we have to worry about the Soo too.

But wait, I have an idea....let's dispatch a fact finding mission to Sault Ste. Marie. How are municipal leaders able to boast such definitive economic development and renewal of their historic downtown without in-camera council meetings? How is Mayor Rowswell able to work with Council, allowing various committees to do their job while not micromanaging? Is it because he doesn’t need credit.

Windsor must test the waters for Sister City status with Sault Ste. Marie, know as the “Soo” since Windsor is also know as the “Sue [the DRIC, the Province…]."

It is unbelievable isn't it!!!! Did Sault Ste. Marie spend $2 million on studies, alternatives and options? NO! Did Sault Ste. Marie hire an environmental attorney to rattle the litigation sabre from the municipality against Provincial & Federal offers of help? NO! Did the Soo WAAAAYYYY north of Windsor demand impractical tunnels, get involved with scare-mongering of citizens, create trial balloons for over 3 years of study only to end up with a plan to say NO! to anything and offer no leadership? No!

Sault Ste. Marie is going to get trucks off municipal streets and the Province is working side by side with them. What can Windsor learn?

  1. the Province is prepared to help;
  2. local leaders must be willing to solve problems rather than posture; and
  3. Windsor will continue to be marginalized without true local leadership.

Photo Question Answer

A number of you were very clever and guessed the 1930's or 1940's. You figured that a shot taken from that height had to be taken from an airplane or a hot air balloon. And you concluded that also from the state of construction of the bridge and road.

Some of you for the same reason guessed the early 1950's.

One of you was almost right. Hmmm that means I am becoming too predictable and better change gears.

I actually found a time machine being developed at a secret engineering lab in town and went back to the future. This photo is actually Windsor in 2030.

Here is what happened from the history books I read when I was in the future.

Windsor mayors and councils from 2004 on fought every attempt to build a road to the border and every attempt to build a border crossing that worked. Eventually the Senior Levels got fed up and decided to invest their billions in the Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie areas where the communities welcomed the investment since they recognized the economic development opportunities. They understood that there was a need for the "New Domestics" to get parts and move their finished vehicles to market through the I-69 and the northern I-75 corridors. All levels of Government in those areas also wanted to help and gain new investment and jobs.

As plants closed down in Windsor, worker salaries kept being cut and jobs disappeared. The results were that there was economic stagnation here with homes being foreclosed and people were forced to move out of Windsor in order to survive.

Ironically, many moved to Newfoundland where Premier Pupatello welcomed many of her old Windsor West constituents as that Province prospered due to oil money and continued equalization payments from the "have-not" Ontario Treasury. In fact, Sandra and Canadian Prime Minister Dwight Duncan were responsible for re-starting the old Bricklin factory to appeal to the crowd of rich Newfoundlanders who wanted and could afford super-expensive niche vehicles. That was the beginning as well of the new booming auto industry in Maritime Canada.

It wasn't all bad however. Windsor now was transformed, as some people in the early 2000's wanted, into that idyllic, serene countryside that it never was.

And that is what really happened!

Role Of City Government

Here is a very fascinating Star Editorial written 3 1/2 years ago about the role of City Government that I found recently.

With Eddie Francis seemingly taking seriously his title as "Young Entrepeneur of the year" and with him wishing to play with taxpayer money as Mayor to operate a Tunnel and maybe a new bridge, I thought the remarks were interesting.

Just remember what Mayor Daley of Chicago said, "running a toll road is not a core function of city government."

City business; The role of government
Windsor Star 11-28-2002

Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd. is the new city-owned company that now holds the Enwin properties. Since it is owned by the city, the company's operations are ultimately the responsibility of city council and the mayor.

At its last meeting, Windsor city council debated the allowable amount for discretionary spending at Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd., for among other things, new lines of business. Any proposed spending above the limit would have to come back to city council for approval.

Amounts of $2 million and $5 million were thrown about and in the end it was decided to have the administration review the matter and come back with an amount that made sense.

But as far as spending on "new lines of business" goes, it shouldn't have been that difficult.

Every initiative that involves "new lines of business," whether there is spending or not, should have to go back to council for approval.

There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that a new business may have little spending at first, but may involve larger losses down the road and those losses would ultimately be the responsibility of taxpayers. Council should be obligated to examine all current and future risks before any commitment is made.

But the second reason is even more basic and relates to the legitimate role of government.

At a very basic level, citizens create government to help them go about their business and enjoy their personal pursuits. The government is there to make it easier for people to conduct their personal and business affairs.

The government is not there to compete with the very people for whom it was created to represent.

The only time government should be getting directly into business is when they are dealing with a "public good." A public good is one where it is impossible to limit its consumption to the person who would be paying for it. If one person pays for it, the public benefits. Thus, no individual will pay for it and therefore private businesses won't supply it.

The classic example is the military. Once it is paid for, we all benefit, so individuals won't pay for it and business can't supply it. Another example is public roads, although this is becoming less true as technology makes toll roads more feasible.

But if government gets in the business of supplying products which are not public goods, then government may end up in competition with its own citizens, which is an unacceptable role for government.

As a result, all new ventures at city-owned Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd. should have to go back to council for review. Hopefully, council will then have the wisdom to say no.

But when it comes to Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd., the bigger question that should be asked is why city government is involved in the energy distribution business in the first place.

It is not a public good and the city has no business being involved in it.

But given the way Premier Ernie Eves has mismanaged Ontario Hydro privatization, it is doubtful that this situation will get remedied any time soon.

In the meantime, all we can hope is that city government shows restraint when it comes to approving "new lines of business."

Movin' On Up

I read this in a CP story about Sandra Pupatello's promotion:

"The resignation Wednesday of former education minister and federal Liberal leadership hopeful Gerard Kennedy allowed Premier Dalton McGuinty to promote veteran politician Sandra Pupatello to a portfolio that makes her the most powerful woman in cabinet.

Together with another prominent Windsor booster, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, Pupatello's "don't mess with Windsor" mantra is likely to take on even more resonance as the pair play king and queen to McGuinty's ace in the Liberal house of cards.

"We've always said that, and that hasn't changed today," a beaming Pupatello said of her praise for the border city, a place powered by its automotive manufacturing base.

"The road has been set and we need to keep the car on the road. It is about cars, I guess, in the end," she chuckled."

Frankly, I am sure that everyone was surprised about Sandra's new appointment, probably including Sandra! From what local Liberals were telling me, she was not Ms Popularity with the Premier or her colleagues. As an example, she was not part of the $500 million Gong Show announcement made in Windsor by Dwight and one of their colleagues. They would not have made such a promise without the Premier's OK.

So what happened?

Here is what I think based on pure speculation:

It means that the Premier knows that Dwight is going to run for the Federal Liberal leadership soon and will resign as Gerard Kennedy did. Dwight's budget makes him a serious contender even though the national media have not figured that out yet. (It also makes it easier for the Premier to bring Greg Sorbara back as Finance Minister when the time is right).

McGuinty needs the two seats in Windsor. He probably promoted Sandra so that Windsor still has a big-position Cabinet Minister when Dwight goes.

And who knows, perhaps it opens a spot for Eddie to run for the Liberals too provided he gets re-elected. The Conservatives probably would not touch him now!

The Premier probably expects as well that Sandra may go to Newfoundland to join her husband especially if he is successful in the next election. Who knows, she may run there too a la Jack Layton and Olivia Chow.

Until then, Windsor may as well hope for the best and congratulate Sandra. Perhaps Dwight is not now the only local politician who has overcome adversity and moved on up!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

CONTEST: Name The Date

Here is the latest contest from your friendly BlogMeister.

I need you to guess when this photo was taken. I also want to know the reason why you chose that date.

To give you some geographical perspective, that's Detroit in the foreground and Windsor in the background.

Clearly you have to be creative in this Contest since the obvious answer is not necessarily going to be the correct answer. After all, I do have to give you a challenge don't I?

The answer will be given tomorrow

Has The Airline Industry Saved Windsor

Many of the major US airlines have or are being restructured through the Bankruptcy Courts as has Air Canada. Through this route they have been able to survive in a manner which they probably could not have achieved through the normal negotiation process among company/union/lender/investor .

Respecting Air Canada as an example (and the CAW being one of the unions involved), CBC reported that

  • "Air Canada's employees paid a heavy price for the airline's financial woes. Thousands lost their jobs in difficult downsizing negotiations; those that remained had to take pay cuts.

    Creditors had to settle for a fraction of the billions they were owed. And the airline's shareholders were left holding stock that became virtually worthless."

Is the same pattern going to take place in the auto industry with Delphi being the test case for the Big Three perhaps? Will Chapter 11 or restructuring under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act in Canada become the norm to get concessions that otherwise could never be achieved? ie either go along and make sacrificies or bankruptcy with plants closing and jobs lost forever

Here are excerpts from a story I found in Forbes magazine recently:

  • "GM, Delphi, UAW Continue Negotiating

    Delphi's recent actions against the United Auto Workers union has cast a long shadow over General Motors.

    The UAW has vowed to strike if the bankruptcy court agrees with Delphi’s request to throw out its union contracts...

    For now, the analyst says GM, Delphi and UAW will continue to negotiate. Delphi’s two motions with the bankruptcy court request the authority to reject U.S. labor agreements and unprofitable supply contracts with General Motors. Delphi has requested new contracts on nearly half of its annual North American purchase volume revenue from GM, worth about $6 billion.

    The union is doubtless upset over plans for restructuring at Delphi, which would require cutting its global salaried workforce by 25%, closing nearly one-third of its manufacturing base and doing away with about 40% of its corporate officer positions, says Murphy. Delphi also says it can’t sustain current wages for its hourly workers and would have to decrease wages by 25% to $16.50."
Once the struggle with Delphi is over, and each side has a lot to win and lose so the battle will be hard fought, will that be the template to be applied in the auto industry?

Will Windsor workers see big pay and benefits cuts and accept them or will they strike and perhaps see plants closed down and moved to other locations? If wages are lowered and it appears that the power of the unions has been reduced will the new Domestics consider moving to Windsor? Can the local economy stand a reduction of 25% of wages and what will happen to those with large debts and mortages that were to be paid off by the higher wages?

There are many questions to ask and I do not have any of the answers. If a reader does have a comment or opinion to give, feel free to write and I will provide a forum for your views!

A Solution In Search Of A Problem

It's a different perspective worthy of some consideration at the least before we dish out billions of taxpayer dollars to build a border crossing that disrupts two communities in Michigan and Ontario and which may not be needed for years. If only Eddie would fix the roads on our side now rather than posture for re-election.

I had posted previously (BLOG March 17, 2006, "Eddie's New Border Worry") the Detroit News article by two consultants to the Bridge Co., Gary Wolfram, George Munson Professor of Political Economy at Hillsdale College and Craig Ruff, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants and lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

They testified in the Michigan hearings at Lansing and what they said was very interesting. The Star was at the session and picked up the comments about them being "hired guns."

Of course they are, just like say, a world renowned traffic guru. They made the point, as Gridlock Sam did, that you can buy their time but NOT their opinion.

It is unfortunate as well that the Star did not report what Senator Leland also said. He said he had known one of the speakers (or perhaps both I cannot remember now) for a considerable period of time and respected his opinions.

Their Report is now public since it was submitted at the hearings. I read the entire document and thought you might want to think about some of the things they discussed. Here is the Executive Summary:

Another Michigan-Ontario Border Crossing?
A Solution in Search of a Problem

Executive Summary


With much fanfare, the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study on November 14, 2005, unveiled its conclusion that a new bridge be constructed in 2013 across the Detroit River, creating another link between Detroit and Windsor. The $32-million study rejects the cost-effective option of a privately funded twinning of the Ambassador Bridge. A new bridge, plaza, and roadway connections likely will cost about $3 billion, about $2 billion of which constitutes Canada’s share of a new bridge and its essential investment in a plaza and roadway connections in Windsor. Public policy–makers in Michigan now must examine the objectivity of the study and scrutinize a conclusion that, if implemented, will cost Michigan and the United States about one billion taxpayer dollars.


We find no near-term need for a new crossing. When and if demand warrants new lanes connecting Detroit and Windsor, the Detroit International Bridge Company (owner of the Ambassador Bridge) is prepared to invest in building a new span, thus freeing taxpayer dollars to meet other public needs.

More specifically:

  • The DRIC’s continually erroneous projections of border crossing demands raise serious issues about the validity of its 30-year projections.
  • If demand by commuters, tourists, and truckers should outstrip the current capacity of the bridges and tunnel, it is preferable to depend upon the investment of the private sector rather than the public sector.
  • The number of lanes crossing the border will not affect congestion and delays for many years to come. Congestion problems are a function of the number of inspection booths, the number of customs personnel, and the preparedness of motorists.
  • On the U.S. side, the Gateway Project, upon completion in 2008, will alleviate congestion and provide smooth access to the Ambassador Bridge. The $225-million project ($185 million of state and federal dollars and $40 million invested by the Detroit International Bridge Company) is designed in large part to anticipate a second span of the Ambassador Bridge.
  • The two major impediments to efficient commercial vehicle flow between southwest Ontario and southeast Michigan are the poorly planned plaza at the Blue Water Bridge (government owned) and the roadway between the end of Highway 401 in Windsor and the foot of the Ambassador Bridge. Canada has avoided improving access to the Ambassador Bridge for decades. Canada now seeks to build a new highway across largely vacant and industrial land in Canada and a new plaza. The new bridge will also require a plaza and roadway connections in Michigan that will be duplicative of the Gateway Project improvements.
  • The $1 billion that Michigan and the United States would have to invest in their share of a new bridge comes at the steep expense of worthier and essential transportation improvements in our state.
  • Any bridge expansion, as it becomes necessary, should be privately owned, since this will result in more efficient use of resources and more consistent maintenance.
  • U.S. federal policymakers expressly acknowledge and place importance on private marketplace forces. Signed into law on August 10, 2005, the six-year transportation funding legislation, known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, encourages public support for private sector transportation infrastructure projects.


DRIC press releases trumpet various rationales for a new bridge, including:

  • Over the next 30 years, trade between Canada and the U.S. is projected to increase significantly.

    Under high-growth scenarios, cross-border traffic demand could exceed the capacity of the present border crossings in the Detroit River area as early as 2015.

    Unless steps are taken to address capacity at the Detroit-Windsor crossings, mounting congestion and delays will result in lost production, and ultimately fewer jobs in communities throughout both countries.

DRIC press releases do not mention that:

  • Every traffic demand projection by government transportation planners throughout the DRIC’s study has proven wrong and required overhaul. The planners have guessed wrong even on a one-year projection, let alone a 30-year horizon.

    The taxpayers of Michigan and Ontario—not transportation planners—will foot a bill of about $3 billion for a new bridge, new inspection plaza or plazas, and new connections to regional freeways. Michigan taxpayers will bear a burden for Ontario’s failure to provide for enhanced and safer connections from Highway 401 in Windsor to the Ambassador Bridge.

    Congestion and long delays are today virtually nonexistent. Infrequent delays are not due to a shortage of lanes crossing the river, but rather to inspection issues, facilities, and staffing. Readers may find current waiting times at We have checked that site numerous times in late November and early December and have not seen any reported delays at Port Huron or Detroit.

In the last three years of the DRIC’s work, models projecting demand (even short-term) have had to be overhauled twice. Commissioned forecasts of future demands by travelers and haulers of freight across the Michigan/Ontario border started with a base year of 2000. Seeing major changes in actual crossings, researchers changed the base year to 2002. Again seeing major changes thereafter, researchers had to change the base year to 2004. Notwithstanding such wide fluctuations in projections over a four-year period, the DRIC uses a 30-year projection of demand to defend its conclusion that a new bridge must be built.

The planning for the Blue Water Bridge shows a similar inability of government to forecast traffic demands. The three-lane Blue Water Bridge was experiencing unacceptable backups in 1992, when its total annual traffic was 6.0 million vehicles. Planners judged that insufficient lanes caused backups and determined that a second span would alleviate delays. In 1998 the second three-lane span opened, and traffic stood at 5.2 million vehicles annually—a volume nearly 15 percent lower than in 1992.

The Blue Water Bridge still—in 2005—does not carry enough traffic to justify the second span. The congestion of 1992 had nothing to do with the number of lanes. The problem was always a shortage of customs booths and poor plaza design. The only constraint on capacity—both today and in years past—is inadequate inspection capabilities. That is true for other crossings as well.

Given the poor track record of Canadian-U.S. government studies, and the fact that the Ambassador Bridge is currently operating at much less than full capacity, that overall traffic has been flat for the past six years, and that closures of and cutbacks at Michigan and Ontario auto plants are threatening to dampen cross-border shipping, we seriously doubt that there is an impending need for additional bridge capacity. Indeed, all evidence points to inspection booth capacity as the crucial need in the intermediate and long term.

Between Toronto and Chicago or Toledo, there are two major impediments to the efficient flow of commercial vehicles. One is the U.S. plaza at the Blue Water Bridge. The second is the stretch of six miles (through commercial districts and 17 traffic lights) between Highway 401 in Windsor and the foot of the Ambassador Bridge. Confronting these obstacles—not building new lanes across the border—should be the focus of government planners. The Ambassador Bridge and the Michigan Department of Transportation have led in ensuring that inspection capacity is met through the Gateway Project, a constructive private/public partnership that will improve access to the bridge and relieve traffic congestion on the Detroit side.
To head off future congestion, the Detroit International Bridge Company is spending $50 million (over and above investment in the Gateway Project) to expand the U.S. plaza. That will serve the needs of border inspectors for at least 50 years. The firm has accurately diagnosed the potential source of congestion.


If a new bridge becomes necessary as a result of future demand, it should be privately owned. The privately owned and operated Ambassador Bridge has a 76-year history of being safe and well maintained. The private sector has a greater incentive than government to maintain a safe bridge. Consumers have several alternatives for traveling between Ontario and Michigan. If a private company does not keep its bridge in good working order, travelers will take alternative routes and tolls—the sole source of revenue—will decline.

Unlike government, a private firm must make sure that the cost of building a bridge will be met by income generated by its use. Government agents who decide on the size of the bridge do not risk their own assets—but rather taxpayers’ investment—in making this decision. The fees for a government-owned bridge will be set through the political process.

United States policymakers expressly acknowledge and place importance on private marketplace forces. They do so through the recently enacted six-year transportation funding legislation known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. That law encourages public support for private sector transportation infrastructure projects. Signed into law on August 10, 2005, the act allows the issuing of tax-exempt private activity bonds to finance highway projects and rail-truck transfer facilities. This allows state and local governments to finance private companies’ construction of such projects and facilities, including international tunnels and bridges. States, too, are moving to capitalize on private operation of integral transportation facilities. Examples include the privatization in January 2005 of Illinois’ Chicago Skyway toll road under a 99-year operating lease and Indiana’s exploration of privatizing I-69.

Government legitimately plans to meet future transportation needs and has an essential function to ensure safe roads and highways. Increasingly, government is finding that there is great value in private operation of transportation corridors...

  • Despite the offer by the Ambassador Bridge’s owners to build a twin bridge and plazas on both the American and Canadian sides of the border, Canada aggressively resists twinning the Ambassador Bridge because its officials do not want to build the required access roads. Their concern about the impact on surrounding neighborhoods must fall on deaf ears in the neighborhoods of southwest Detroit, an area that is host to three interstate highways.
  • ...Once environmental and planning approvals are in place, a new bridge can be built in about three years—that was the length of time required to build the second span of the Blue Water Bridge.
  • Through the $225-million Gateway Project, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the United States Federal Highway Administration, and the DIBC are preparing roads, ramps, and an expanded plaza between the Ambassador Bridge and interstate highway system to handle expected traffic for at least the next 35 years. The Gateway Project was planned to serve the twinning of the Ambassador Bridge.
  • The Ambassador Bridge’s owners are spending another $50 million or more to build a plaza that will serve the needs of border inspectors for at least 50 years.
  • ...With proper staffing of the expanded plaza proposed by the Ambassador Bridge’s owners, congestion will be minimized for the foreseeable future.
  • The impetus for new construction and expenditures comes, in part, from Ontario and Canada, which have no plans to confront and pay for road development to deliver traffic from Highway 401 to the Ambassador Bridge. The DRIC’s American representatives have acceded to the wishes of Canada and have agreed to consider spending about $1 billion for the United States portion (half of the cost of a new bridge and all of Michigan’s plaza and roadway connections).
  • A new bridge will not lessen the threat of interruption of commerce and travel brought on by terrorist actions. Prevention of terrorist action requires aggressive inspection of vehicles prior to driving onto a bridge or into a tunnel.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Turn On The Light At Enwin

Remember that I said last week in the article about the Council pay scale that "there is a bigger story in here than the headlines. Let's see if you can guess what that is too. More to come about that next week."

Well now you know. Enwin is the problem but who knows what it is since it seems to have been shrouded in secrecy.

We learned this week that the big pay increase for Council was due to:
  • The structure of Enwin Powerlines had to be reorganized
  • Councillors were asked to step onto the boards to provide "more public oversight to get things fixed," Councillors were there for seven hours a day. We had significant problems at Enwin."
  • It took a lot of meetings and a lot of time....there won't be as many meetings to attend, now that the problems at the utilities have been resolved
  • the extra money was the direct result of councillors joining the boards of Enwin and other troubled municipal bodies to stop the bleeding... we had, quite honestly, a corporation out of control
  • Francis said the council pay boost was "a one-off" triggered by the Enwin crisis
  • measures over the past year-and-a-half have met the requirements of the Ontario Energy Board and saved the city millions of dollars
  • Having that calibre of individuals around the boardroom table has saved this city millions

Holy mackerel! What the heck went on at Enwin that no one in Windsor seems to know about except those that have attended secret in camera meetings of Council. This is pathetic! This is a scandal! It is not just Enwin that seems to be out of control.

Here is what I have learned about Enwin over the past few years taken from the pages of the Star:

  1. Enwin Powerlines paid $5.2 million too much for a new computerized billing system that it bought for the deregulated electricity market, an accounting audit shows.
  2. Auditors also said Enwin mismanaged the computer project with poor planning and a lack of oversight over private contractors hired to design and program the system. Managers bungled the project by not making sure the system was delivered as ordered and on time, documents said.
  3. Last summer, Enwin asked regulators for $18 million, but withdrew the filing when new management took over the utility and discovered the application was inaccurate
  4. Employees who managed the computer project are no longer working for Enwin
  5. Enwin wrote off $6 million last year
  6. Enwin officials could not say exactly where the money came from to pay for the project
  7. Enwin still faces a difficult challenge in proving even the pared down claim is reasonable
  8. Enwin was one of five utilities selected to appear before the Ontario Energy Board to explain its request for compensation
  9. Enwin didn't have sufficient information on the cross-charges between EnWin Powerlines which provides electricity to consumers and EnWin Utilities which provides the billing service.
  10. Customer confusion and complaints have got to the point where Enwin has had to improve its voice message service to cut down on the waiting time. People have been waiting a half hour or more to get a representative.
  11. Deregulation---Enwin Utilities has incurred millions of dollars worth of needless debt, will have to eliminate jobs and put off necessary work and may see its creditworthiness reduced because of failed electricity deregulation, its vice-president of finance said Tuesday. "It's not been thought through properly. It's been a wasted effort," Roy Fritz said, adding that other utilities are probably facing similar situations. "We have to pay additional costs to unwind what we've done. We're back to a regulated market now. The biggest loser is the city of Windsor, being our owner. Our profits are not what they used to be. All of these costs -- we've had to borrow money," Fritz said.
  12. Fritz said the utility which used to have revenues of between $8 million and $10 million a year has actually dipped slightly into the red in the last two years, mostly due to costs of getting ready for deregulation.
  13. The city-owned utility sought to recoup $101 per customer it says it spent getting ready for the deregulated electricity market in the late 1990s but its OEB deal brings Enwin's recovery amount down to $87.49 per customer
  14. In May 2001....shift of the $1.3-million burden of maintaining fire hydrants from the city's books to those of Enwin
  15. Roy Fritz, chief executive officer and president of Windsor Canada Utilities and acting general manager of Windsor Utilities Commission has resigned, effective immediately. In a brief news release from the utility company, no reasons were given for the abrupt resignation and Fritz was available for comment. Sylvia de Vries, corporate communications manager for Enwin, said she "didn't have any further details or reasons for the resignation but that a search is on for a replacement."
  16. Despite rumours of a rift between the former CEO and the utility company's board, Fritz said in the days immediately after his resignation announcement that "it was for personal and professional career reasons."
  17. Windsor was given a credit of about $75 million in promissory notes for the assets of its former utilities company, when the electrical industry was deregulated two years ago. Under the plan, Enwin will borrow $50 million and hand over $47.3 million to the city. The city will continue to be paid six per cent interest on the remaining $21.5 million in promissory notes.
  18. Councillor Brister said he cannot provide any details but there are major issues pending involving the Windsor-Detroit tunnel and Enwin that will consume "a significant amount of taxpayer resources."
  19. Restructuring of the Enwin Group of Companies will provide ratepayers with accountability at all levels, a new emphasis on customer service and more reliable and dependable delivery of electrical service, a spokeswoman for the companies said Thursday.
  20. Windsor taxpayers may not realize it, but they are stakeholders in the broadband telecommunications business. Enwin Utilities Ltd., which already delivers electricity and water to the community, provides a fibre-optics "backbone" network for a vast array of voice, data and video services for public and private institutions.

I would have thought that the Mayor and the members of Council who sit on the Enwin Board owe citizens an immediate explanation of what is going on and how much it has cost us. The fact that they are not sharing with us the magnificent work that they have done to solve things really makes me shiver.

Public (Dis)service

When the going gets tough for certain members of Council, trivialize the issue

I was not going to comment on the salary increase that Councillors gave to themselves. Remember the other day, I asked you to write your own BLOG when we saw that Councillor salaries grew by 22.9 per cent and that "Mayor Eddie Francis earned about $30,000 that was not previously disclosed."

Well I was eating breakfast this morning and almost gagged on the sheer hypocrisy that came out of the mouth of Councillor Budget Brister! Remember I asked "Where is Councillor Budget now and why didn't our financial expert catch this? He should be fuming!"

Well we know where he was...he went running off to his favourite columnist to cry for protection when the heat got too hot in the kitchen.

Can you stomach the platitudes. How patronizing.
  • "Coun. Dave Brister, operating budget committee chairman, said citizens are right to ask tough questions. "People are justified in being upset about how much council compensation went up. At the end of the day I think council is about public service and the fact we are paid for it at all is a bonus..."

    With better controls, Brister expects councillors can withdraw from some boards and committees and their pooled compensation will nosedive. He said that will be fine with him because pay shouldn't be the key to attracting and keeping councillors. "Anybody who's doing it for the money I think would become disillusioned very quickly."

Can you believe his gall? Did he take the increase in the first place? YES

Did he offer to give back the money? NOPE

About the Mayor, why it was said:
  • "The mayor, who logs close to 80 hours a week, not counting phone calls, said he has no concerns about his pay and isn't envious of area officials who are paid significantly more. "Trust me. You don't do this for the money. I knew coming in what to expect and I knew what I was prepared to commit to it."
Is it my fault that Eddie is inefficient and cannot delegate properly so that he has to work such long hours? Remember the excuse last week:
  • "After he was elected in 2003, Francis said he questioned why his compensation for Enwin and WUC wasn't disclosed in the council remuneration report that's released annually to the public. "They said to me that's not the way it was done before," Francis said. "Enwin is considered a separate company and as a separate company it pays taxes."

    The mayor's compensation from Enwin does not qualify for the one-third tax exemption that applies to other portions of his salary, Francis said.

    He said he didn't ask to have his additional salary from Enwin and WUC included on the remuneration report because he didn't want to meddle. "I was very careful to allow administrators to do whatever they do without political interference." But Francis said he will ask to have the figures disclosed in the future."

What the heck does all of that mean? That's a non-answer! The issue is disclosure. "Meddling".....for heaven's sake it is his job to "meddle" when something is going wrong and not let administration do what it wants.

But since it was in his best interest, why rock the boat right? He has known about it for years, since he was elected. Only after it came out will Francis disclose in future.

I asked the reporter who broke this story if she had included in the amount disclosed any amounts the Mayor and Councillors received from the Windsor Tunnel Commission. If there are additional amounts to be added on, I am sure the Star will report that too.

I know how hard the Mayor and Council work and I do not begrudge them a proper compensation. It should NOT be done this way however since it makes a mockery of City finances

Bus Terminal Math

Remember I asked the question about the present value of the stream of payments coming from Greyhound re their contribution to the Bus terminal. According to the Star, the City would receive $1.4 million payable $48,000 per year for 30 years

A friend of mine involved in financial matters did a present value calculation for me and I found a calculator that also does it.

Here is what I found:

  • "If you were to receive $48,000.00 every time period (e.g. every month, six months, or every year) for the next 30 periods, and you continually reinvested this amount at a rate of 5%, the total series of cash flows at the end of the annuity's life would be worth $737,877.65 today."

I understand that the City has a new Treasurer. Perhaps he can tell me if my math is correct and what the significance of all this is to City finances respecting the terminal.

Once In A Lifetime Event

A reader sent me this and I had to let you know!

On Wednesday of this week...

At two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning...

The time and date will be... 01:02:03 04/05/06

This won't ever happen again in your lifetime!

You may now return to your normal (?) life.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Latest Council Border Resolution

Remember that Windsor Council meeting in the Town of Tecumseh. Council passed a Resolution at it but even for some of us in attendance, it was not very clear what was passed. In fact, some of the Councillors had trouble at the time too it seemed. Here is what Administration tells me is the Resolution:
  • Attached is the resolution passed unanimously by City Council at its meeting held on March 23, 2006:

    That City Council, in response to the DRICP Area of Continued Analysis,

    ENDORSES the Schwartz/Estrin Proposal, which includes
    -tunneling under Talbot Road from Highway 401 to Todd Lane, with a full environmental assessment in terms of all alternatives west of Huron Church Road,
    -removal of international truck traffic off of city streets, including Huron Church Road and E.C. Row Expressway,
    -and the location of a border crossing in the Brighton Beach area, south of Prospect;

    and further,

    That this process continue with the full involvement of the citizens of Windsor.


Just a few small comments:

  1. I see that Mr. Estrin's name is now part of the proposal. Clearly that is supposed to mean litigation to scare everyone. I wonder if Councillors have bought into spending millions because Eddie is piqued. I hope we will learn one day soon how much the fees have cost us to date
  2. Clearly there is no nerve for them to talk about going through the Ojibway nature reserve as before
  3. It appears that Council has finally agreed that Talbot Road is the preferred corridor. If no tunnel goes in, well too bad for the residents there now!
  4. Of course, no one thought about excluding "local" international trucks from the prohibition about using City streets or E C Row. Not only the meeting but the Resolution was hurried and with mistakes
  5. While politically the border crossing plays well over here, I wonder if any consideration was given to the residents of Delray. I forgot, we only have to worry about Sandwich. We will let Kwame and his Council worry about Delray
  6. I am glad to see that "in camera secrecy" is over and we are now going to have "open and transparent" border involvement. If you believe that, then I have some land for sale for a border crossing in Propsect.
  7. If you think this is the City's final position, it is not. It is a Resolution merely in response to DRICP. Don't you just love the word games. If something else comes along, they are free to change again, just as they are doing now from the earlier Schwartz position.

Spending $60,000 At The Library

I see that on the Council agenda is a proposal by KPMG to spend $50,000 to $65,000 on professional fees for a Financial and Operational Audit of the Windsor Library.

You know the reason for the reveiew don't you? I don't. All I know is that there is some silly political battle going on amongst the Mayor and Council and the Library Board that is growing totally out of proportion and is costing taxpayers money that could be used for better purposes.

Read the Council Report if you want to see what the audit is turning into.

So I got to thinking, what could $60,000 be used for at the Library that made some real sense and actually contributed to the Library and the City.

Aha, the Mayor wanted to solve the youth at the mall problem. I remembered something my daughter was involved in that would have accomplished that purpose but which program was scrapped and never happened!

Teen-friendly library touted;
Windsor Star 02-07-2004

Teen-friendly library touted

A group of Windsor young people is hoping a comfy couch, a big- screen TV and the latest computer games will entice the city's teens and twenty-somethings to hang out at the Windsor Public Library.

After devoting six months to crafting a business proposal, the 14 youths aged 17 to 29 unveiled their plans for a new youth space at the library's central branch on Ouellette Avenue Wednesday.

"It will be a safe environment for teens and keep them off the streets," said Melissa Arditti, 23, one of the project's planners. "A lot of kids I notice are hanging out at the mall on a Friday night doing nothing. Now they could come here."

The space for people aged 14 to 25 will be a separate room near the library's main door with Internet-ready computers, cool books and magazines, a gaming table, motivational posters, a sofa and a TV with DVD player.

Janet Woodbridge, the library's manager of special population services, said the library needs to raise about $60,000 to build the youth space. She'll approach the library foundation and private donors for the cash.

Arditti and her 13 partners drafted the proposal under the guidance of the local Junior Achievement.

Leave The Driving To Us

Be still my beating heart...........can you feel the excitement building in our revitalizing downtown with the Keg restaurant operating and Greyhound approving a $6 million agreement with the City of Windsor for a new downtown bus depot.

It's a shame that our Super Bowl visitors were not able to experience the new bus terminal when they went across the border. I know that it was supposed to have been ready for Super Bowl but perhaps the 25,000 CFL patrons for our new stadium will be able to use it.

I was wondering how many expense-account Keg patrons actually take the bus. I thought I could be helpful and suggest some synergies to help grow business downtown:
  • when you pay for your meal, you can buy a Greyhound bus ticket to Toronto at the same time
  • you can use your Greyhound bus ticket to get a free dessert
  • Keg can offer reduced prices on "Vodka Greyhound" drinks
  • Special Greyhound section to get people in and out of the Keg quickly
  • Take home your leftovers in a Greyhound "doggie" bag
  • "Greyhound" tartare (naaaaaaaaaaaw I don't think so)

Remember the other so-called "partnership" deal for the Park 'N Go garage that our Mayor was involved in when he was a Councillor and on the Windsor Tunnel Commission. You know the one in receivership where the City could lose millions. I hope the one with Greyhound does not turn out that way.

Some of the details of the Greyhound deal have been released and I have some questions:

  • I am curious to know why the size of the terminal was reduced so much and why Greyhound cannot use the inside facilities. (I hope their patrons can use the toilets if there are any in the building!)
  • I heard that one of the Greyhound deals put forward to the Transit Windsor Board was rejected. When it was brought back in virtually the same form, Transit Windsor was told to go along with it or face the consequences. How did those deals differ from this one since what I heard about them seems relatively close to this deal
  • Is a multi-million dollar Art Gallery compatible with a bus terminal adjacent to it?

I had a few questions on the financing too since real estate transactions are so confusing:

  • Francis said the old bus terminal will most likely be sold. To whom and at what price? (Perhaps Burger King can now move here since their other land purchase deal fell apart) But what if the $800,000 value for Greyhound's land is wrong and less is received. Who makes up the short-fall, the City?
  • For Greyhound's remaining $1.4 million , they pay $48,000 per year for 30 years. It looks like no interest is paid by Greyhound. Now someone has to pay for the construction costs upfront so who does that? Perhaps one of the math geniuses can figure out the present value of that sum of money to see if there is a shortfall too
  • But wait a minute, some of that capital amount is going to pay the terminal's operating costs. How can that be done? So we are NOT receiving $48,000 per year for the cost but less.
  • The City gets a 7.5% commission for selling bus tickets. Is that the same rate as travel agents or lower? (I have seen that in some Greyhound promotions, the rate is 10%). Can Greyhound cut commission rates?
  • $64,000 is the building operating costs. What are the total operating costs?
  • If operating costs go up over the 30 years, who pays for the increase
  • Does Greyhound have exclusivity in the building for bus service and how much did they pay for that?
  • To become a 50-50 partner, isn't Greyhound's contribution less than 50% and the City's more

I wonder if the Councillors on the Board now can face taxpayers and say this is a good deal for us.

I would not be surprised if the first "engineered slope" for the bus terminal will be dug for a photo-op just in the nick of time for the November election. Thank goodness this Council does not have a 4-year term as the Premier wants or we would have to wait for another year before something got built for bus users.