Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Ayes Have It

For those of you just dying to appear as a delegation in front of City Council to speak in favour of or against a tunnel for Windsor, here is the Notice of Motion that Councillor Marra will introduce on Monday.

It will probably pass unanimously unless one or two Councillors have the guts to stand up and say it makes no sense. Don't hold your breath though since tunnelling is the new City battle cry (and Eddie's ticket to Queen's Park).

A well-known expert on the matter had this to say to me about the Motion:
  • "It's over. Between Eddie and the Windsor Star conditioning the residents on tunnel, tunnel, tunnel... the earth is scorched. The "Great Tunnel Debate" for next Monday is a joke... The MTO will say fine, and not build anything. Period...

    The $3.2 billion price tag is not fiction, or "inflated". That's why they'll walk away. You showed yourself, traffic numbers are down, not up. You don't think they know that in Toronto and Ottawa? That buys them 10, 15 years to wait it out and let Windsor suffer for their civic leadership...

    MTO will say no rush, we can wait until you come to your senses. They won't literally walk away, but they won't be bullied either. Imagine the precedent! Every municipal leader from Windsor to Timmons finds out they can extort the MTO."

The problem with my friend is that he just does not understand. This is Windsor, we deserve it and are owed it! Just ask City Hall.

If you want to read a brutal BLOG on the lack of scrubber technology that makes a mockery of what is being proposed, read the piece written by ex-Ward Two Candidate Chris Schnurr at

Perhaps before Councillor Marra writes another letter to the Star, he should ask the Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission aka the Mayor about problems with the heritage-designated Tunnel ventilation building and massive cost over-runs for repairs. Perhaps he could ask him also what scrubbing techniques are used at the City owned Tunnel downtown. He may be surprised at the answer! NOTHING!

  • Notice of Motion

    Whereas tunneling projects are common throughout the world; and

    Whereas the City of Windsor wants to protect neighborhoods and get trucks off local streets; and

    Whereas tunneling combined with capturing and scrubbing emissions will significantly improve local air quality; and

    Whereas the Town of LaSalle adopted Resolution 7652/06 supporting tunneling and has advised DRIC of that position; and

    Whereas the Town of Tecumseh Planning Committee adopted resolution PC -41/06, supporting LaSalle’s resolution on Tunneling; and

    Whereas the Warden of the County of Essex stated that tunneling is the least intrusive option; and

    Whereas there have been numerous public statements and correspondence from the City of Windsor urging tunneling,

    Therefore be it RESOLVED that the City of Windsor advise DRIC that they must have a tunneled solution for Windsor Border traffic.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not against tunnelling where appropriate in Windsor but I am against politicians pretending that they are accomplishing something when all they may do is chase the $300 million BIF funds out of town.

Motions like this do nothing to solve the need to find a proper road to the border. All it does is make it tougher for anyone to take Windsor seriously!

Windsor Mayors' Conflicts

It seems that finally someone is concerned with our Mayors' possible "conflict of interest" by being Mayor and also Chair of a Board. Unfortunately for me, it is the wrong Board that was being discussed this time around.

Again, as I wrote once before note the plural "s" in Mayors. This criticism is not directed at just this Mayor but every Mayor who plays the dual role.

  • "Mayor's police board role questioned

    By Chris Thompson, Thursday, January 25, 2007

    A local criminal lawyer is questioning the wisdom of having the mayor of the city serve as chairman of the police services board. “We want to avoid the politicizing of police,” said Greg Goulin"

As you, dear reader must know by now, I am very critical of the inherent conflict of interest with the Mayor being Head of Council and also Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission.

I asked before about $9,150. That's the amount that Mayor Francis, Chairman of the Windsor Tunnel Commission, receives as salary to sit on the Commission. Is he overpaid?

As an example, with the operations of the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel seeming to be getting worse and worse with cost over-runs at the Tunnel Ventilation Building, no one hired to run the operation, $6.6m dividend disappearing and a huge drop in traffic that continues and continues, the Mayor should seriously consider teminating the services of the Chair. But do you really think that Eddie will fire himself?

How about the unique security risk at the Tunnel? Should Eddie as Chair demand action to fix it since there is a huge liability when as Mayor he knows that there may not be enough money to do so?

This conflict of interest may be causing Windsor serious problems as well. Is the Mayor concerned about the border from the competitive position as Chair of thte Tunnel or for the public interest as Mayor? The two interests are not necessarily the same. Which one is the dominant one?

The Senate of Canada recognized this conflict during the debate on Bill C-3 :

  • "We have seen decreases in numbers of crossings at various places, including the tunnel from Windsor to Detroit. By the way, the committee that oversees that tunnel is chaired by guess who? The Mayor of Windsor. I would suggest perhaps the Mayor of Windsor may have a conflict as he debates how other people see this."

It would appear that the Tunnel Plaza improvements to take vehicles off Goyeau and Wyandotte is more important for the Chair than fixing the road to the border for the Mayor. There seems to be a Tunnel deal between Windsor and the Senior Levels made early on but the potential of a lawsuit between them as both the Mayor and Councillor STOPDRTP threatened legal action over the road.

Just a hint for Eddie. You had better be careful over these Board/Mayor conflicts. It can hurt your credibility in your future career as you dance around as it did in this exchange in the Senate. The use of "politician" here was not a complimentary one!

  • Senator Mercer: However, you are the mayor of the city of Windsor.

    Mr. Francis: I am.

    Senator Mercer: I suspect that the city of Windsor has more than a passing interest in this process or you would not be here.

    You are chair of the tunnel commission, is that correct?

    Mr. Francis: I am chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission, yes.

    Senator Mercer: Does that come with the title of mayor? Is the mayor always the chair of this commission or is this something separate?

    Mr. Francis: No, the mayor has historically taken on roles and responsibilities on a number of committees. In addition to the Windsor Tunnel Commission, I am also chair of the energy company. It is part of our job. Our jobs never end. We work on committees.

    Senator Mercer: I have bridges in my province that go from one city to another, not from one country to another.

    Mr. Francis: It was established when the tunnel was created and vested in the city of Windsor that a committee and a commission would be struck. The commission is an agency.

    Senator Mercer: City council then chooses who the chair is, do they?

    Mr. Francis: The commission does, yes.

    Senator Mercer: The commission, but who appoints the commission?

    Mr. Francis: The city council.

    Senator Mercer: I told you he is a good politician.

Frankly, this issue needs addressing by the new Council. In fact, Council needs to look at the role of Councillors on Boards as well. Remember how much extra money Councillors made in salaries by sitting on boards. Enwin had troubles as an example and many extra meetings were required to fix its problems, all of which meant Councillors earned additional income. And did we ever find out what the problems were? If we did, I must have missed it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cameras In The Courtroom

  • No wonder we are called "Sin City!" It could only have happened in Windsor and Essex County!

    Is it something that could change the course of Canadian history? Could it result in the fall of the Conservative Government and perhaps the emergence of the Green Party as a power in government as voters turn away from the old-line parties. Will it make Adscam look like kindergarten? Or will it increase Conservative Party membership?

  • I am sure you saw the recent story about putting cameras in Canadian courtrooms.

  • "Ontario will let citizens watch the wheels of justice from the comfort of their living rooms, Attorney General Michael Bryant said Wednesday, announcing that cameras will be installed inside the Ontario Court of Appeal.

    The cameras are expected to roll by the spring. Eventually television may come to all the province's courtrooms, Bryant said. "Ontario's justice system is ready for its close-up."

    "I think it is inevitable that we are going to have cameras and radio broadcasts in the courtrooms of our nation so that everybody can see what the public moments of our justice system are"
That seemed to come out of the blue. I do not remember hearing a great outcry about it do you? But what I do know is that Windsor may well be the battleground for the forces for and against the idea! Can you imagine what it would be like if there were cameras in the Courtroom for the big Windsor trial that just finished? There would be a feeding frenzy, a Zoo!

Clearly, the recent case involving the death threat to Jeff Watson must have played a vital role in the announcement. If you want to get people talking, you need something really BOFFO as Variety, the entertainment bible would say!

What better way to get the rating numbers up than politicians and a "situation." How Bill Clintonish. And what can be more BOFFO these days than a hint of a scandal and something that won't be revealed

We read in the Star:
  • "Bradie alleged the real reason Schnekenburger was upset with Kouvalis was that he had warned her not to make a pass at MacKay at the barbecue.

    "He said in a joking manner he didn't want me to hit on Peter MacKay," she admitted.

    Kouvalis did that, Bradie alleged, because Schnekenburger had another "situation" with another MP, a relationship that had caused some pain. Schnekenburger acknowledged that incident. Bradie told the court he would not reveal the identity of the MP. He also did not reveal details of the relationship between the MP and Schnekenberger, who is 21."

Perfectly done as a warm-up for the real thing, the real introduction of cameras. It is a teaser, a come-on, it would have forced us to tune into the next episode.

  • "A date will be set Thursday to continue the trial."

Just like with the famous "Dallas" TV show. You had to tune in again to see who tried to kill JR. The number of viewers watching would have gone through the roof! Geraldo would have come here as must Extra, A Current Affair and Inside Edition. The National Enquirer has to come for enquiring minds. The British tabloids would probably book an entire hotel together when they heard about this. Who knows, OJ Simpson might do the play-by-play for Court TV.

The case has become the talk of the town. The name of the Minister of Foreign Affairs is involved somehow? Who is the MP that is involved? Is it a Conservative or from another party? Why the point of the girl being described as 21? A "situation"---what kind of word is that? What kind of "relationship" was it? What kind of "pain?." The MP's wife calling witnesses to her home to discuss the case a few days before trial. And then the acquittal and possible civil actions or perhaps a book and movie deal to reveal all. Oh the drama of it.

This is juicy stuff....the Nielsen TV ratings would have been huge. If they sell commercials, we are looking at Super-Bowl type costs for advertisers. I bet it solves the Ontario budget mess quickly since the Administration of Justice is a provincial matter!

Of course some people know the answer to the questions I posed above already. How did they find out? Another breaking news story: "Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside...Whoever did this obviously has access to some pretty advanced technology."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Estrin Lawsuit

The Windsor Star stated in their story:

  • "The city is not named in the lawsuit, so there are no financial implications for local ratepayers."

How wrong they are!

My first reaction in reading the story was that Eddie Francis had totally miscalculated.

He had forgotten his roots and thereby did not understand the Bridge Co. at all. He must have believed that the Bridge Co. was part of a huge, faceless corporation run by a bunch of managers whose only function in life was to earn more and more money.

He had forgotten that it was nothing more than his pita business only on a much larger scale, a "family" business run by a father and son. It was not a "public" corporation owned by shareholders whose only interest was seeing the Dow Jones index going higher but a "private" one whose owners wanted to ensure the future of their children and grandchildren.

Someone deep in his inner circle had told him that the Bridge Co. would never react. They dared not do so. They were too secretive. They would be pilloried in Windsor.

Eddie must have assumed it was a GM. He forgot it was still a Ford.

These are fundamental errors that will cost the City of Windsor dearly and I do not just mean financially in the long run. It will be what Eddie Francis is remembered for, part of his legacy I am afraid.

How can I be sure of what I am saying? Dan Stamper stated:

  • "I don't care that they work for the city, but when they take out a sword and try to hurt us there is a problem."

Remember what Matthew Moroun said at the House of Commons hearing:

  • "We are asking this committee, and especially Transport Canada, to please put down your sword, set this legislation aside, and instead engage in meaningful dialogue, not just at a very formal hearing to discuss the legalese of this legislation, but rather to discuss and brainstorm and cooperate with one another toward an even more successful Ambassador Bridge for the advantage of the operation, the government, and the public."

There clearly is a lot more going on in this story than has been reported. I want to think about it before I write more.

Interestingly, the lawsuit was started in November but not reported until today. Given the close relationship with the Mayor--after all the Star sees materials that even Councillors do not get unless they go public and even then may still not have seen it--I am curious to know when the Star first learned about it. Assuming it was shortly after the lawsuit was launched, why did it take so long for the Star to report it.

I wonder if the Casino wants to take a bet about how many Councillors were told about the lawsuit by the Mayor before it hit the pages of the Star. In my opinion, each Councillor must tell us publicly if and when the Mayor told him/her about it. We have open and transparent Government in Windsor don't we? If they were not told or were told very late in the game, then what are they going to do about it

One final question. Will Mr. Estrin be let go? Now a couple of Star stories make sense to me. Eddie had to protect himself against charges that he wasted taxpayer money using a law firm that may be conflicted and which he may have to let go before the issue arose. So the spin-doctors were out there in advance justifying Estrin's retainer:

  1. "Legal bill to top $3.2M for city's border battles January 09, 2007

    "These costs are very small when you consider what's at stake," said Mayor Eddie Francis. "When you consider what we are up against, we have to continue to do what we need to in order to protect the city's best interests.

    "It's unfortunate a local government has to be put in a position of having to spend funds on something like this. But what choice is there? Otherwise we might as well fold up our tent and put up a For Sale sign."

    The city has been put into a position of defending its interests in the border battle against the deep pockets of private business interests, Francis said...

    None of the funds have been wasted given how the city has been able to fend off the use of E.C. Row Expressway as a truck route, prevented the DRTP from becoming reality, slowed the bridge company and also steered government into building the next bridge in an industrial area off Ojibway Parkway (as recommended by Schwartz), Francis said.

    "Those making a case that the city should not be spending this are those who want to see the city go away so they can advance their interests," Francis said."

  2. "Consultants bill city $5.2M million; Roseann Danese Windsor Star January 17, 2007

    $1.7 million spent on border file went mainly to lawyer, traffic expert

    Mayor Eddie Francis spent $1.7 million on border issues, according to a list of expenditures attributed to his office. A big chunk of that money went to Toronto environmental lawyer David Estrin and New York traffic consultant Sam Schwartz.

    The payments include fees incurred by Estrin's Gowling law firm for OMB hearings, interim control bylaw preventing non-railway use of railway land, legal advice regarding E.C. Row expressway, the regional transportation master plan, Ambassador Bridge issues, rail issues, DRTP issues, bi-national review and the environmental assessment review.

    The documents show Estrin received three additional payments that are not included in the figure provided by the mayor's office. He was paid an additional $374,214 in 2004, $443,781 in 2005 and $648,115 in 2006.

    The total amount that went to Estrin's law firm was about $3.2 million...

    Skorobohacz said it has been money well spent and not "out of the ordinary" compared to other cities. "Windsor has challenges because of its location," Skorobohacz said. "Is the investment of a David Estrin warranted? Yeah, it's more than warranted" to make sure the city's interests are protected."
If the Star knew about the lawsuit when it published these statements, then I am very disappointed in it.

Let me think about this turn of events some more. I promise to try and give you a view of this matter that may be a bit different than one which you might expect. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Is A New Caesars Windsor Expansion Planned

Rumour has it that there is talk that when the new operators take over, they will expand the Casino dramatically again!

They have to. There are so many things to bet on in Windsor that the Sports Bar needs new space, a whole new wing perhaps! Here are a few obvious examples:
  • when will Eddie announce that he is running provincially or federally
  • for which party
  • if Eddie chooses not to run which big Toronto law firm will he work for
  • who will be our new appointed mayor
  • will the Ambassador Bridge finish its new enhancement project before the DRIC bridge is even started
  • when will DRTP officially close its doors
  • will Project Ice Track or the East end arena be built first
  • will the Penguins move to Tecumseh?

But the heavy betting today, if it were allowed, is whether City Council will help save the Capitol Theatre on Monday.

Just as in NFL betting, there are sites that give you all kinds of information that will help you pick the winners for the games by giving you the inside scoop and tips, I am going to do the same today for Capitol betting.

The first big hint, the City's website. Normally reports are attached to agenda items that can be viewed by opening up a PDF file. In this way a delegation knows what is being proposed and can prepare arguments for and against. But not for the Capitol.

Here is what the City website says:

  • "Item -- Capitol Theatre - Request to Transition (available on Supplementary Agenda)"

In other words, it is not going to be posted! Why bother speaking as a delegation if one does not know what is going to be proposed except in the last minute. Obviously then, most of the delegations will speak in favour of the Capitol!

But here is the big give-away as to what will happen, an email from the Arts Council - Windsor & Region that I received:

  • "Looking Forward: Windsor's Future in a Changing World

    What is our place in the global economy? What must we do to attract new business and industry?

    Mayor Eddie Francis will host a thought provoking and inspiring evening with Diane Francis and Glen Murray.

    Diane Francis, broadcaster, best-selling author and editor at large for the National Post, advises several corporations about the pitfalls and opportunities facing Canadian businesses in the global economy. She skillfully interprets the impact of national and international events on the business community.

    Glen Murray, urban strategist, consultant with AuthentiCity and Chair of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, works with businesses and governments. He will show how strengthening the links between the arts, culture and the economy enhances our creativity and quality of life, creating a more attractive city and urban wealth.

    Together they will discuss our strengths and weaknesses and suggest how to secure a stronger presence in the national and global economies.

    Thursday, March 8, 2007
    7:00 p.m.-10 p.m.
    6:30 reception

    Capitol Theatre, 121 University Avenue West
    Tickets $10, available from the theatre box office, 519-253-7729

    For more information dial 311 or email at"
Now seriously, do you really think that the Mayor would have these big shooters from Toronto come to the Capitol Theatre if it is going to be closed down. Get you think he wants to be booed and jeered by Arts types in front of out-of-towners? Naaaaaaaaw, he has to be introduced as the saviour of the Arts in Windsor.

Bet on it!

Just to give you some more hot tips for your betting pleasure, don't you think that this is a weird session anyway. It costs us $10 to learn about our future? And why would the Mayor merely be an MC of the session? Didn't we have a world-class guru brought in by the City at no cost to taxpayers before?

Let's see....Diane Francis journalist, small "c" conservative in Canada, author, Editor-at-Large for the National Post, well-known in Toronto having worked for the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and Macleans as well.

Glen Murray, from Toronto, Ontario, "is a partner at Navigator Limited as well as a Visiting Scholar & Urban Policy Coordinator at the University of Toronto. He is former Mayor of Winnipeg, best known for his vision to build culturally dynamic urban centres."

Interesting, wasn't Navigator a firm that provided advice to the City during the border issue. And part of the "strategy" for Navigator is AuthentiCity.

Hmmm strong Toronto connection, strategic firm known to the Mayor, good publicity in Windsor and elsewhere about Eddie's forward on a Provincial cabinet position too for our Eddie!

PS. Remember how bad Eddie's meeting planners were. I think they messed up again.

Was Eddie scooped by another small town in Ontario?

If you just cannot wait to hear Glen Murray in March, he will be speaking on "AUTHENTICITY, CREATING URBAN WEALTH" in Chatham on January 24. I guess he must have a standard "urban wealth" speech that he uses. Cost is $35 but you get a continental breakfast, a networking coffee break, hot lunch, not just a cheapo reception for $10.

PPS....One other thought----AuthentiCity, SimpliCity Hmmmmm I wonder.

How Good Are Consultant Traffic Projections

Do you remember these graphs I posted once before? They were presented by the Bridge Co. at the Senate Bill C-3 hearings.

Just this once, humour me. Would you please assume that the Bridge Co. actually knows what it is talking about, being the most succesful bridge operator between Canada and the US. What they said and what the graphs show is the huge variation between projected numbers by consultants and the actual traffic volumes at Sarnia and Windsor.

Aren't the upward consultants' lines very similar? Would you have liked to have been an investor in Sarnia based on these projections? Where would your investment be today? Would you invest in Windsor based on actual vs. projected?

Numbers are significant. They are the basis upon which projects are built and financed. In Windsor, the huge volume of traffic projected in the future is one of the main reasons supposedly why we neeed a new crossing and why someone might want to finance the project in a P3.

If the Bridge Co. is right, and the numbers seem to show they are, especially as evidenced by DRIC revising them downwards several times already, then why do we need another crossing costing multi-billions?

There seems to be available capacity even now when DRIC itself said that the bridge was operating at under 60% capacity. If the volumes aren't there, then who but taxpayers could afford a project that can cost as high as $6 Billion? Can you figure out as well the millions in operating losses that crossing would have that taxpayers would have to pay out every year.

If the projected numbers are right, no problem. As I have Blogged before, if they are wrong, what are the potential consequences:
  1. Bankruptcy of the new crossing
  2. Someone buys the new crossing for pennies on the dollar in a fire sale
  3. Government forced to take over the project and bail it out
  4. Lawsuits
  5. Bankruptcies of some or all of the Ambassador Bridge, Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and the Blue Water Bridge
Go back and read my BLOG on April 18, 2006 "Machiavellian Megaprojects" where we learned that
  • "Which projects get built? We found it isn’t necessarily the best ones, but those projects for which proponents best succeed in conjuring a fantasy world of underestimated costs, overestimated revenues, undervalued environmental impacts and overvalued regional development effects...

    In fact, there seemed to be a formula at work: (underestimated costs) + (overestimated revenues) + (undervalued environmental impacts) + (overvalued economic development effects) = (project approval)

This is not a mere academic exercise. The NATIONAL FEDERATION OF MUNICIPAL ANALYSTS in its article, Recommended Best Practices in Disclosure for Toll Road Financings, stated:

  • "While issuers generally provide significant disclosure for toll roads, the disclosure is not necessarily adequate. Higher quality disclosure must be provided to investors in both the primary and secondary markets...

    The feasibility study is the investor’s primary consideration when assessing the economic viability of a toll road and its ability to produce adequate and timely toll revenues to meet financial obligations. To date, many of the feasibility study’s projections for stand-alone start up toll roads have overly estimated traffic and revenue performance."

In an article, "Expert Forum on Road Pricing and Travel Demand Modeling," a commentator stated:

  • "Despite the enormous sums of money spent on traffic and revenue forecasts, there is growing concern about the accuracy and reliability of these expensive forecasts."

Another report by Halcrow Fox stated:

  • "With large infrastructure projects, the Danish Transport Council state that:
    • Cost overruns of 50 to 100% in real terms are common; overruns above 100% are not uncommon;
    Traffic forecasts that are off by 20 to 70% compared with actual development are common; and
    Forecasts of project viability are often over-optimistic to a degree that such forecasts correspond poorly with actual viability"

One of the key ingredients for an "investment grade" traffic and revenue study according to the Washington State Comprehensive Tolling Study is "an objective assessment of the local economy and growth potential." After reading the latest Gord Henderson Economic Statement for Windsor, can anyone legitimately argue that there is economic growth potential to support an investment of billions in a border crossing?

This study continued:

  • "In 2002, the bond rating agency Standard & Poor’s (SP) published a report on toll forecasting performance. The basic argument in this report, and in three annual updates, has been that there is a considerable amount of optimism bias in toll revenue forecasts around the world... The point of the SP’s work was that there was a considerable trend towards the overestimation of traffic and revenue, leading to their conclusion of an optimism bias.

    S&P suggests that first-year toll revenue estimates have been overestimated by an average of 20 to 30 percent over the sample of projects that they studied. In the 2005 update to the study, they tested traffic performance through the fifth year, and did not find any marked improvement. They also looked at truck forecasts in particular, and found that these were a particular concern, because trucks typically pay considerably higher tolls than light vehicles, and variation in this forecast can have a much bigger effect on actual toll revenues."

A GAO report in 2004 discussed problems with major toll-roads it studied:

  • "Four of the five toll roads have faced an additional barrier to financial success because they were or are being built in anticipation of future growth and development... each has struggled financially because the expected level of traffic has not been achieved.

    [As an example] SR 125, is also a stand-alone toll road that is being built in anticipation of future growth and development and is scheduled to open in 2006. According to an FHWA official, the traffic studies for this project may be optimistic because, while they are based on anticipated development in San Diego County, they are also based on traffic from Mexico that may not materialize if anticipated development south of the Mexican border does not occur."

The importance of the Ambassador Bridge's testimony and the Danish Professor's thesis as well as these articles was brought home to me recently when I found on the Internet a story written in Forbes magazine a number of years ago. I think you may find it enlightening:

  • Roads Less Traveled
    Kelly Barron, Forbes Magazine, 09.03.01

    New toll roads have been a bonanza for consultants, but not for bondholders.

    Florida Governor Jeb Bush's recent veto of a $1.4 million bailout of the Garcon Point Bridge spanning Pensacola Bay was the final indignity in the troubled history of the controversial toll bridge.

    A pet project of former Florida House Speaker Bolley (Bo) Johnson, recently released from jail for tax evasion, the bridge was partly built on land he once owned. The builder was charged $4 million in fines and restitution for violating federal environmental laws. Adding to the folly, the toll bridge was built parallel to a nearby free bridge.

    But the bridge likely would never have been built at all were it not for the seal of approval it received from URS Corp. of San Francisco, one of a handful of consultants that specialize in traffic projections for public projects. Using URS' 1992 projections that 6,500 cars would drive over the bridge daily and pay what is now a $2.50 toll, promoters flogged $95 million in bonds to finance the project. Today only 3,500 cars a day use the bridge.

    "The bridge is an Edsel," sighs Joseph Mooney, a financial adviser who resigned in 1993 after a dispute with local officials over the numbers from URS, a publicly held engineering company whose largest shareholder is investor Richard Blum, otherwise known as the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

    They should have listened. It has become painfully clear to bondholders and politicians that many of the public toll-supported projects built in the past decade, the majority blessed by URS and its ilk, have become financial albatrosses. The Garcon Point Bridge bonds, for instance, trade at 71 cents on the dollar, following multiple downgrades to junk status by the ratings agencies. Local officials will likely have to tap a reserve account next year to meet debt service.

    URS defends its record in Florida as solid. But the company has overestimated revenue projections on toll roads elsewhere in the state, including the Seminole Expressway, the Polk Parkway and the Suncoast Parkway. On the 15-mile Veterans Expressway in Tampa, annual tolls are $15 million, barely half what URS projected in 1992. Tolls from the main portion of the state's profitable turnpike go to subsidize those clunkers.

    "Many of these deals shouldn't even be brought to market," says Robert Muller, a managing director with J.P. Morgan Chase, who has researched toll-road feasibility studies. Muller figures that at least half of the traffic projections for toll roads--mostly performed by URS, Wilbur Smith Associates in Columbia, S.C. or New York-based Vollmer Associates--vastly overstate the potential.

    But that hasn't stopped politicians, bond salesmen and contractors from relying on them. "It's almost an accident if the projection comes in perfectly," admits Edward Regan III, a Wilbur Smith senior vice president. For its part, Wilbur Smith's initial projections in 1992 for the 15-mile San Joaquin Hills Toll Road in Orange County, Calif. were 40% above actual traffic counts. By 1997, $1.1 billion in bonds had to be replaced with lower-rate bonds or risk default. Still in need of riders, the local toll-road authority recently handed out discount coupons.

    Despite their mixed track record, the consultants who do the traffic projections have a nice little business, yielding upwards of $500,000 per study. Although traffic studies for revenue bonds probably brought in less than 5% of URS' $2.2 billion in revenues last year, the stock is still doing better than the average revenue bond these days--it's up 239% in the past five years.

Before billions are spent on capital costs, before millions are spent on annual losses, doesn't it make sense to look at actual numbers for a change? Isn't it time to revisit traffic volume projections to determine how good they really are?

When we have a private enterprise solution with required Government oversight, once Bill C-3 passes, and an almost 80 year "public/private partership" between the Bridge Co. and Governments, I am having difficulty understanding this desire to waste money on something that may not required based on projections that may not be valid.

If there is a "hidden agenda", it is time already that it see the light of day so we taxpayers can determine its legitimacy. After all, it is OUR money.

Monday, January 22, 2007

More Shorties

Here are some more interesting items that I found over the last few days about which I thought I would write a short note.


I see that Smart Set is closing down on Tuesday and that downtown business owners are demanding the City take action to stop the bleeding.

Haven't they figured it out yet that the City is the problem. Haven't they figured out yet that the downtown is moving eastward toward the Casino and where the new City Hall is going to be built.

Why waste money on streetscaping and talking about what can be done in the "old" downtown. No one is listening or interested.

And if the Psychic quoted today in the Star is right, things can only get worse for the downtown while the story by Trevor Wilhelm should make the business owners cringe as Windsorites get more reasons to stay away!


I figure that Councillor Postma was off shopping in the US again so she could not make it but where was the West End booster, Councillor Jones. He was probably out watching the demolition of homes on Indian Road to ensure that City by-laws were being complied with.

I am totally shocked that the 2 West End Councillors missed the opportunity to enlighten us with how important Sandwich is to Windsor again. Imagine allowing Avi Friedman, "the internationally acclaimed architect and proponent of livable and sustainable communities," to walk around Old Walkerville and Ford City and not Sandwich.

Imagine all of the lines he could have made that the Star could have published attacking the border ideas of certain unnamed parties. Imagine how he could have waxed poetic about Sandwich's proposed Historical Designation.

They blew it big time!


I am pretty disappointed in how our Superjock, Mayor Francis, is handling the WWE extravaganza. Just because Eddie cannot chum up with Roger Penske does not mean that the event should not be promoted heavily as Super Bowl was by Windsor.

Now Eddie is making sure that his name will be known with the wrestling crowd. I read that "WWE will be conducting a Wrestlemania press conference on 2/2 in Windsor, Ontario at the Silver City movie theater at 11:30AM. Among those scheduled to appear include Windsor mayor Eddie Francis" but I have not seen any Windsor build-up as for Super Bowl.

And just so that you know how big a deal the WWE is:
  • "WWE fans had made WrestleMania 23 at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich., the highest grossing live event in World Wrestling Entertainment history.

    With tickets still available, WWE has already grossed more than $4.35 million in ticket sales for WrestleMania 23, shattering the company’s previous record of $3.9 million for WrestleMania X-8 at the Toronto SkyDome on March 17, 2002...

    Almost 50,000 tickets are now in the hands of fans for WWE’s annual pop culture extravaganza, putting the company on pace to achieve its objective of entertaining more than 78,000 fans at WrestleMania 23 on Sunday, April 1, 2007, which would make it the largest number of fans ever assembled in the history of Ford Field."


A reader asked "do you think you could ask the mayor for an extra sellabratory puck for me? Since my grand kids will likely still be paying for the arena it might be nice if they get a valuable hand me down remembrance of this historical event.


It should be interesting how Council deals with the Theatre's request for money.

If the City can spend all of that money to help out the Spitfires (What's a few extra millions in interim financing to get it done more quickly to help out a private business), one would think that there should be a few hundred thousand taxpayers dollars lying around somewhere to help out a cultural institution.

The Mayor is in a difficult position. He won't want to antagonize the Star who did not favour helping out Brentwood. Yet he said during his Inaugural Speech:

  • "Reports and surveys have shown that a critically-important factor in attracting the knowledge-based jobs and workers we need, is to have a thriving arts and cultural community.

    We have such a strong arts and culture foundation."

Eddie won't be able to draw any more call centre jobs here, or doctors, if, only a few weeks after telling us how strong our arts foundation is, the Capitol goes into bankruptcy.

Oh well, perhaps we can give that away to St. Clair College free too. We can justify giving it away since otherwise, the City would have to deal with its "long-term sustainability." That is assuming of course that St. Clair completes the Cleary deal.


Remember what the Star's City Hall reporter gushed in her BLOG about Shmuel Farhi, the London developer who exchanged land with the City for the East end arena deal.

  • "Windsor city officials are right to be rolling out the red carpet for people like Farhi. Anyone who thinks Farhi will negatively impact anything should think again."

Here's a recent story about him. It looks like he plays hardball if he has to do so. I wonder if our Mayor and Council are in his league:
  • "Farhi rejects parking plan for core area
    The developer insists a proposed garage on Queens Avenue "is not going to help."

    You might think a city hall proposal to spend millions to build parking garages in the core would be backed by downtown's biggest property owner.

    After all, it was Shmuel Farhi, owner of more than 80 properties downtown, who has demanded more parking before he'll rehabilitate heritage buildings and secure tenants.

    But Farhi says he's upset with a city plan to seek a private partner to build a garage at 185 Queens Ave., next to the London Club.

    "A parking (garage) is not going to help rejuvenate this area . . . Parking is not needed there," said Farhi, who owns about 250,000 square feet of vacant space downtown.

    "I want to work with the city but I'm losing my patience," Farhi said yesterday.

    When Farhi speaks, city hall listens, as was the case 10 weeks ago, when he told politicians to step up with plans for parking or he'd raze or let rot some heritage properties.

    "Literally, I can knock down 20 buildings tomorrow," he said then.

    But while Farhi wants parking, he doesn't want a parking garage on the city-owned lot at Queens Avenue.

    With the downtown so much in need of residents and key services such as a supermarket, the city shouldn't commit key real estate to a stand-alone garage, he said.

    Instead the city should partner with a developer who could build parking underground, a supermarket on the main floor and residential apartments above, he insisted.

    The city also needs to stop renewing temporary permits for parking lots such as the one at the old London Mews, which has been a lot for seven years and is seeking another three years, he said.

    Temporary lots do nothing to fill vacant office space because those seeking to develop those spaces need permanent parking.

    "I have four heritage buildings within a block (of the London Mews) and that lot does nothing for long-term development," Farhi said.

    Farhi also contends the city examined the Queens Avenue location and rejected it for a parking structure.

    "Why are they bringing this dead horse out now?" he said.

    E-mail and phone messages detailing Farhi's concerns were sent last week to city finance head Vic Cote.

    A divided city council voted last month to seek a partner to build a parking garage at the Queens site, the first step in a plan that could cost taxpayers as much as $5 million.

    Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell later said if the venture succeeds the city should spend up to $20 million to build more garages."

PS...London had a Capitol Theater too. Perhaps we should sell it to Farhi if the St. Clair College or the University have no interest in it and the City won't advance any funding. Here's what happened in 2006:

  • "One of London's longtime downtown landmarks, the Capitol theatre on Dundas Street, has been sold to local developer Shmuel Farhi, who says he plans to turn it into a parking lot.

    The owner of Farhi Holdings Corp. said yesterday he desperately needs the 50 or so potential parking spaces at the Capitol site to accommodate his downtown tenants...

    Farhi said he plans to preserve the streetfront facade of the Capitol and will likely demolish the rear of the building soon.

    He added the Capitol is "an eyesore" that blighted the area.

Note, just recently according to the London Free Press

  • "Downtown London's largest landowner has backed off a threat to demolish two Dundas Street buildings . . . for now.

    Shmuel Farhi said yesterday he'll wait eight months for the city to come up with a plan -- including a parking garage -- aimed at revitalizing a troubled, nine-block section of downtown that includes 204 and 206 Dundas St., the old Capitol Theatre and former Bowles Lunch Counter.

    But Farhi also wants council to back off efforts to designate the Capitol as a heritage building.

    "I don't need anyone designating those properties, putting a gun to my head," Farhi told board of control this week.

    "I (own heritage properties) because I believe in heritage. Designating that building will not bring it back to life."

Elevated Road: Take Your Pick

What do you think of the idea of constructing an elevated road for trucks along Huron Church and/or E C Row? Here are three readers' points of view:

1) Ed... that elevated highway concept is without a doubt the most logical, cost effective idea I have heard to date regarding the Border Crossing Issue. How does one sell it to the "grand Poobahs?" If it sounds logical and common sense to me, I would think it should be an easy "sell" to the politicians ..... errr.... logic, common sense......second thought... maybe not.

2) I've got a great idea. Windsor was willing to buy a dilapidated arena concept from Port Huron I wonder if Windsor would like to buy the Gardner Expressway from Toronto. I know the Mayor real well and would gladly open some doors.

3) Elevated expressways a la the Gardiner in Toronto, the 40 through Monteal, and others... the debate is how to tear these things down, not build them up. They have been proven to be very expensive when life cycle cost analysis is done...

Florida and other parts of the world have a long history of causeways and other elevated road systems. We do not. They might be used to the sight of freeways in the air, we are not...

Below grade freeways are the best option. Period. E C Row already splits the city. Use it. Sink it.