Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, March 24, 2008

Brookings Report-- Read It For Yourself

If you really want to be enthused about this area and the huge potential that we have if we are smart and start focusing on the right things, then you must read this Report. Forget about the nonsense in the Mayor's State of the City speech and what the Economic Development Commission CEO has to say. Just read about what this area can become with the right leadership, something that is clearly lacking in Windsor. Download the Report:

The Windsor Star clearly cannot brook any opposition to their desire to have a public bridge constructed in Windsor, no matter what the cost and what the pain to the people and businesses in Delray, Michigan who will have to be moved out, in order to put the Ambassador Bridge Company into a dire financial position.

I would love to be able to read the actual story written by Jack Spearman of Canwest News Service, the lead story on the Star front page. I read the stories in the other Canwest newspapers that I was able to view using the Star's Digital Newspaper service this morning. Not a single one of them even mentioned the Ambassador Bridge.

However the Star could write things like
  • Bridge cited as bottleneck
  • It also takes aim at obstacles to trade in the region, such as traffic congestion at the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit.
  • Part of that process, the report argues, is for the president and prime minister to strike a task force to eliminate such transportation bottlenecks as the Ambassador Bridge.

I challenge the Star to point out specifically where these statements are made in the Report. I would love to see specifically where the Ambassador Bridge is attacked in the Report. If the Star cannot do so, then their story should be changed on the Corrections page since otherwise this is gross rewriting of a story to put in editorial comments in a news story.

If that is the quality of reporting and/or editorializing at the Star, then Canwest should be ashamed of itself.

In fact, I could make the argument that the Report supports the Ambassador Bridge Company and gives DRIC, and the four Governments a huge slap in the face. [Read the section on a "proposed Great Lakes Economic Development Authority to develop a comprehensive bi-national Great Lakes region transportation strategic plan.] It recognizes that there are problems at the border but it identifies that:

  • "The largest challenge to further economic integration is posed by homeland security concerns and measures that have slowed border and bi-national economic exchange since 2001."

The Report correctly points out that traffic volume across the border has dropped significantly and yet the wait times have increased. There is a 50% travel drop and it takes three times as long to get across the border in some cases. The issue is not lanes in other words. It is Customs, processes and clearances times.

Figure it out. Building a new DRIC bridge doesn't do anything to solve the problem. It just results in spending billions to create a new parking lot over the river on the new lanes of the DRIC bridge. The entire DRIC process does not result in cars and trucks moving more quickly out of Windsor and into the US. In the same way, the authorities in Michigan cannot demonstrate that spending about $500 million on a new Plaza will result in trucks moving into the United States more quickly in Port Huron.

To be direct, given that the US Government has identified the Ambassador Bridge as the best crossing in North America, I would argue that the Report was really talking about the Peace Bridge where they have been waiting for years to build a new bridge and the Blue Water Bridge where the Plaza was a disaster from day one. In Windsor, all that we have is a Enhancement Project because the existing bridge is 80 years old.

It is the Ambassador Bridge Company that has got it right. I know that the Canadian nationalists will hate me for saying that and that the Windsor Star will ignore it. What the Bridge Company has done is opened up advanced processing centres to ensure that the paperwork for truckers is proper and opened up more booths and has forced Government to staff them to clear vehicles more quickly. Their Gateway project alone can process another 2 million tucks a year without a new bridge!

Perhaps someone should actually listen to a border operator who knows what they're doing rather than to a bunch of bureaucrats who create wonderful Business Plans that don't work in practice. And can cost us billions at a time when Governments on both sides of the river are hurting financially. Their so-called saviours, the P3 investors, seem to have some problems on their own these days such that they might not want to invest in a bridge whose tolls will be several times higher than those at the Ambassador Bridge, assuming that some trucker decides to go to the DRIC bridge in the first place.

Proof of this is the Canadian Government spending more money, $75 million, to hire more Customs Officers that was announced a few weeks ago in theBudget. When four Customs booths can eliminate truck backups in Windsor, you have to scratch your head and say why are our Governments so intent on spending billions and not solving the problem. Eddie's Horseshoe Road is a good example of a useless concept that even the Feds could not stomach.

Someone needs "to stop the insanity." If the Brookings Report is correct and Governments create a seamless border, then why do we need a new crossing at all!

I have posted the relevant sections of the Brookings Report below for you to read. Draw your own conclusions:

  • "The estimated $1.2 billion in trade crossing the U.S.-Canadian border daily is extremely concentrated, with a large portion flowing through just a handful of Great Lakes crossings. Approximately 28 percent, or $113.3 billion, of surface trade passes annually between the United States and Canada at the Detroit-Windsor border, and another $35 billion at the nearby Port Huron-Sarnia crossing. The next busiest Great Lakes crossing is Buffalo-Niagara, where $57 billion in goods passes through annually…

    The two-way trade that crosses the Ambassador Bridge between Michigan and Ontario equals all U.S. exports to Japan.

    The Great Lakes region historically has been the leader in testing and developing the cross-border economic opportunity in North America—a relationship that provides considerable benefits to both countries. The ease by which goods have been able to cross the border allows Canadian and U.S. companies to implement highly efficient supply chain management processes..

    Over 27 million passenger cars and 4.8 million noncommercial trucks used border crossings in 2006, benefiting the economies of both countries. That year, Canadians visiting the United States spent $10 billion, 80 percent of which supported dining, hotel stays, and gift purchases. Again, the Great Lakes states and provinces provide key entry points.

    [Key point in a separate box on the edge of Page “The largest challenge to further economic integration is posed by homeland security concerns and measures that have slowed border and bi-national economic exchange since 2001.”]

    All these benefits are imperiled, however, by measures that add to the cost or time to cross borders between the United States and Canada, and negatively impact enterprise, investment, and job growth across the region.

    The largest challenge to further economic integration is posed by homeland security concerns and measures that have slowed border and bi-national economic exchange since 2001. The economic impact on the Great Lakes region of Homeland Security regimes has been disproportionate. New layers of security and more complex rules and regulations between 2000 and 2004 have tripled the processing time to enter the United States from Canada by truck. The costs of these efforts have been estimated at up to U.S. $11.5 billion annually across both countries.

    Total Canadians crossing to the United States show 50 percent decline from historic rates due to real and perceived border crossing difficulties. Canadian tourism spending in the United States should have risen with the strong Canadian dollar, but total annual crossings in 2005 compared to 1995 show a 50 percent decline, due to real and perceived border crossing difficulties. In calendar year 2007, passenger vehicle crossings were down 7 percent, or over 1.1 million vehicles.

    Anecdotes and reports from the border suggest this is in part due to a more involved U.S. border screening process. Traffic is down at three of the four international bridges in the Niagara area, yet wait times are up; processing time at the Peace Bridge, for example, increased 32 percent in August 2007 versus a year ago. Bridge travelers say inspectors are taking more time to clear travelers and asking veteran border crossers new questions. New requirements for proof of citizenship to enter the United States pose new uncertainties. These conditions threaten to crimp trade and commerce, at a time when the region and both nations have tremendous shared stake in enhanced economic integration…

    To realize the latent economic opportunities of the region, both countries require more than the well-intentioned, slow-walk of the existing Security and Prosperity Partnership dialogues of the past three years. The next U.S. president must join with his or her Canadian counterpart to punch through real and perceived barriers to bi-lateral policy innovation, and put the major elements in place that can fuel bi-national prosperity and transform the Great Lakes regional economy. Working together, the countries can pioneer effective and efficient ways to enhance economic exchange while both ensuring mutual security and respecting the unique cultures of each partner…

    The recommendations offered here are organized around a limited set of ambitious goals…
    --By 2015: Define and Implement the “U.S.-Canada Border of the Future..”

    Bringing together economic development planning interests in the region with border, homeland security, and transportation/infrastructure planning issues. The Authority should include an information arm—a Great Lakes Border Policy Institute—that could continually track and analyze data on the cross-border flow of goods, traffic, and people, and be a forum for informed policy debate, discussion, and policy development concerning trade and border management. The Authority could also oversee border transportation/infrastructure planning efforts called for elsewhere in this report…

    By 2015: Define and Implement the “U.S.-Canada Border of the Future”

    The increased pressure to secure our common boundary offers a unique opportunity to rethink aging and often inefficient infrastructure, technology, and processes towards a border concept that meets long term security and trade goals, and facilitates efficient movement of people, goods, and services across the border. Such a vision is a key foundation of a revitalized Great Lakes Region. But the creation and implementation of a bi-national policy architecture under the umbrella of the “U.S.-Canada Border of the Future” will require strong, consistent political leadership, both to establish the vision and to push through technical, funding, operational, and bureaucratic impediments.

    Develop and articulate a shared vision for the border of the future

    The Great Lakes Region can serve as the “model” for secure and efficient borders. With this goal in mind, the U.S. and Canadian governments should establish a “blue ribbon committee” comprised of high-level policy, business, and academic experts that articulates a multi-year strategic and operational plan for our shared border. Under this plan the U.S. and Canada should by 2015:
    • Achieve secure and unencumbered movements of people across the land, air, and sea borders using mutually recognized credentials, “registered traveler” programs, biometric technology, risk assessment, and other state-of-the-art capabilities and processes designed to eliminate inefficiencies and improve security;
    • Establish seamless border pre-clearance of U.S.-Canadian goods transported as part of a comprehensive North American customs clearance system or fully compatible national systems;
    • Ensure stable funding sources for border improvements through a coordinated infrastructure investment plan that drives investment on both sides of the border;
    • Continue to push for state-of-the-art technology, operations, and processes to support Great Lakes and bi-national economic prosperity.

    Invest in 21st century transportation infrastructure systems

    Advances in policy and investments in infrastructures that both speed the progress of goods, people, and communication across the bi-national border, and provide needed security, will pay real and huge financial dividends to both countries, and particularly the Great Lakes region. However, these improvements must be linked to a more efficient transportation network.

    The president and prime minister must charge an interagency federal task force to work with the proposed Great Lakes Economic Development Authority to develop a comprehensive bi-national Great Lakes region transportation strategic plan. Such a strategy would focus on global gateways, intermodal hubs, and border crossings, with investments aimed at increasing security, adopting and integrating ITS, relieving bottlenecks, improving intermodal connections, and building new grade freight routes that reduce crossings and attract logistics centers that maximize productivity and reduce trip demand. To this end, key transportation and infrastructure investments should include:
    • Expanded and functional border transportation infrastructure such as access roads, new and existing bridges, ferry terminals and operations, ports, mass transit connections, and rail lines;
    • Ports of Entry facilities, such as jointly managed U.S.-Canadian border crossing facilities at key junctures of US-Canadian border;
    • Improved intermodal connections and plans for enhancing key regional nodes of global transport and logistics;
    • The development of public-privately financed bi-national high speed rail linkages between key Great Lakes metros.