Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, March 07, 2008

Windsor Or Port Huron

You must read this story from the Port Huron newspaper. No, it is not a story talking about Windsor getting Port Huron's failed arena for the Spitfires.

If I changed in the article the name of the City involved from Port Huron to Windsor, you would see the same kind of silly games being played in that part of the world as are being played in the Windsor/Detroit area with respect to the border issue. Well, not quite. You see that in that neck of the woods the City and the County work together in a united voice.

What is wrong with Government? Are they so willing to waste taxpayer money to fulfill their own objectives that they are prepared to take action no matter what! Do they really think that they can run over taxpayers like this and that taxpayers will do nothing?

Look at the billions that will be wasted here and the hundreds of millions in Port Huron. Why are these projects between Michigan and Ontario such a farce? Is it the same at other border crossing areas or is it unique to this Province and State?

There is something very peculiar going on. I wish I knew it was and so does my pocketbook.

  • Plaza objections abound
    'Consortium' asks: How will area benefit?

    Times Herald

    In strongly worded letters, Port Huron area officials argue the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed $433 million Blue Water Bridge border-inspection plaza is fundamentally flawed and unacceptable.

    A "consortium" of four local governments - the county, the city and two neighboring townships - said the draft fails to adequately answer even the most basic question: Who benefits from this project?

    They also accused state and federal agencies of sandbagging local residents and, at times, deliberately misleading the community.

    "It is just simply disturbing and appalling that after more than five years of study at a cost of more than $10 million in tax money that such fundamentally important and readily available information has not been provided," Karl Tomion, the city manager of Port Huron, wrote in a 15-page letter to the Michigan Department of Transportation. "It borders on absurd that almost half a billion dollars will be expended (resulting in massive disruption to the community) without a hard look at the benefits that are expected to result..."

    he asked MDOT officials if truck traffic would be routed onto local streets during construction.

    "'Absolutely not' was the answer I got," he said. "As it turns out, trucks will empty out onto Hancock (Street), and there's simply no assessment of any impact it would have on Garfield school. My kids went to Garfield."

    In Tomion's view, three of the biggest issues involve border delays, the size of the plaza and estimated traffic volumes.

    He said local officials repeatedly asked MDOT, the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection if similar projects were under way elsewhere on the border.

    "They said our plaza would be a new standard," he said. "They mentioned some crossings on the Mexican border, but they never told us about the Peace Bridge."

    The Peace Bridge, which crosses the Niagara River at Buffalo, is similar to the Blue Water Bridge in traffic counts, although the Peace Bridge handles more passenger vehicles and fewer commercial trucks. The customs plazas at the two bridges both are located in built-up neighborhoods.

    A proposed new plaza in Buffalo would require 39 acres, Tomion said, far less than the 65 acres being requested in Port Huron.

    "We believe the Blue Water Bridge plaza could be reduced in size to something similar to what is planned at the Peace Bridge," he said, describing the two projects as similar "in virtually all relevant respects."

    Wilbur Smith Associates, a private consulting firm, is writing the environmental impact statements for both plazas.

    Tomion expressed dismay that the Port Huron document includes no analysis of average delay times or the length of traffic backups at the Blue Water Bridge.

    "When we have verbally inquired about this issue previously, we have been told by MDOT staff that these calculations cannot be released due to security concerns on the part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection," he said.

    What's top-secret information in Port Huron apparently is freely available in Buffalo. Tomion said he was surprised to find "a very extensive analysis (with) dozens of pages with tables and figures" regarding delays and backups at the Peace Bridge.

    "We are very disappointed that the citizens of Port Huron and Michigan have not received equal consideration and treatment compared to residents of Buffalo/Niagara, New York," he said.

    He noted CBP even has a Web site - - with real-time information on border delays.

    Traffic counts look wrong
    Estimates of future traffic on the bridge are mystifying, Tomion said.

    MDOT projects a 50% growth in traffic volumes in the 20-year forecast period, a time when the region's population is expected to increase less than 10%.

    In the past, Tomion said, bridge traffic has spiked after obvious milestones - the opening of Highway 402 in Ontario and the completion of Interstate 69 in Michigan are two notable examples.

    No such milestones are anticipated in the next 20 years, he said. On the contrary, there are developments that could reduce traffic volumes, such as a proposed ban on Canadian trash trucks, a third crossing between Detroit and Windsor and passport requirements that seem likely to discourage cross-border travel.

    Research by Bob Clegg, Port Huron's city engineer, suggests MDOT has consistently overestimated traffic growth on the bridge. A 1998 estimate, for example, missed a forecast for 2006 truck traffic by more than a million vehicles, Tomion said.

    'Reverse inspections'
    Groden shared a report from the county's Metropolitan Planning Commission, which concluded that the existing plaza - completed a decade ago - is handling only one-third of its design capacity.

    He and Tomion questioned whether traffic growth is the real reason for expanding the plaza, as MDOT initially claimed.

    They also questioned whether the issue is national security and cited a 2006 letter from MDOT's director, Kirk Steudle, who complained that Homeland Security had been unwilling to commit to staffing additional inspection booths.

    A related issue is reverse inspections, which would check vehicles for bombs and biological weapons in Canada before motorists cross the bridge. The Bush administration and Congress have appeared cool to the idea.

    Tomion said reverse inspections remain an alternative in Buffalo, "recognizing that there will be a new administration in Washington in about 14 months" - long before actual construction...

    Groden called for improvements to the M-25 bridge over the Black River Canal.
    "The canal bridge is already a chokepoint," he said, recalling how a minor traffic accident earlier this year brought traffic to a standstill for four hours. "That chokepoint is only going to get worse if the plaza is built..."

    Port Huron Township officials plan to discuss the issue Monday, and Beedon said it is urgent for state and federal officials to go ahead quickly with improvements to the corridor, including the expressway bridge over the Black River. That work is not planned until 2010 or later, which Beedon said is unacceptable given the safety issues.

    "The corridor is our first and foremost concern," he said, "but we're also on board with many of the city's concerns on size and need."

    Tomion echoed that, saying the city endorses the township's call for putting the corridor improvements on a fast track.

    "The two townships, the city and the county are working as a consortium," Groden said. "We recognize we may have somewhat different concerns, but there's more impact as a united voice than if you're four voices."

    If all else fails, he said, "I can assure you the recommendation of my board is that we litigate."