Time for another good old border BLOG. Have you missed them? This one has been hanging around for awhile but it is still current. With so much other goings-on, it is tough to post everything in as timely a fashion as I would want.
I must admit I didn't really think about it until after a recent Community Consultation Group meeting. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. What DRIC is proposing makes no sense whatsoever for Windsor. And what Eddie is supporting, merely replacing the DRIC Road with Greenlink, is just as bad.
The project has always been a transportation one, right from day one. Oh they can talk about community impact, environmental concerns, keeping trucks off city streets and all the rest but the real purpose of the exercise is moving goods across the border as expeditiously as possible.
Five years ago I made a presentation to the Bi-National group on behalf of STOPDRTP. What I argued was set out in the slide above. I argued about the JMC proposal:
- "Senior government "medium term" strategy will become the "long term" solution since we expect that the ongoing volume of international truck traffic will be handled by what is now being proposed…..and to the detriment of the City of Windsor."
I specifically focused on the Border Infrastructure Fund language in this slide. Find anything about our Community there:
Nothing has really changed. We are all being played by the conversation over the DRIC Road, Greenlink, green space, tunnels, context sensitive designs, workshops, public information open houses and so on and so on and so on...
DRIC at its simplest is nothing more than the building of a road from the end of Highway 401 to a Customs plaza to a new bridge across the River to a Customs plaza on the other side that connects to the Interstate system. The purpose of all of this is to make sure that trucks get from Highway 401 to the bridge as quickly as possible without stopping. The trucks then have the ability, assuming that they are on one of the technology systems like FAST or E-manifest, to have a lane of traffic so that the truck can go through Customs as quickly as possible as well without being blocked by a non-technology vehicle as they are now in a 2 lane road.
I don't really have a complaint with respect to the corridor on Highway 3/Huron Church because that has always been the main road to the border and was never going to change. I have my doubts whether we will see a DRIC road at a cost of almost $2 billion being built. I expect that we will get a cheapo road as well as an upgraded and expanded E C Row which is something that the Senior Levels have been trying to do for years here.
It is with the plaza and new bridge that I am very troubled because they accomplish nothing other than spending billions of taxpayers dollars on both sides of the river.
I attended a DRIC CCG meeting. There really was no purpose for it since nothing new was disclosed and it was nothing more than a review of what had happened over the last month or so. Relatively few people attended. I think we were outnumbered by the consultants and government officials. I guess the only purpose was to add another notch to the number of meetings held so that DRIC could say that they have discussed what they want to do with the community.
I asked a few questions but unfortunately did not get the answers. They are to be provided subsequently. I asked:
- What was the size in acres of the primary inbound Customs area
- what was the size in acres of the secondary inbound Customs area.
At the session, as I had Blogged before, the total area of the Plaza was about 130 acres with all kinds of space that to me seemed unnecessary except if one wanted to justify the need for 100 to 120 acres of land around the existing Ambassador Bridge. It is an area that I thought was hemmed in by Hydro plants and automotive plant that gave no room for expansion if traffic did happen to pick up significantly in the future. The question was raised about security concerns of the Plaza location but it was dismissed by saying security people had already looked at the issue and had no problems.
I also raised the point that when looking at their drawing they had 29 Customs booths with no room for expansion. I was told that initially it would be highly unlikely that all of the booths would be necessary because the traffic wasn't there yet but that it would grow over period of 30 years.
That of course is the Government approach where you only build it at the last possible second, an approach that the Bridge Company has rejected after 9/11 as you can see from the six unused truck Customs booths at the bridge today. The bridge has the insurance booths necessary as required.
I asked for confirmation of volumes and said that it appeared to me that the 29 booths were capable of handling a huge increase in traffic as expected by the DRIC traffic projections. Those projections expected a doubling of traffic at least over the next 30 years. Based on the US DRIC DEIS, the new bridge would handle most of the car and truck traffic that would go to both the DRIC Bridge and the Ambassador Bridge as well as 25% of the Tunnel traffic and a good percentage of the Blue Water Bridge traffic.
I asked the question:
- how many Customs booths were there at the Ambassador Bridge now.
None of the government people or their consultants knew the answer and one of them guessed at around 20 booths.
Let me tell you what I was getting at and why I am quite upset at the answers and what was also told that the session.
My guess is that the total combined area of primary and secondary inbound examination is not significantly greater than that at the Ambassador Bridge today. I thought that they said that they had truck parking for about 200 vehicles, a space requirement that is absurd with the new technologies that are being put into place. For example, the number of trucks to go to secondary now in Canada dropped from about 800 to about 70 per day once the Ambassador Bridge opened up their processing centre in Detroit.
But the key bit for me was the fact that the DRIC Bridge only needed the number of Customs booths that the Ambassador Bridge already has today. In other words, the number of booths needed 30 years from now are already in place at the Ambassador Bridge. Does any of this make sense to you?
Of course the answer from the DRIC perspective is that Customs wants certain things to be at the bridge that may not be able to be accommodated by the existing plaza at the bridge. Well you know what, Customs can learn to accommodate themselves if the alternative is to waste taxpayers billions of dollars.
As an example, if trucks need to go to secondary inspection, they need to go to the off-site location that Customs already asked the Ambassador Bridge to build for them and which was built. The easy way to have trucks go from the Plaza to secondary and not get "lost" is to have them go in convoys escorted by Customs vehicles as they do today. So Customs will need to have a car and driver to escort the vehicles in a convoy. That's an awful lot cheaper in interest costs savings alone than building a new Plaza isn't it? It is not perfection but the world is not perfect either. Over time, with the new technologies, won't they expect that the number of vehicles that would have to go to secondary will decrease significantly in any event. There would be no need for a secondary customs area capable of handling hundreds of trucks.
Another example that seems to be lost on the DRIC people is the story on RFID devices that are being installed at all of the border crossings. My recollection is that US Customs had said that it would reduce inspection times of a car by about 30 seconds. That means more cars can go through a border crossing per hour than before thereby reducing the number of lanes required for Customs now and in the future.
But it was Dave Wake who told me as he had said to Windsor Council that there was no consideration for a road to the Ambassador Bridge that got me the most annoyed. Again, one of the other participants asked about tolls and why wouldn't trucks go to the Ambassador Bridge rather than the new DRIC Bridge if tolls were going to be lower at the Ambassador Bridge. That question was dismissed by saying that a trucker would go to the location where there were no backups. That is true and that is why he Ambassador Bridge is able to take away traffic from the Blue Water Bridge today.
In case you have forgotten, Mr. Wake made it absolutely clear that there would be an exit at the DRIC Road and Huron Church (at around EC Row) where a truck could leave the DRIC Road and go north on Huron Church to the Ambassador Bridge. The truck would go on City streets in other words
Let us assume that at both bridges, traffic is flowing smoothly. Let's forget that, absent a subsidy, the Bridge Company's tolls might be less than half of that of the new DRIC Bridge so it would get the vast majority of the traffic. Even using the US DEIS numbers as was expressed at the CCG meeting, that means that about 40% of the traffic would still go on Huron Church Road. If that traffic doubles over the next 30 years that means that the volume of trucks that will still use city streets is almost the same as it is today.
eg truck traffic today 3.5M trucks, traffic in the future, 7M trucks, traffic using Huron Church to get to the Ambassadro bridge in future 2.8M trucks (40% of 7M).
What has been accomplished for the city of Windsor? We still have a truck traffic on Huron Church. In fact, we will probably have more truck traffic than before because the the DRIC Bridge in order to satisfy the P3 investor has to bring in truck traffic from Sarnia and take away traffic from the Tunnel. If the Bridge Company is as good a competitor as they think they are and if their tolls are significantly lower, they will ensure that trucks clear their crossing quickly which means that their volumes will be significantly higher.
In the end, think of it... all of these billions paid out for a new road, plaza and bridge and trucks will still use Huron Church Road at the volumes around that which we have today or even higher. This is utter and complete nonsense. What has been accomplished?
Our Mayor is no better. Again, it was something I thought of after I left the CCG meeting. He has an inherent conflict of interest with respect to him being Mayor of Windsor and head of the Windsor Tunnel Commission or the Windsor Tunnel Corporation, whichever party is involved as I have Blogged before.
Our Mayor is thrilled that the new bridge is going Brighton Beach because he said that is where the City always wanted it to go presumably because we can negotiate a deal with the Feds over the land there so that the City can make a ton of money. It is a nice parcel of land, already expropriated. Great for the City but not so good for the Tunnel for which he wants to spend $75 million to get the Detroit interest. It is going to lose a quarter of its business to the DRIC Bridge, and probably a big chunk to the Ambassador Bridge which will compete for the car traffic.
As the Head of the Tunnel, I would have thought that Eddie wants cars to come downtown to use that crossing. That brings all kinds of business downtown as well from tourists, even if they just want to stop and have a doughnut or hamburger before they cross over. However, as Mayor, he has just encouraged the building of a bridge that will move so much more traffic away from the downtown and take away more business from the downtown.
I am sorry but to me this whole approach is foolishness to the nth degree. Billions of dollars will be spent and nothing will be achieved. In fact, if my analysis is correct, we will be worse off with DRIC after spending billions of dollars.
I just don't get it!