Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brookings Institution Questions Need For DRIC Bridge

You did not read this in the Windsor Star did you, dear reader. Instead you read some baffle-gab about "decentralized to allow for greater local flexibility" and "pivotal role an unfettered border plays in North American manufacturing's heavily integrated just-in-time delivery systems."

The Star cannot bear the fact that the Report effectively states that in our region the Ambassador Bridge Company has won. No wonder it was not disclosed in the news story.

I feel vindicated.

As a mere lonely BLOGGER, who listens to me or cares what I have to say. But when the Brookings Institution says it, why everyone ought to listen, especially Transport Canada's Sean O'Dell before he gives Ministers of the Crown more speaking notes about traffic volumes for their DRIC speeches:

  • "The Ambassador Bridge has long been the busiest crossing on the U.S.-Canadian border. Privately-owned and operated by the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), the Ambassador Bridge carries more trade between the United States and Canada each year than flows between the United States and all of Europe and Japan combined. The Michigan Department of Transportation has undertaken a $230 million expansion of the Ambassador Bridge customs plaza to improve traffic flow and enhance access to Interstate 75 and Interstate 96, as well as to ease traffic problems affecting adjacent city neighborhoods. The DIBC has proposed a privately financed $1 billion second span for the Ambassador Bridge that is pending regulatory approvals.

    At the same time, a new crossing between Detroit and Windsor, known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) is being planned, and received U.S. Department of Transportation approval in January 2009.18 The DRIC would cost $1.5 billion, and construction could begin as early as 2010; the earliest that this second bridge would be open to traffic is 2013. This second crossing would connect Interstate 75 and Ontario’s Highway 401 while bypassing Huron Church Road, which passes through the City of Windsor and is subject to congestion and delays. It would require the construction of additional customs inspection space in both countries, additional customs personnel, and a new three-mile long highway to connect the bridge to Highway 401 via the E.C. Row Expressway on the Canadian side. Planning for this connector began in 2006, and a route and design have been approved. However, the DRIC is expected to be completed later than the DIBC barring additional delays to either project, and concern over the auto industry and the potential for lower traffic volumes due to reduced automotive industry shipments casts doubt on the need to proceed with both the DIBC and DRIC...

    The Public Border Operators Association, representing nine publicly owned border crossings between Ontario and the states of Michigan and New York, reported in February 2009 that truck traffic between Ontario and Michigan and Ontario and New York fell by nine percent to 7.3 million truck crossings in 2008 from just more than 8 million the year before. The slowdown in the auto industry has contributed to a fifteen percent drop in the number of trucks crossing the Ambassador Bridge from 2007 to 2008, with an eighteen percent drop in truck traffic across the Ambassador Bridge in December 2008 compared with the previous December. Declining traffic figures, if sustained into 2009, undermine the case for the investment of billions of dollars in new border infrastructure after years of contentious debate and planning has already taken place...

    Coordination among multiple governments and approval processes and competition among private and public infrastructure owners force long lead times for planning and permitting and create uncertainty about border crossing status and future capacity. Despite the post 2001 pressure for action, progress in this region on new border infrastructure has been glacial."

We have been hurt in this region precisely because the judge, jury and executioner of the Ambassador Bridge project, is the same people who are its competitor. Is it any wonder as Brookings has stated that progress is glacial. This region has suffered badly at the hands of certain politicians and bureaucrats.

Why you might ask? Brookings tells us that as well:

  • "One consequence of the charged atmosphere surrounding immigration in the United States after the 1994 election was the tougher language in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that required that a record be kept of every person who exits or enters the United States. This sparked a strong reaction in Canada. NAFTA seemed to presage an era of open access for Canadians to the United States, and so the 1996 immigration legislation came as a surprise to Canadians, 90 percent of whom live within 150 miles of the U.S. border and cross frequently for business and pleasure.

    The government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien reacted to this unexpected challenge by encouraging a series of domestic and bilateral discussions on border management and security between 1996 and 2000, including: the Shared Border Accord, the Border Vision Initiative, the Cross-Border Crime Forum, the Canada-U.S. Anti-Smuggling Working Group, and the Canada-U.S. Partnership which held two meetings between federal officials in both countries and local stakeholders in 2000."

They also reacted by deciding early on to fight to take over the Ambassador Bridge!

Of course, the Americans' "Dirty Little Secret" is still at play causing major problems for Canada:

  • "Another important finding in the Globerman and Storer study is that impacts of border disruptions seem to be much more significant for goods entering the United States rather than for goods entering Canada, at least after the initial 2001 impacts. By making the United States more difficult to enter for terrorists, the post-2001 border changes made the United States hard to enter for goods and service providers, as well as visitors such as tourists and family members...

    Canadian border stakeholders are in a different position. With more than 85 percent of the Canadian population living within 200 miles of the United States border, and with more than 80 percent of both Canadian exports and imports flowing across the U.S.-Canadian border, Canadians find it easier to agree on the importance of a better managed border."

As a result, this required that Canada "own" all of the border crossings across Canada into the US and required that Canada sucker the US into going along. Reread the material about the Bridge Company NEPA lawsuit again with this new perspective and you can understand better the basis of the Bridge Company complaint. It does not seem so outlandish after all now.

The key target as it has been for 50 years was the Ambassador Bridge because it was owned by an American. Notwithstanding that his interests and Canada's are identical--keep commerce flowing smoothly across the border and increase trade--the Canadians decided that they had to force him out of business. In other words, take his private business and give it to another private company but under a P3 which makes it OK.

Here is the reality of Canada/US border politics and why Canada needs the Bridge Company who can do things that Canada cannot:

  • "The border between the United States and Canada is not in crisis. Conditions at the border and with border policies and programs managed by the U.S. federal government are tolerable, though imperfect and the source of significant frustration for specific regions and user groups. Without a crisis atmosphere, and given the major challenges facing the Obama administration, the U.S.-Canadian border will not garner extensive presidential and congressional attention in the coming years. The political capital and energy of U.S. federal leaders will be expended elsewhere to address more pressing priorities."

Does anyone believe that Canadian Ambassador Wilson is taken seriously by the President after NAFTA-Gate?

What is fascinating is reading the section:

  • "Toward a New Frontier: Policies that Promote Precision and Consultation"

Nothing there about building a DRIC bridge that I could see. In fact, here is what Brookings said about our border crossing as if they knew it was going to happen:

  • "Since 2001, the northern border has received significant attention from U.S. and Canadian federal policymakers, resulting in the largest and most comprehensive investment in northern border security infrastructure, personnel and advanced technology in history. This investment is now being followed by a historic public investment in the U.S. economy by the Obama administration and Congress that has significant implications for northern border gateways and border corridors. Yet this new investment comes while communities are still adjusting to the post-2001 investment in security, and critical linkages like the new bridges proposed to connect Detroit and Windsor, Buffalo and Fort Erie, are years from completion. This will make the transitional adjustments necessary for local communities correspondingly more acute...

    Such transitional problems are still problems, but they require mitigation rather than new ideas. For example, traffic backups and delays at the busy Detroit-Windsor crossing between Michigan and Ontario will be remedied when a new bridge is complete. Studies and approvals for an additional Detroit-Windsor crossing are currently underway."

The unspoken reality when one looks through what is written is that the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project bridge should be built first! The DRIC bridge cannot and should not be built now because there is no justification for it.

If that is the case, and this is a report by a US Institution, can Canada finally get the message! Moroun has won.

It is time that the Canadian Government is forced to negotiate a "peace" with the Ambassador Bridge Company before this region is devastated even more than it is now.

Citizens For Jobs Now needs to mobilize and get different groups in the City working together to put on pressure the politicians to arrive at a solution!

PS. With the DRIC Bridge delayed for at least 2 years if not more, it borders on gross irresponsibility for the Canadian Government not to be talking with the Bridge Company to do a deal now.