Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, May 17, 2010

DRIC, DIFT, DRTP---All Ba(i)r[e]d

Darn, darn, darn.

His DRIC timetable has just been all screwed up. You know the Prime Minister gave him a job to do. He had to make it happen already after 16 months of personal failure and 2 generations of Canadian attempts to take over the Ambassador Bridge. Especially over the last decade. Canadian taxpayer money is no object. We can afford it

The P3 Bill should have been approved by the Michigan House by now. Seriously, isn't $550M enough to get a Bill passed in that State? How much more do they want? We Canadians are generous but only so far.

You have to feel sorry for Transport Canada Minister John Baird's speechwriter. That person must have written a speech for Canada's Transport Minister for the event at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday.

Clearly, the expectation was that the P3 legislation would have been passed by the House by now and Baird then had to do a sales job on the Senate. After all look at the events leading up to the speech:
  • rah rah rah pep rally for DRIC
  • The Governor's breathless performance in the House Committee hearings on P3
  • $550M loan to pass P3 legislation
  • TRIP press conference announcing DRIC is the #1 most important project that needs to be undertaken in Michigan, #7 being the Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal and #13 the Detroit River Rail Tunnel.
  • Granholm arm-twisting of House members

Instead, some of those darn Michigan House members figured out that the P3 legislation as proposed by MDOT could hurt the State financially and allowed the Executive to do whatever it wanted with no legislative oversight at all.

DRIC and "availability payments" for Michigan's financial solvency in the future do not mix!

Accordingly, instead of a Bill passing by now, Baird has to come to Detroit with a brand new and improved speech to try to convince House members to approve it. I wonder how much he will raise the ante at this speech. Will he offer to pay for EVERYTHING for dRIC now or does he wait for the Senate vote for that goodie? Who knows what the Governor may be forced to do to one-up her breathless performance.

Of course, what is really at stake is passing the P3 legislation so as to endrun the Michigan Senate which is opposed to the DRIC boondoggle. That is why DRIC and P3 are tied so closely together. If the P3 legislation is passed by both the House and Senate, then DRIC will follow no matter if the Senate says no to DRIC. The P3 Bill gives MDOT a blank check to override the Legislature. That is the only reason why Canada offered money in order to get the P3 Bill passed.

However, the House delay has screwed up the timetable in another way. The Record of Decision of the DIFT (Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal) at this time may be a killer for DRIC as well and should get Legislators thinking whether they have been give the complete story about so-called truck traffic increase at the border requiring a second bridge for capacity purposes.

  • "The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has issued the final environmental clearance for the Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal in Wayne County. With the release of the Record of Decision (ROD), the project is allowed to move forward in the next phases of design, right of way acquisition and construction as funding becomes available."

I am not a big expert on DIFT to be honest since I am having enough trouble staying on top of DRIC. I do know it is another of MDOT Director Steudle's projects that could be P3ed at a cost of around $500M. Availability payments for that too perhaps because of bridge competition especially if DRIC is built?

Heck, Michigan taxpayers may as well be on the hook for EVERYTHING!

However, I found it interesting that the DRIC and DIFT EAs were held separately and not together as one considering the impact that they will have on SW Detroit. At one time Councillor Ken Cockrel Jr in Detroit did not want anything going forward until a complete study was undertaken about all of the projects which would also include the double stack rail tunnel I assume.

Interestingly as well, Corradino was the consultant for DRIC and DIFT. The question to ask is whether the 2 projects "double counted" the traffic so as to justify both. DRIC was sold on high levels of truck traffic in the future and was DIFT sold the same way? Was a truck on a rail car good for DIFT and then good for DRIC? In ONE EA , the answer would have been found out. In 2 separate EAs the question may never have been asked. Thus one truck may have turned into 2 trucks by the time both EAs were completed.

I do not recall that rail was a big feature of any discussions on DRIC. Neither was border efficiency like pre-clearance and other steps taken. You might be interested in these BLOG I wrote too about a cow bridge that became the #1 border crossing between Canada and the US

Would DIFT "cannabalize" Ambassador Bridge and, DRIC traffic. Certainly it would have to take away traffic or the project would not be necessary and could never be paid for.

  • "The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has beenworking with federal, state and local agencies since 1993 with the goalof improving rail freight transportation opportunities and efficienciesat a consolidated terminal in Wayne County."

Check out this story in the Windsor Star dealing with the Windsor Port.

No one to my knowledge has talked seriously about the impact of the Highway H2O concept on border truck traffic either.

Early on before the DRIC stage, the Bi-national Engineers (who became the DRIC engineers) in one of their early studies said that the use of rail could possibly take up to 40% of truck traffic and water could take a big percentage as well. They then said a realistic number of how much would actually be taken away was much less of the actual traffic but nevertheless, a good percentage. They went on to say that in spite of these big numbers, the road truck numbers would increase so significantly that another bridge was still necessary. And you know how good their traffic projections have been. NOT!

From a recent Transport Action Ontario statement:

  • "The governments of Ontario and Canada need to take steps to stimulate Canadian-U.S. intermodal rail across southwestern Ontario. Intermodal rail services already exist between Toronto and the U.S. via southwest Ontario. However, they are a small fraction of what they could be. The DRIC project’s travel demand consultant in its September 2005 report stated that 44 percent of the truck traffic across the Ambassador Bridge was divertible to intermodal rail. That report then identified several existing infrastructure and other problems to explain why the truck traffic would not be diverted."

Accordingly, I believe that rail and water transportation may take away traffic from the Ambassador Bridge. How much I do not know nor has anyone really studied it. That is a vital question to ask before spending billions on DRIC.

Whatever volume it takes away however means that the need for a DRIC bridge is decreased as well. Let us assume that truck traffic goes up by 128% which is the number being thrown around, even though it is no longer valid. Let us assume that a big percentage of it uses the other modes of transportation as the Bi-National engineers estimated. I do not see then how a new DRIC bridge would have enough traffic to pay its way. It would have to "cannabalize" traffic from other crossings putting them in financial jeopardy and costing taxpayers a fortune since taxpayers own the Tunnel and Blue Water Bridge and would have to subsidize tolls or make availability payments.

DRIC already does that to justify its construction and would absolutely have to do more to compete with rail and water.

Let us also assume that DIFT "cannabalizes" Ambassador Bridge traffic. Then how can DRIC pay its own way.

The problem is that there has NOT been a proper analysis of alternative modes, increased efficiency at border crossings, moving Customs away from the border due to FAST and NEXXUS etc. Do the math on this over 24 hours. I believe that US Customs wants to reduce inspection time per truck from 2 minutes to 15 or 30 seconds. Effectively that means that truck throughput can increase with few border infrastructure changes by 4-8 times! No new bridge is needed at all for capacity, just for improved traffic flow ie exactly what the Ambaasdor Bridge Enhancement Project is designed to do.

Oh and as for DRTP, at the begining of March,

  • "The Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP) says it will begin an environmental assessment within a few weeks for a proposed double-stacked rail tunnel across the Detroit River between Windsor and Detroit."

All it tells me is who needs a DRIC bridge! To be direct, if there is cannabalization, as a taxpayer, I would prefer that the Bridge Company bear the risk, not me.