Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, June 04, 2010

Are DRIC Traffic Numbers Suspect

Traffic projections. Who is right and who is wrong? Here is what we do know:
  • DRIC expert's numbers are high, Bridge Co. expert's numbers are low

  • DRIC projections have been continually overly-optimistic even between the one-year period between the FEIS and the Wilbur Smith Report.

  • Bridge Co. report has been released

  • Canada's report prepared by Wilbur Smith has never been released publicly so we cannot judge on what basis the numbers were calculated and how accurate they are.

  • MDOT's traffic report, also prepared by Wilbur Smith, was not an investment grade traffic study but rather a "refresher" of the unreleased Canadian report

  • The MDOT report was not as required by section 384 ie "a detailed traffic projection for the ensuing 10 years, taking into account projected infrastructure modifications, expansions and improvements announced."

  • Revenue projections based on traffic numbers have been kept secret from Legislators by MDOT.
Let's forget all about the experts. Let's deal with something non-experts might be comfortable with and something that is easy to understand to test the DRIC figures. After all, that is what the Michigan Senators must do based on MDOT's incomplete information to decide if they should support DRIC or not.

Let's also forget that a Bridge built 80 years ago that had a tariff for cow crossings is now the #1 border crossing between Caanda and the US because its operation is the best.

Let's also forget about pre-clearance, technological improvements that make Customs quicker, FAST, moving Customs away from the border.

Let's forget as well that the Bridge is operating well under capacity and traffic is at the 1990's level. Moreover, even in Buffalo/Fort Erie the issue for the Peace Bridge is NOT additional capacity but traffic flow.

Let's forget as well that with the Ambassador Gateway project, in 1997 it was said that the bridge would be able to handle without a new one almost 5.4M trucks. And that is before all the significant changes with respect to Customs that have been taken and the new booths that have been added.

Even if you forget all of those factors that impact traffic numbers, don't you find this troubling especially when trying to figure out how many trucks will cross the border in the future?

DRIC wants to spend billions on a new border crossing for trucks primarily. At the same time, MDOT and railways want to build the Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal (DIFT) in virtually the same area in SW Detroit.
  • "Intermodal freight is a shipping method used to send products from manufacturers to where people buy them. It is called “intermodal” because it uses two “modes,” trucks and trains, using special containers and trailers. Trucks take the product from the factory to a rail yard and trains move the products across the country. Finally, trucks take the products from a rail yard to their final destination.

    This is an efficient method of transportation because shippers move their containers from the trucks to the trains and back again without having to repack the products. This method also can be less expensive...

    The purpose of the Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal project is to support the economic competitiveness of Southeast Michigan and the state by improving freight transportation opportunities and efficiencies for business, industry and the military. The goal is to ensure Southeast Michigan has a regional facility, or facilities, with sufficient capacity and interconnectivity to provide for existing and future intermodal demand, and reduce time, monetary costs and congestion to support the economic competitiveness of Southeast Michigan."

It is not cheap either:

  • "The terminal project, between Wyoming and Livernois avenues south of I-94, has a $445-million price tag in 2006 dollars (for the preferred alternative) and is designed to consolidate train and trucking infrastructure.

    MDOT has reached a deal with CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railroad to jointly develop the project."

What is fascinating as well:

  • "This is a significant accomplishment in that it represents the largest public/private venture in Michigan history, with the railroads agreeing to pay a large share of the costs," MDOT State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said in a statement.

    No public/private partnership legislation is needed to make the project happen, MDOT said."

So if DIFT is being built to carry trucks, then why do we need a new DRIC bridge? And why do we need a P3?

That is the question that Dietrich Bergmann posed at the DRIC hearings. Take a look at his slides on 2 issues: traffic management and rail. Ask yourself why the DRIC consultants did not spend more time on these matters in their deliberations. Ask why there is the need to spend billions instead!

Road traffic mangement services is simply making it easier for drivers to figure out where to go considering traffic distances are virtually the same. Bergmann stated that the Blue Water Bridge, which is twinned by the way, is grossly underutilized.

Bergmann pointed out that MDOT already has such a system in Detroit:

  • "The Michigan Intelligent Transportation Systems Center, known as the "MITS Center," is the hub of ITS technology applications at the Michigan Department of Transportation. It is a world-class traffic management center where staff oversees a traffic monitoring system composed of 200 freeway miles."

In fact the MDOT website says:

  • "The system is being expanded to include coverage along I-96 from Novi to the Livingston County line and along I-94 from I-696 to 23 Mile Road. An expansion is also underway to provide motorists with real time information on I-94 and I-69 in St. Clair County regarding conditions at the Blue Water Bridge. These expansions will be operational by the end of 2009."

Yet MDOT does not seem to have done much over 5 years according to Bergmann to get more traffic going to the BWB. You remember Captain Kirk's excuse don't you: blame it on Matty:

  • "The owner of the Ambassador Bridge has rejected forming a collaborate, real-time traffic information system with the nearby Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Mich.-Sarnia, Ont.

    So says Kirk Steudle director of the Michigan Department of Transportation in an interview with a Detroit Free Press columnist...

    In response, Dan Stamper, president of Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Co., denies that his boss has ever rejected such a plan.

    "If Mr. Steudle is serious, tell him to pick up the phone or send me an e-mail and we'll sit down and work it out tomorrow," Stamper told the paper."

Or if one was cynical, one could say that there was no desire to have the BWB handle more traffic since that would kill the need for DRIC. But then again, I am no cynic!

Rail is even more interesting:

44% of truck traffic over the Ambassador Bridge could be diverted to rail. The benefits are set out. The cost to double-track the system to Windsor---Bergmann estimated to be around half the cost of DRIC. It should have been a matter to be looked at seriously considering rail rationalization in Windsor. Yet nothing significant has been done or even discussed in relation to DRIC.

DRIC's numbers suggest, according to Bergmann, that 2 trains an hour could handle the traffic.

Now Bergmann is not the first to say this:

  • "Windsor DRIC bridge should be kiboshed, say green groups
    New crossing called costly, unnecessary

    Sierra Club Ontario and Transport Action Ontario joined forces at Queen's Park Thursday in response to the Canadian government's $550-million offer last month to pay Michigan's costs for the binational feeder road and bridge project in Windsor-Detroit border corridor.

    "The DRIC plan is so flawed the offer is a desperate step to quickly start construction of the $5-billion project before it falls apart," said Natalie Litwin of Transport Action Ontario, an advocate for environmentally and economically sustainable transportation movement...

    Her organization suggests improved use of railways for freight in Windsor, citing the need for a new double-stacked Detroit River rail tunnel, greater use of the truck ferry and improved urban transit connections linking Windsor with Detroit and its suburbs...

    [Emma Cane, who spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club said] The Sierra Club believes border traffic problems in Windsor are caused by a lack of border staff.

    "They should devote more staffing and training at border crossings," Cane said. "It's not necessary to build a bridge."

But to me, the biggest farce is the following. Here is what DRIC estmates will happen to Blue Water Bridge traffic if a DRIC bridge is built. Clearly this volume has to be part of the DRIC business case for financial viability:

  • A seven percent decline in overall auto traffic on the Blue Water Bridge and a 16 to 18 percent decline in overall truck traffic with the introduction of a proposed DRIC crossing.

Now that is a lot of cars and trucks. Except here is what the Blue Water Bridge Authority, Government people so thay can hardly be Ambassador Bridge Co. friends, say which makes a mockery of the DRIC projection as well:

So forgetting everything else, if there are real and reasonable alternatives to DRIC, cheaper and more environmentally friendly, that will take a good chunk of traffic away from the border crossing here, then why is there a need to spend $5B+ on an unnecessary bridge project?

One does not need to be an expert to know that that there is more going on than building a DRIC bridge. Too bad it's being hidden from us.


Don't you just love DRIC-ites. They talk out of all sides of their mouths and really do not care what they say to get the DRIC Bridge built.

Note that in the above discussion, I did not mention marine which the DRIC engineers also said could take traffic away from a bridge crossing.

But why listen to them when we can rely on a DRIC-ite to make the border crossing numbers even more ridiculous. At Mackinac we heard this:

  • "The proposed second bridge across the Detroit River between Windsor and Detroit could be the template for other public-private partnerships that could include a broadly expanded port in Detroit.

    “There’s a great opportunity for more maritime traffic in the Great Lakes,” said Dick Blouse this morning, former head of the Detroit Regional Chamber, during the Mackinac Policy Conference."

DUH Dick. If containers can use ships and ports and land at the Detroit Port, then why do we need a new bridge? The ships replace the trucks. All that is needed as you said previously is

  • "a few port improvements, such as the addition of a some tower dock cranes capable of plucking containers off ocean-going vessels."

Don't you remember your slide presentation boosting waterways:

  • Using the advantage of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Detroit is a viable alternative for moving goods from Europe to the Midwest of the U.S. This would allow ships to bypass the congested and costly ports along the east coast.

    Likewise, goods arriving on west coast of the U.S. from Asia that are to be distributed throughout North America could use the Halifax Detroit route via the Panama Canal. This allows shippers to sidestep the equally clogged and expensive ports along the west coast. You save time and money, two critical elements in a fast-paced international economy. "

He obviously supports Bergmann on rail too because he said before:

  • "In the next few weeks, members of Blouse's board will visit Halifax to figure out how Detroit can divert thousands of cargo containers from the current shipping route between Rotterdam and ports on the southern U.S. coast such as Savannah., Ga.

    Detroit wants to see more containers offloaded onto CN trains that originate in Halifax, bound for its giant Toronto yards and points West. Halifax is currently handling less than half the 1.2 million containers it is capable of receiving.

    "Time is money in the shipping business and using Halifax cuts two days off the trip" from Europe to most of the U.S. market, Blouse points out. "But we're not wedded to CN and Halifax."

    CP Rail's connection to international shipping lanes via the Port of Montreal could also be used to achieve the same goal."