Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, July 05, 2010

Giving Taxpayers The Business

I have to ask this in all seriousness. Is this really how Governments operate?

Don’t they care about taxpayers and the problems that we have in this difficult economy? Is there no accountability for the millions of dollars that they waste it seems day in and day out? Is it ever going to be possible for taxpayers to control what is going on with our elected representatives and the bureaucracy?

I’m sure that you are expecting me to talk about the DRIC file again. But I’m not going to do so this time around. It is in a league of its own.

Instead, I want to talk about the Truck Ferry and the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and the Tunnel Plaza improvements in particular that are going to be done on our side.

I never understood why the Canadian and Ontario Governments are spending about $9 million to help out a private operator at the border. They are doing no favours for the Ambassador Bridge Company, another private operator, even though $300 million had been set aside to do a road to the border a number of years ago. It just means another lawsuit/NAFTA claim too.

The Truck Ferry project was a comedy of errors and naturally the costs increased dramatically.
  • “Construction is underway on an $8.8-million improvement project for the Detroit-Windsor truck ferry following several months of delay because of a dispute between federal and provincial government officials over costs.

    Provincial government officials leading the project originally estimated the costs at around $6 million, but a tender process was held and awarded to Mill-Am Corporation, a company affiliated with Amico Contracting, which was the lowest bidder at $8.8 million.”

The Truck Ferry’s owner, Gregg Ward, had to be happy that all of this money was being spent on his behalf so that he did not need to spend millions of dollars on his part.

But here is what is very strange to me. If the DRIC bridge was ever to be built, then there would be little need for the Truck Ferry. The new bridge would be able to carry hazardous materials. Who would go out of their way to visit Mr. Ward’s facility if they can cross a bridge so much more quickly.

Here’s something else that is very strange. During the Michigan Senate hearings, we were told that the Bridge Company is also trying to obtain permission to have hazardous materials go over their bridge, other than explosives. In fact, they have been trying for around two years and because of the delay now have their lawyers involved.

It that permission was granted, then again, who would use Mr. Ward’s service other than perhaps for explosives. I am sure that some cynics will have an explanation why it is taking so long for the Bridge Company to get their approvals.

Do you see what I mean? Millions of dollars are being spent on a service that ultimately could go out of business tomorrow. I don’t get it.

What I also don’t get is why we’re spending any money whatsoever on Tunnel Plaza Improvements. I attended their Open House meeting a few weeks ago and was disgusted by what I heard. More taxpayer money being wasted on a project that makes little sense to me.

Think about it, a project that initially was to cost $30 million will now be costing about $44 million. Of course, that number is a phony one because it was not calculated on actual numbers. I am sure that the reality will be very much along the lines of the massive increases that almost every Windsor construction project has encountered such as the festival stage which has about doubled in cost since it started.

But what makes it ludicrous is that the Tunnel volumes have decreased so dramatically since their peak. There was this story in the paper the other day as well that does not bode well for any significant increases:
  • “Local tourism CEO Chris Ryan has been sitting on a nine-person board that has been meeting twice a month in London in a bid to get the regional tourism organization off the ground.

    “There is a lot to do,” he said. “We are putting together a new organization and governance, developing strategic and marketing plans. We are being positive and working at it.”

    Ryan said 68 per cent of Ontario tourism dollars is linked to residents within the province — a number projected to grow to 84 per cent by 2013.

    Meanwhile, U.S. visits will continue to shrink from 20 per cent today to 10 per cent by 2013.”

Moreover, the DRIC people believe that their new bridge will take 25% of the Tunnel traffic.

So please explain to me what was said at the session ie over the next 20 years traffic will increase by about 1% per year at the Tunnel. How can that possibly be?

Even if one assumes that there will be a 1% increase over that period of time, the number of vehicles that will be going through the Tunnel will still be well below their peak.

I remember being given a presentation by one of the Senior Tunnel people several years ago and he had a brilliant plan about how to improve Tunnel operations without the necessity of spending all these millions of dollars on Plaza Improvements. I could never understand why the Head of the Windsor Tunnel Commission, our Mayor, did not listen to him and try to achieve what he wanted to do so much earlier. That would have helped the Tunnel business years ago.

It seems to me that the only people who are going to gain from this project are those whose properties will be expropriated and those nearby whose property values might increase if this area ever gets redeveloped.

I asked a simple question at the session why the “No Build” alternative was not being put forward. My reason for asking the question was because of excessive cost and low volumes.

The answer given was that in the mornings with all the commuters going over there could be lineups and therefore we need to spend money to fix up the Tunnel entrance. All of this disruption in the core and waste of money for this. Absurd.

Spend, spend, spend. Spend money for a business that could be out of business tomorrow. Spend excessive amounts of money for a business whose business is declining.

What kind of business is this? Oh I forgot, this is not business… this is Government.


Do you remember what solved the truck backup problem for Windsor? Not spending $5.3B on a new bridge but rather the Bridge Company spending a few million of its private funds to build 4 new truck booths into the US.

The analogy used is that it is like opening up a couple of cash register lanes in a supermarket to reduce the line-ups.

So why do we need Tunnel Plaza Improvements if this is happening now and there is more to come to get Tunnel users through more quickly:

  • "New Lane Opens at the Detroit Windsor Tunnel
    Two New Inspection Booths For CBP

    Detroit – U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Detroit Windsor Tunnel received two new inspection booths with the completion of the first phase of construction at the facility. The expansion increases the number of available lanes from ten to eleven for traffic coming into the U.S.

    On June 19, 2010, the first phase of construction, originally announced in March 2010, at the Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza was completed with the opening of an additional traffic lane and two new inspection booths. Tunnel President and CEO Neal Belitsky announced that crews had finished the $900,000 phase of upgrades at the Detroit side of the tunnel.

    “The tunnel company, working with the General Services Administration, is making improvements to the infrastructure at the tunnel that will help CBP efficiently and effectively accomplish our mission,” stated Port Director Roderick Blanchard. “Working co-operatively with our partners and stakeholders ensures that our travelers receive the best services available...”

    The next phase of construction at the tunnel is scheduled to begin in September 2010 and be completed in June 2011. This phase will renovate the CBP secondary inspection area and offices to improve traffic flow into and through that area of the facility."