Downriver route selected for new Detroit-Windsor toll bridge

November 16, 2005
By Peter Samuel
4 governments involved in study
4 governments involved in study
Chosen corridor
Chosen corridor
Projected car traffic top and truck traffic below for 2030, relative volumes reflected in line thickness
Projected car traffic top and truck traffic below for 2030, relative volumes reflected in line thickness
Our rough rendering of the route
Our rough rendering of the route

Good news for the viability of a new US-Canada toll route: the high traffic potential downriver corridor has been chosen. US and Canadian authorities representing Michigan, Ontario and the federal governments have formally selected a western or downriver location for the new Detroit-Windsor crossing.

The location is going west from the H-401 expressway picking up the the end of the EC Row Expressway in Windsor and over the river to the Zug Island area on the US side. The precise routing within the corridor has yet to be established, but the center of the corridor is about 5km (3mi) downnriver from the Ambassador Bridge - the present major crossing.

In October the alternative corridors furthest from the centers of Detroit and Windsor were rejected.

However the decision this week appears to rule out proposals around the existing crossings including:

* the Ambassador Bridge's plan for twinning its existing 4 lane bridge

* the Canadian Pacific/pension funds plan to develop a truck tunnel out of underused rail tunnels located between the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel

The partnership statement says the twinning of the Ambassador Bridge "was determined to not be practical based on the community impacts of the proposed plaza and access road in Canada."

The present link between the Ambassador bridge and H-401 the expressway to Toronto and Montreal is an 8km (5mi) signalized urban main street fronted by businesses. There are developed residential areas on either side. On the US side there is little space for security, customs and immigration inspections.

The Detroit River Tunnel Partnership's proposal for utilizing one abandoned and another little used rail tunnel to provide 2x1 lanes for trucks is rejected also - on the grounds it doesn't add enough total capacity to serve longterm needs. (Surely that doesn't really disqualify it since nothing can guarantee sufficient capacity for ever. The rail to truck conversion remains a relatively quick to implement option that would help the important trucking sector.) Also they claim a 6-lane expressway along the rail right of way would produce unacceptable 'community impacts.' (2 lanes of truck tunnel would only require 2 lanes of approach road.)

The search for new crossing capacity is based on projections of a 128% increase in truck traffic and a 57% increase in cars over 30 years.

Origin destination studies and traffic modeling by IBI and URS produced the conclusion that the EC Row-Zug corridor served future traffic needs bestIt woulod attract 22.8k trucks and 16.6k cars in 2030.

They wrote: "The location of the Central Crossing Alternative between the western pull of major truck movements to/from I-75 (south to Toledo) and west on I-94 (West to Chicago) and the more central Windsor/central Detroit travel orientations associated with the major car movements." (p40 of Feasible Transportation Alternatives Working Paper, Jan 2004 URS)

The paper describes the route as 12km (7.5mi) in length H-401 to the mi-river border point and just 3km (2mi) from mid-river to I-75 on the US side. The river is about 750m (0.5mi) wide and a bridge must provide overhead clearance to shipping of 46m (150ft).

Fluor proposal

Several years ago a group led by Fluor proposed building a bridge in this general location in return for a toll concession. Partly in resposne the four governments involved have set in train a long process of alternatives analysis and traffic studies under the aegis of a Canada-US-Ontario-Michigan Border Transportation Partnership which is designed to satisfy all the permitting requirements on each side of the international border before there is discussion on financing of the project but it is assumed to be toll financed.

They say they will now consider all aspects of developing the border crossing system, which includes a river crossing as well as appropriate

customs plaza locations and connecting roads on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border.

"Further detailed study, technical analysis and public consultation will be conducted to identify the best end-to-end solution within

this area."

They say they are on track to specify the detailed route of a new river crossing by mid-2007.

$160b of freight

The Detroit-Windsor crossings handle about $160b of freight annually, about 30% of US-Canadian trade.

The site for the new crossing - most likely a bridge though a tunnel has not yet been ruled out - is about 5km (3mi) downriver and south of the Ambassador Bridge, the present main crossing. The Ambassador Bridge build by investors in the late 1920s is operated by a private company under a charter-in-perpetuity from the city of Detroit is the leading truck crossing between the two countries. Of 2x2 lanes its approaches are through local streets especially on the Canadian side and it forms a notorious bottleneck for traffic.

The existing crossings - the Ambassador Bridge (2x2 lanes) and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel (2x1 Lanes) cater to 74k veh/day of which about 13k are trucks. Most of the trucks use the privately owned toll bridge because of height and length restrictions on the tunnel - a Macquarie toll property. Also competing with the two Detroit-Windsor crossings is the Bluewater bridge (2x3 lanes) Sarnia-Port Huron about 90km (56mi) north but caters well to traffic in the northern part of the Detroit area and to Chicago.

Toronto to Chicago is almost identical distance using the private Detroit crossings as going via the Bluewater to the north, but Toronto to Toledo OH is 21km or 13mi longer via Bluewater, though the traveling time is about comparable because of the horrible delays in Windsor at the 12 traffic signals on Huron Church Rd. The Bluewater has traditionally been uncompetitive because of longer waits to clear customs than the Detroit-Windsor crossings - especially Canada-to-US.

88% by value of freight across the Detroit River is by road with the rail portion at 9% and in slow decline. Passenger travel is highest weekends because of tourist and shopping trips, but there are substantial peaks with commuters who live one side and work the other. Truck traffic heavily related to the exchange of automobile parts between US and Canadian factories of DaimlerChrysler, GM and Ford peaks during the middle of the day.

Interestingly tolls on the two private crossings are weight based for trucks as on the PA and OH turnpikes. An 80k pd US tractor trailer pays $18.40 on the Ambassador Bridge and $22.75 in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, but can get frequent user discounts there where specially approved height and length rigs are required. The Bluewater Bridge charges $2/axle so a US-style 18 wheeler toll is $10. (2004 $s in IBI paper) Modeling assumed similar tolls on the new crossing. see http://www.partnershipborderstudy.com TOLLROADSnews 2005-11-16


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