August 24, 2009
Land purchases set border crossing in motion in Windsor, Ontario
Plans to build a new six-lane Detroit River bridge between Windsor and Detroit took another step forward recently with the purchase of 38 hectares of land by the Canadian federal government.
The feds paid the City of Windsor $34 million to purchase the former neighbourhood of Brighton Beach, but are still in negotiation to purchase another 44 hectares of residential and industrial land to build a bridge approach and customs plazas.
The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project initially eyeballed 15 different sites for the crossing, and included the possibility of a tunnel running underneath the river. The land purchase has been considered a victory for Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, who launched a major campaign, including legal challenges, favouring the current site.
The Michigan Department of Transportation, however, has yet to purchase any land in Delray, Michigan, where the proposed bridge is supposed to be anchored to U.S. soil. Part of the delay involves legal challenges by Manuel Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun plans to twin the Ambassador without hitting up taxpayers for funds. Some state politicians favour Moroun’s plans and question the need for of a government-funded span if the Ambassador expansion goes forward.
On the Canadian side of the border, a massive highway project hinges on the construction of the bridge.
“After four years of study, community consultation, and planning, the Detroit River International Crossing study team submitted the Environmental Assessment Report to the Minister of the Environment on December 31, 2008,” says Heather Grondin, Manager, Communications and Issues Management with the Windsor Border Initiatives Implementation Group.
“The report sets out the Canadian portions of the system, including the route for an access road connecting Highway 401 to the new bridge. We anticipate a decision on the Environmental Assessment later this summer.”
The route, currently known as the Windsor Essex Parkway, has a current estimated budget of $1.6 billion and would follow a path linking the riverfront to Highway 401, by way of Highway 3 and Huron Church Road.
“The project would be completely funded by the Ministry of Transportation,” says Mario Sonego, Windsor City Engineer. “We hope it’s a go, but we’re still waiting for the EA process to be completed.”
Windsor has offered its own version of the Windsor Essex Parkway, a plan known as GreenLink Windsor, to offset the potential division of neighbourhoods that would be caused by the construction of a major highway. The alternative plan was launched in 2007 and anticipated a moderate additional construction cost: a total of $1.566 to $1.676 billion compared to a then-estimated $1.5 billion under the DRIC proposal.
Under DRIC, 1,500 metres of highway would be covered. GreenLink Windsor proposes 3,830 metres of covered highway and additional foliage to mitigate pollution and traffic impacts.
“The recent sale of the parcel of land by the federal government isn’t part of the highway plan,” says Mark Galvin, a project Administrator with the City of Windsor.
“There has been some property procurement by MTO, but there’s no other indication that the highway project is proceeding, though we believe their intention is to build the Windsor Essex Parkway.
The City continues to champion the GreenLink Windsor alternative, with tunnels constructed in strategic locations around higher density and residential areas.”
If the EA favours the DRIC proposal, initial construction would focus on two bridges along the route and the erection of a two-kilometre-long noise barrier — a one-year project. Infrastructure Ontario recently announced that the highway would be constructed under its Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) model, involving a public-private partnership.
The proposed highway project and the $900-million bridge project could see the creation of more than 15,000 construction and construction-related jobs in the area.
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