Windsor-Essex Parkway will not be road to nowhere, politicians vow

But highway will have ramp to Ambassador Bridge

By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star

WINDSOR, Ont. — Politicians vowed Thursday during groundbreaking for the $1.4-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway that it will not be a “road to nowhere” and will eventually lead to a second Detroit River bridge.

But just in case, there will be a ramp off the parkway near E.C. Row Expressway so trucks can reach the Ambassador Bridge via Huron Church Road.

“If you look at the road, you travel two-thirds of the (distance), then have a ramp to the Ambassador Bridge,” said Michael Hatchell, technical director for the Windsor Essex Mobility Group, the consortium formed to build and maintain the massive road project.

“That will always be there. As it turns toward the new crossing there will be a ramp … that can access the Ambassador Bridge.”

The proposed DRIC bridge that would link Brighton Beach with Delray in Michigan has yet to receive the state’s approval.

Billionaire bridge owner Matty Moroun, who is proposing a twin span for his bridge, has continued his bitter fight to kill the competing DRIC project.

“We are building,” said Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan (L – Windsor-Tecumseh). “Mr. Moroun is simply trying to protect a monopoly and we are prepared for the fight.”

MPP Sandra Pupatello (L-Windsor West) said she hopes Michigan lawmakers who vote later this year on the DRIC bridge’s fate are paying close attention to the economic benefit the parkway will bring to Windsor and Ontario.

“We need the jobs and economic boost this is going to give us,” she said. “Of all the states in the U.S. that need this, it’s Michigan. We have to allow them to go through their own process, but we know our economy needs this infrastructure.”

Ross Clarke, a leader of the former Mich-Can bridge proposal which sought to build in the same corridor as the DRIC bridge, believes the downriver bridge will be built despite Moroun’s lobbying.

“Eventually, (the DRIC bridge) has to get done to improve Canada getting goods into market in the U.S.,” Clarke said. “The new bridge will end up right where we first proposed it starting 15 years ago.

“We need two facilities. The momentum is there now and we need more bridges. Michigan will eventually be on board with it.”

The parkway groundbreaking symbolized a giant step forward for Windsor’s economy and the nation’s trade, said politicians and project leaders at the ceremony.

After a half-dozen years of debate and more than 300 community meetings, construction for the 11-kilometre highway goes into full swing starting this weekend.

The one-of-a-kind highway will feature 11 tunnels that will cover 1.8 kilometres of the below-grade road and include 300 acres of green space. It is expected to create about 12,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Critics have described the project as a “road to nowhere” because the DRIC bridge has not been approved.

“It is not the road to nowhere,” Duncan said. “It is the road to the future for our city and no one is going to stop this.”

Mayor Eddie Francis applauded the community’s effort to fight for the best environmental solution possible to get tractor-trailers off local roads.

“This is a solution that gets trucks off our streets and will improve our quality of life,” he said.

Added Essex County Warden Tom Bain: “It’s taken a long time to get here, but it’s been well worth it now that we are here.”

The first stages of construction will see demolition and reconstruction of the North Talbot Road bridge over Highway 401; a new Howard Avenue-Highway 401-Highway 3 connection; and road building next to E.C. Row Expressway between Malden Road and Matchette Road.

Construction is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015.

“Today, it is very exciting because it’s the beginning of the job,” said Ignacio Lasa, the Spanish CEO of the Windsor Essex Mobility Group. “We are not only here for construction, but also ongoing maintenance, so that means 33 years.

“We believe this project will define the community into the future. We want this project to improve the quality of life for the community. And we want the community to be proud of our work.”

In all, 3.9 million cubic metres of earth will be excavated during construction – enough to fill the Rogers Centre in Toronto 2½ times.

The biggest headache for Windsorites will be 5,600 piles that have to be pounded into the ground, a consequence of the dozens of bridges and tunnels that will be constructed.

Coun. Drew Dilkens represents neighbourhoods near ground zero where construction will occur and expects his phone will be ringing with complaints.

“People need to know there are outlets to give them a chance to express concerns,” he said. “This is the type of project where there will be some pain and be disruptive, but we have to live through this in order to get to the other side where life will be better for everyone in the region.

“This will be a legacy project that will make the community proud when it’s done.”