Canada’s new consul general is determined to build a new Detroit River bridge

I had a conversation yesterday with Douglas George, the Canadian government’s new consul general in Detroit.

For Canada, this area is an economic region important enough to merit a mini-embassy. Ottawa has a vast suite of offices in the Renaissance Center, and a large staff, some busy with immigration matters, and the rest primarily with economic and trade questions.

One indication of how important Canada sees Detroit is that Consul George was most recently their ambassador to Kuwait, and before that was a major trade negotiator who at various times headed both their government’s tariff and intellectual property divisions.

Here, he is responsible for trade and other issues involving a five-state area economically vital to Canada.

Detroit is, without any doubt, the most important border crossing between our two nations, and businesses on both sides of the border, especially Canada, have been consumed by the need for a second bridge capable of handling major freight.

Every week, well over a billion dollars in heavy automotive and other manufacturing components pass over the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge. There is no other economically and geographically feasible way of moving this stuff.

Nor is the current bridge in a sensible location, especially for Canada. Trucks coming from Detroit have to endure 16 red lights before connecting with a major highway.

For years, any new crossing was stymied by Matty Moroun, the billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge.

But now both governments have agreed to build one, now known as the New International Trade Crossing. They aren’t quite home free yet. Washington has yet to agree to fund the customs plaza needed for what will be a major outpost between two nations.

And the consul told me Michigan has not yet finished buying and assembling all the parcels of land needed for the bridge’s footprint on the American side. Canada needs this bridge so much that it has agreed to foot all the upfront costs.

Michigan, in turn, will pay them back years from now out of the state’s share of the tolls. But legally, our state has to buy the land, which is in Delray, a rundown neighborhood a couple of miles south of the current bridge.

However, there are hangups. Much of the land is owned by Detroit, and some council members are insisting on a defined package of community benefits.

Clearly, bridges aren’t built in a day. Douglas George is philosophical about this, and says he thinks the new bridge could still be open for business by the target date of 2020.

His father was an attorney in Sarnia, right across the river from Port Huron, and spent something like a quarter-century on a commission striving to get a new bridge built there. If you are a diplomat, it helps to take the long view.

For George, this post is almost a homecoming. Growing up, he came to Detroit every chance he got to see concerts.

The city’s decline saddened him, but he told me yesterday he was happily amazed by how fast things seemed to be turning around.

He hopes that before long, a new generation of Canadian kids will be streaming in to the revitalized city, some of them over a new bridge.

Originally Posted by: Michigan Radio

The Star’s View: Bridge maintenance seems sorely lacking

Slow-moving traffic on the Ambassador Bridge turned out to be a real eye opener for Robert Hood.

The long-haul driver from Peterborough had nothing better to do than look around while waiting to cross into Detroit, and what he saw were guard rails that were in “shocking shape,” with missing sections, heavy rust and cracks.

“It’s hanging. It’s ready to fall. There’s nothing holding it up other than broken clamps,” he said of the section leading from the Canadian plaza to the newer main span. The sight so troubled Hood that he started snapping pictures.

People appreciate the fact Hood sounded the alarm bells, but Windsorites already know the 85-year-old bridge is full of rust and holes and crumbling concrete.

That’s been public knowledge since 2009, when Matty Moroun, the bridge’s billionaire owner, lost his court fight to keep secret a report outlining the condition of the structure. It wasn’t that we couldn’t see the damage. It’s that we wanted to know what the experts had to say about it. A U.S. safety report revealed that, among other things, Moroun’s bridge was in “fair” condition, needed “major maintenance or repairs,” and there were missing bolts, deteriorating support channels, rails that didn’t meet current standards and rail posts that would having trouble withstanding vehicular impact. (Man overboard!)

Some things changed, but many didn’t.

The results of a 2012 report, on the bridge’s 83rd birthday, showed there were still significant problems.

In fact, it had University of Windsor students and faculty fearing the still-crumbling concrete and holes were a danger to both them and their vehicles. “When you see trucks driving over the holes, that can’t be good,” said one university staffer. No kidding.

Transport Canada indicated in 2013 it was satisfied the bridge was complying with report requirements regarding inspections, maintenance and repairs. But the agency didn’t say that meant it was satisfied with the actual work.

When asked about the guard rails in question, Dan Stamper, president of the Canadian Transit Company, indicated they were awaiting government approval to add new foundations, decking, lighting and hand rails.

The truth is, Stamper is awaiting approval for things unrelated to current safety requirements, namely a six-lane approach on the Canadian side and the twinning of the Ambassador Bridge.

We all know hell would freeze over before that happens, but that doesn’t mean Stamper and his successors can wait forever to fix what’s wrong.

Officials on both sides of the border haven’t cautioned people against driving on the bridge. But they’ve raised enough red flags — over and over — to show Moroun does the bare minimum, and only because it’s a matter of public record.

Originally posted by: The Windsor Star

Editorial: Another step forward on a new bridge

There is progress on the New International Trade Crossing. That bodes well for all of Michigan, the U.S. and Canada, as a more efficient crossing will benefit business on both sides of the border.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced a new authority to oversee construction of the bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will be international. Snyder named three members at a news conference this week.

The Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, have fought relentlessly to block the bridge project, but their efforts — including an attempt to pass a 2012 ballot proposal that would have hampered the bridge project — have failed.

While there remains a question of federal funding to construct a customs plaza in Detroit, Snyder and Raitt said that would not stand in the way of efforts to begin construction of the bridge, called by Snyder the New International Trade Crossing.

One hurdle still ahead: U.S. government officials have not yet committed funds for a customs plaza needed as part of the project. Michigan’s congressional delegation should keep that need top-of-mind — and Michigan voters should question candidates about it this fall.

The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the nation’s busiest. Automakers and other manufacturers, as well as major business groups, former governors from both political parties and numerous others support the new bridge. Canadian officials want a better route than the existing bridge provides for traffic on their side of the crossing. Business wants better efficiency. And many note that private ownership of a major international bridge is a risk to national security.

Snyder has kept this project moving. Now the Congressional delegation must do its part.

An LSJ editorial

Detroit considering sale of 301 properties for construction of new bridge to Canada

By Khalil AlHajal | MLive.com

DETROIT, MI — City Council has set a Monday special session to discuss the proposed sale of land for construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River to Windsor, reports the Associated Press.

Land acquisition remains one of the few hurdles left standing in the way of building the long-awaited North American International Trade Crossing.

Canada plans to cover most of the cost of building the $2.1 billion bridge. Toll money from the U.S. side would then go toward repayment.

U.S. State Department approval was granted last year and the final Coast Guard permit came last month.

Council on Monday will consider selling 301 city-owned properties needed for the project to the Michigan Land Bank for $1.4 million, according to the A.P.

Officials in Ottawa and in Michigan are also awaiting a $250 million promise from Washington to build a customs plaza on the U.S. side.

The bridge would be a second commuter span between Detroit and Windsor.

Officials hope to open the bridge in 2020.

The owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge has opposed construction of a publicly owned second span.

Originally posted by MLive

Moroun fails at running a bridge with 21st century technology

Customers complain about bridge’s new tolling system

TruckNews.com

WINDSOR, Ont. — The Ambassador Bridge’s new electronic A-Pass toll system in its early rollout has been met with some criticism from customers being billed incorrectly.

The system, which uses an overhead truss to capture RFID windshield tags on trucks moving onto the Ambassador Bridge from US interstates on their way to Canada, complements a similar system put in place two years ago for inbound US trucks.

The truss not only detects RFID tags but has cameras to capture truck licence plates, USDOT numbers, and even names and logos painted alongside cabs and trailers.

But not all customers have been happy with the new system.

Rose Monteforte, accounting administrator for flatbed steel and machinery hauler Frontier Transportation Services in Beamsville, Ont. detailed a list of billing errors.

“They would invoice us and we’d get the invoice and it wouldn’t be our freight number, it wouldn’t be our truck, so we’d have to call and request pictures or backup and 99% of the time they were not our invoices,” she said.

Frontier has been getting paper invoices and was being charged on a credit card, which a minority of the companies use, according to bridge officials, who are trying to encourage customers to sign up for permanent accounts.

“I’ll get an invoice in the mail that they crossed and sometimes it’s not our truck, it’s not our licence plates, it’s nowhere near who we are, but they just take it off your credit card,” Monteforte said.

If using a credit card, users must agree to put up $500 along with a $25 administration fee to cover the bridge’s own transaction costs. With each crossing money is deducted and when the balance hits $50 another $500 plus $25 is added.

Monteforte also complained about the difficulty of reaching Ambassador Bridge staff to complain about errors.

“I’ve left messages, nobody calls me back,” she said but added eventually invoices are corrected. “I’ve never had a problem getting it taken off of our account.” 

Independent London-based owner/operator Ralph Allen called the system “an ordeal.”

He signed up for an account through his credit card and was billed 17 times “all at once” and 14 of those “were not mine” with some charges for companies as far away as Illinois.

“So it took about five weeks to get this straightened out, you can’t get them on the phone,” he said. “Actually e-mail is the only way you can get a hold of them.”

Allen was so put off he now refuses to use the Ambassador Bridge, opting instead for the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron.

Danny Kang, operations manager of Ranger Truck Lines in Brampton, Ont., which hauls mixed freight and whose trucks cross the Ambassador as many as 30 times a week, said his company was also a victim of false billings and said larger firms are especially vulnerable because their accounts are larger and more detailed.

“We had to get some corrected but you know when there’s so many (trucks) going through it’s really hard to catch every single one,” he said.

Ambassador Bridge officials admit there were teething problems after the system opened this spring.

“There were problems at the beginning,” said Stan Korosec, the bridge’s director of security and government relations. “I fully admit to that but I think we’re getting better now.”

The same, he said, might explain delays in the company responding to complaints. “We had a lot of issues in the beginning that (staff) had to work through so they were probably swamped,” he said.

Korosec said the bridge processes more than 10,000 transactions a day so some errors will occur. 

But bridge officials said the vast majority of problems are related to the fact drivers have not signed up for permanent accounts where billing is sent weekly by e-mail, a more efficient and transparent method.

Bridge chief financial officer Peter Farah called that system “in my mind 100% foolproof.” 

He said where most errors occur is when users don’t have RFID tags and where photos of their licence plates or company names and USDOT numbers are instead used for billing.

In these cases bridge staff have to individually track the users down, sometimes by looking up company internet sites or even through phone books, finding addresses and billing accordingly. That’s where mistakes can occur because information may be outdated.

“I’m not saying we’re 100% perfect when it comes to the manual – all I’m saying it leaves it open for potential errors and we double-check all of our work so we’re quite confident we’re sending the proper invoice,” Farah said.

One reason some truckers, especially smaller operators, might not sign up for a permanent account is because of the cost of the initial “security deposit.”

Farah said the deposit is based on the vehicle’s average crossings per month with a minimum charge of $1,000 and if customers are delinquent the bridge can draw from it. “But again it’s their money and they get it back when they leave,” he said.

Originally posted by TruckNews.com

Podcast: Bridge to Canada takes a back seat to politics in Lansing

By Stateside Staff

What’s up with the building of the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor?

It appears that the bridge is taking a back seat to politics in Lansing.

As the Detroit News editorial team wrote, “Gov. Rick Snyder should not still be herding cats to get the new bridge build across the Detroit river.”

Much of the opposition to the new bridge continues from Republican lawmakers, even after it was assumed that a new bridge was set to go.

So, now what?

Republican state senators have put in language in a transportation bill that would stop the state from purchasing land for the new bridge.

John Pappageorge is a Republican state senator from Troy, and he joined us on Stateside.

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.

Originally posted by Michigan Radio.