Transportation needs a priority for Southwestern Ontario

Leamington Post

By Bill Gay

It seems that no matter how many highways we build in Canada and the United States, its never enough. When the 401 was finally completed in the early 60’s the level of truck to car traffic was only about 30%. I’d hate to think how high its climbed now! Many people avoid the 401 and you really can’t blame them. Who wants to play tag team with a large semi?

The root cause goes back to all governments, both federal and provincial, both Liberal and Conservative, who allowed the giant railway corporations to discontinue routes and send more and more trucks unto our highways. Built in 1872, the Canada Southern operated under variety of different owners reaching their zenith under the New York Central brand. This Canadian route shaved about a hundred miles off the American route along Lake Erie In 1986, a terrible decision by the Mulroney government returned the railway to Canadian hands, a consortium of CN and CP. The trouble was, the new owners wanted the line to eliminate competition, not to help farmers, shippers and consumers who could make good use of the route through SW Ontario. Service was cut locally by the elimination of the Essex to Amherstburg spur, and then the Comber to Leamington route a few years ago. That line always operated at albeit a small profit, but still had active customers when CN left town. The trouble is, big railways are interested in high traffic routes only, so their bean counters take the money and run. Thus over the years, Leamington, Wheatley, Kingsville and Harrow all lost their rail service. Unless a white knight appears, so will Comber and Essex Centre. When you consider the volumes of product shipped from these points, it would have made sense for the feds to at least make the railways accountable when discontinuing service to small to medium sized communities. Their answer was and still is, put more trucks on the road. It should be remembered that the everyday tax payer foots the bill for highways. Railways are private companies, and, since they are the only ones to use the trackage, they pay the bills. Meantime, highways across North America take a beating.

The prospects for a new bridge over the Detroit River is still being fought tooth and nail by the present owner of the Ambassador Bridge, trucking magnate Matty Moroun. He is presently running a multi million dollar television advertising campaign attacking Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for his unwavering support for the new crossing. Even a night in jail last January failed to cool the heels of Moroun and his chief lieutenant Dan Stamper. Its difficult to understand his position. Why does a man in his mid eighties like Moroun want more and more power and money? Michigan and Ontario desperately need new jobs. The bridge project would supply that. Every day that goes by without a meaningful start on the bridge hurts the business and working community.

There is some hope, in that the new rail tunnel in the works to run under the Detroit River that will be able to handle the double sized cars the present 1910 tunnel cannot. Where were our politicians fifteen years ago when CN built a brand new tunnel at Sarnia – Port Huron, that enabled them to miss Essex County entirely on goods shipped through Michigan to Chicago and points west? There is even a rumour that CN plans to abandon Windsor, sell its huge Van de Water yard just off Dougall Road, and sell its CASO subdivision that has run through this area since 1872.

The land is valuable and the quality rails would be shopped out to a third world country and the money used to further enrich CN’s bottom line.

In the late 90’s I sat on the NAFTA Superhighway coalition board. Representatives from the city and the country all realized the important of transportation to the economic success desired by all. The freeways built in the late 50’s by the Eisenhower administration were showing their age, and one of the purposes of our group was to push for recognition of the Windsor Detroit crossing for all types of transportation requirement. Plus to lobby local governments to start to replace highways being beaten down by increasing levels of truck traffic.

Theres progress to report here with the Windsor-Essex Parkway now under active construction. To succeed we need continued improvements to Windsor Airport, rail usage to be increased, and emphasis on freight traffic shipped by water between the Midwest Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

There is much to be done, but with squeezed government budgets at every level, will it be a case of too little, too late to built the vital infrastructure to support transportation needs.