By David Battagello
Where Canadian travellers until a few months ago used to pump gas at the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit or park to enter the duty-free shop is permanently gone – replaced by a new two-lane truck ramp.
Noticeably ripped away are several giant pillars holding up a portion of the proposed twin span touted by billionaire bridge owner Matty Moroun – known as the “bridge to nowhere.”
The new truck access ramp leading directly to I-75 and I-96 freeways in Detroit was officially unveiled Tuesday, causing many nearby residents to rejoice by taking thousands of inbound diesel big rigs from Canada off their local streets.
The new two-lane ramp contained within the bridge plaza was completed in about two months by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) after a half-dozen years of inaction and court fights with Moroun who refused to finish the job.
It sits adjacent to Fort Street where Windsor-bound cars a few months ago were forced to travel past Moroun’s gas pumps. It opened to traffic at 3:40 p.m. on Monday.
The new ramp takes border trucks off Fort, Rosa Parks Boulevard, Lafayette Boulevard and Clark Street which trucks used for years in order to access freeways after exiting the bridge in Detroit.
“The loudest noise I ever heard was the silence I heard last night,” said MDOT regional director Tony Kratofil, regional director for MDOT, reading an email from a Corktown resident on Tuesday. “The trucks are gone from Corktown.”
Hundreds of trucks entering from Windsor rolled down the ramp, many honking their horns while MDOT officials and several state politicians attended a ceremony celebrating its opening.
“Today is history for southwest Detroit because this (truck) noise you hear in the background was the noise in front of people’s homes, parks and schools,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D – Detroit), who represents neighbourhoods around the bridge. “These trucks will not be going past those places any more.
“So many people have been negatively impacted by these trucks and today is testimony for our community to finally see justice.”
Sister Mary Ellen Brennan lives in a residence on the corner of Lafayette and West Grand Boulevard, a route until Monday travelled frequently by trucks headed for the freeways.
“We have lovely scenery in our front yard and love to sit on the porch,” she said. “Sometimes we have dinner out there. But we’ve had a lot of truck traffic just yards from that porch. Being free from that noise pollution will now make for much more beautiful evenings.”
The new bridge truck ramp was originally agreed to under the US $230-million Gateway Project between Moroun and the state government. But instead of building the ramp, the bridge owner put in place his duty-free shop, gas pumps and giant pillars for his proposed twin span.
Where the trucks were supposed to go, he instead created Windsor-bound car traffic flow on the plaza to go past his duty-free entities.
MDOT went to court and in a February, 2010 ruling by Detroit judge Prentis Edwards it was ordered Moroun’s structures had to come down and the truck ramp as originally agreed to put in place.
The bridge owner repeatedly appealed and refused to comply with the order by Edwards until being found in contempt of court and ending up in jail for a night in January.
In early March, a frustrated Edwards shocked everyone by pulling the plaza completion work away from Moroun and ordering MDOT to finish the job.
“We were in shock when we first got the order and never relished the idea of doing the bridge company’s work,” Kratofil said.”What we did get out of this was to control the schedule and deliver the project. I’m pleased as can be in getting this truck route open in two months.”
MDOT will not complete all reconfiguration work on the Detroit plaza until September with more bridge piers to be shifted and largely truck traffic flow further tweaked.
As part of the ongoing battle between Moroun and MDOT, recently constructed access ramps off I-75 connecting directly to the bridge have remained barricaded by the government. They will stay closed until the entire project is completed, Kratofil said.
Drivers until then will be forced to use service drives adjacent to the freeways to get on the bridge.
It was that aspect which bridge officials on Tuesday focused their attention following the opening of the new truck ramp by MDOT.
“If the opening of a single truck ramp by MDOT causes a ceremony, just think of the major party we could have if MDOT opened the other three connecting ramps they have barricaded for the last three and a half years,” said Dan Stamper, president of the bridge company.