By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star
Ontario’s economy – as well as Windsor’s – is in a precarious position unless a new Detroit River border crossing with modern customs infrastructure is built in the near future, says the research chairman of cross-border transportation at the University of Windsor.
The $1-billion Detroit River International Crossing bridge “provides an opportunity to create the most technologically advanced border crossing in the world,” Bill Anderson said in a 60-page report which features findings related to border wait times and financial ramifications.
Almost 80 per cent of Ontario’s exports go to the U.S., so the province’s prosperity depends on its ability to move goods, services and people across the border, he said.
“More and better infrastructure is critical to making the border more efficient,” said Anderson in the report.
“It is not the capacity of bridges that account for most backups, but the inability of inspection procedures to keep up with the traffic flow. Resumed growth in Canada-U.S. trade would bring some crossings beyond capacity within the next decade and there is currently insufficient capacity to take up the slack if a bridge goes out of service.”
Delays are costly for business not only because of truck lineups for customs inspection, but also unseen security ramifications such as: document preparation; high cost of fees, permits and visas; compliance with government regulations; plus participation in fast-track shipping programs such as FAST.
While the average wait time for vehicles crossing the border in Windsor is about 15 minutes, it’s the unpredictability which currently adds millions in costs for companies who rely on goods moving back and forth across the Detroit River, Anderson said.
The cost of a truck sitting in border-related traffic is estimated at about $75 per hour, which covers wasted labour, fuel and “opportunity cost” of tying up the truck, Anderson said.
“In a just-in-time system, however, a truck stuck in traffic can prevent the delivery of key components, thus shutting down a production line,” he said. “For the automotive industry, estimated costs of production downtime range as high as $13,000 per minute.”
A major shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge – where 25 per cent of the nation’s trade crosses daily – instinctively gets linked to thoughts of a terrorist attack, but more worrisome to Anderson are potential lengthy disruptions on the bridge because of a chemical spill, bad weather or failed safety inspection of the 83-year-old crossing.
“Such an outcome would be more than an inconvenience, it could potentially shut down supply chains and throw thousands of people out of work for an extended period,” he said.
Anderson concludes there must remain a government focus on both sides of the border to make customs at the Canada-U.S. crossing more efficient, move much of the paperwork away from the crossings themselves, continue to push for increased harmonization between Canada and U.S. security rules and roll out introduction of more scanning technology, including biometrics.
The addition of more lanes across the river, the DRIC bridge will also allow for dedicated traffic lanes, such as for FAST and NEXUS programs, so travellers are not caught in lineups with other vehicles, he said.
Escalating border costs are a drag on the economy which will threaten to make Ontario’s firms less profitable and less competitive, Anderson said.
“Crossing the border in terms of movement of freight still appears to be expensive,” he said. “Shipping across the border costs more than shipping the same item with no border involved.
“If it becomes too expensive to run the supply chain across the border the natural result will be (companies) will consolidate on one side or the other. If that becomes the tendency that will be bad for Ontario. On the American side, that’s where most of the demand is and companies may often locate. I don’t see any evidence of that yet, but in the long run it could happen.”