Here we go again

The Windsor Star

Anne Jarvis

And you thought the epic battle for a new bridge was over.

Oh no it’s not. Wake up. Another one just started.

The day after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that U.S. President Barack Obama had signed the permit for the new government bridge between Windsor and Detroit, a draft report on the Ambassador Bridge’s planned new crossing was released. Make no mistake: the Ambassador Bridge is hell-bent on keeping its lucrative truck route. And like the decade-long battle over the new government bridge and the Herb Gray Parkway, this will be another epic struggle to protect Windsor.

The Canadian Transit Company wants to build a six-lane cable-stayed bridge 30 metres west of the Ambassador Bridge. That’s bigger than the existing span, which is four lanes. Over and over in the report, the new crossing is called a replacement span. But it’s not. When it opens, the existing span will be fixed and maintained. So instead of one bridge with rumbling trucks spewing diesel particulate, dividing the city like a virtual wall, there will be two – 10 lanes of traffic.

These trucks will go to a 19-acre expanded customs plaza on the southwest corner of Huron Church Road and College Avenue. There are a lot of houses south and west of there. Do you want to live next to 19 acres of trucks? The University of Windsor’s 2,000-seat stadium is across Huron Church from the proposed plaza. Do the Lancers want to play next to 19 acres of trucks? Assumption College School is south of the stadium. Do you want your children going to classes next to 19 acres of trucks?

It’s not clear how trucks will get to the new bridge, but under the proposal, Huron Church would be “realigned” around the plaza. The city suspects the bridge wants to close Huron Church to local traffic north of College and make it a truck route.

Didn’t we just spend 10 years fighting to get trucks off city streets? And now we’re considering putting them back on Huron Church, roaring and puffing past homes, schools, businesses, the university and Assumption Church. The city would lose part of a major north-south artery and access to the downtown we’re trying to revitalize and the riverfront.  (Remember the bridge blocked access to northbound Huron Church five years ago.)

The company says it will landscape a five-acre strip west of Huron Church between College and Mill Street to provide a buffer for Sandwich. Will this be landscaping Detroit style? Look at the bridge’s property there. There’s no landscaping. There are acres of pavement and a massive wall. Look at the current plaza on the Canadian side. See any landscaping? It’s not their forte.

The report, prepared by Transport Canada and the Windsor Port Authority, examines 17 potential ways the new crossing could affect Windsor, from air quality to noise and vibration to cultural heritage. It reaches the  same conclusion every time: “Taking into account the application of all appropriate mitigation measures…the project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects…”

Particulate in the air will be higher than it should be, but it will be monitored. Noise will be louder than it should be, but noise barriers will be installed, as high as 5.5 metres along west side of the plaza. How would you like to look at that while you barbecue? To minimize vibration, already perceptible, the surface of the road will be smooth – until spring, when the potholes appear. Rest assured maintenance will be a priority, just like landscaping. No heritage buildings will be demolished or moved, according to the report, so that’s not a problem

Who writes these reports! The bridge already cuts off historic, colourful Sandwich, where the city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to revitalize its birthplace. Ten lanes? Just amputate the entire west end.

The report spends pages outlining how it will require the bridge to submit detailed plans to monitor and report on the effects of its new span yada, yada. The bridge had plenty of legal obligations in the infamous Gateway Project  in Michigan. Bridge owner Matty Moroun was finally jailed for refusing to comply.

And don’t forget, Michigan is recommending that hazardous materials – radioactive, poisonous and flammable stuff – be allowed to cross the bridge.

We just spent 10 years and what will be billions of dollars for a new bridge, inspection plaza and highway where they should be: away from the city’s core. Now, as Mayor Eddie Francis summed it up, “we’re talking about building a brand new bridge with a brand new plaza next to an existing bridge in a very dense urban setting with an established culturally significant neighbourhood.”

Why?

Francis will ask council Monday to approve spending up the $150,000 to hire environmental lawyer David Estrin, the city’s former counsel on the parkway, to respond to the proposal for the latest new crossing. Bring him on.