City warns Michigan officials it cannot deal with hazardous goods on bridge

The Windsor Star

Dave Battagello

The City of Windsor wants more consultation before Michigan allows trucks carrying hazardous materials to cross the Ambassador Bridge, according to a written response provided Monday to state transportation officials in Lansing.

“It’s really important for us to respond because if you are going to change the routing (of hazardous goods) over there you have to consider certain things,” said City Engineer Mario Sonego.

“What are the risks economically and environmentally? What consultations have you done? It seems to be a one-side solution, but what about the Canadian side?”

The Michigan Department of Transportation, following a bridge company request to waive the ban, released an 18-page report a few months ago which includes several recommendations for the bridge, the Windsor-Detroit tunnel and major roads in Detroit leading to the crossings.

Under the recommendations, the bridge would be allowed to move any hazmat material over the crossing with the exception of explosives for the first time in its 83-year history. In some cases, such as with fuel tankers, an escort with flashing lights would be required to accompany trucks carrying the dangerous materials.

MDOT’s deadline for the public feedback period to the recommendations was Monday.

City administrators are upset nobody in Windsor — including fire, police and emergency response officials — have not been asked about the capabilities on this side of the border to deal with an accident involving hazardous goods on the bridge.

Currently, trucks carrying hazardous goods must use the Windsor-Detroit truck ferry or Sarnia’s Blue Water Bridge, which has six lanes and proper equipment to deal with a spill or accident. The aging Ambassador Bridge has no water or little safety capabilities, according to the city.

The city says there were 67 traffic accidents on the Canadian portion of the bridge between 2007 and 2011.

“We know from our statistical data that accidents will occur on the bridge,” said the city’s response, which questioned whether the four-lane bridge has any “safety features” or enough space to allow emergency responders to deal with an incident.

The city also questioned the impact to the local and national economies should a spill or accident involving hazardous goods force a shutdown of the bridge.

“Consideration for any change in classification of materials allowed over the bridge may be premature prior to ensuring there is redundancy in the system,” the city said.

The new six-lane Detroit River International Crossing bridge will be approved and have capabilities to handle trucks with hazardous goods.

Windsor’s fire department is also concerned about access, containment and danger to up to 75,000 residents living near the bridge, according to the city.

Since there were no discussions between MDOT officials and emergency responders, the report makes incorrect assumptions about response capabilities, the city said.

City officials will soon meet with their federal and provincial counterparts regarding MDOT’s recommendation for putting trucks with hazardous goods on the bridge, Sonego said. There has been talk of putting municipal bylaws in place to block movement of such goods to and from the bridge in Windsor, but whatever decisions are made will come jointly from   all levels of government, he said.

Ferry operator Gregg Ward also filed his official response and opposition to MDOT’s recommendation.

He believes the change, in part, is being requested by bridge owner Matty Moroun so that he can move fuel tankers across his own bridge more cheaply in order to fill his duty-free pumps than it is for those trucks to cross at the Bluewater Bridge.

“This seems to be about his duty-free store and getting fuel across cheaper,” Ward said. “Putting critical infrastructure at risk to further pad the wallet of Mr. Moroun to me isn’t in the best interest of the region.”

Ward is also concerned of trucks moving through densely populated neighbourhoods in west Windsor and southwest Detroit instead of the industrial area where they travel today for his ferry — or will in the future with the DRIC bridge. The truck ferry is in the same location as the downriver DRIC bridge.

“Allowing flammable liquids upon the Ambassador Bridge is highly dangerous and should not be allowed,” said Ward in his response. “A search of public records can provide many recent examples of the result of exploding gasoline tankers melting the steel underbelly of highway overpasses and bridges.”

With the public feedback period ending, MDOT must make a decision on its recommendation for hazardous goods on the bridge before June, 2014.