Windsor, Ontario, hopes to ease border gridlock

| 1/9/2006

The city of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, experiences frequent traffic woes, particularly with the bottlenecking of traffic and heavy trucks heading for the Ambassador Bridge to cross into Detroit.

The busiest border crossing in North America produces tie-ups whenever bridge problems or security alerts arise, and this bothers city officials, who want to protect historical areas. One possible solution suggested so far is to add a new feeder route to separate cars and trucks on the way to the border.

“Windsor is going to be home to the next border crossing, but there are quality-of-life issues people deserve to have like in any other city,” Norma Coleman, chief of staff for Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, told Land Line.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, a Windsor native, told city officials that a federally designed plan would not happen and the border issues would be up to the local government to solve.

The city hired “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, a New York traffic and engineering expert, to get to the root of the problem and come up with solutions. Schwartz set up a Canadian office in the border city.

“With his extensive knowledge of bridges and tunnels and networks, he was asked by Windsor to work with community groups and others to come up with a traffic plan, presented in January (2005) to the city council,” Coleman said.

Schwartz has saved historical bridges in New York City and is credited with coining the term “gridlock” during the 1980 New York transit strike. He recently helped the city endure the December 2005 transit strike.

“I cut my teeth in some of the toughest transportation in the world,” he told Land Line.

He said changing times, more truck traffic and Windsor’s layout have caused the problems. All border traffic takes Huron Church Road to get to the Ambassador Bridge. Huron Church is inadequate for its purpose, Schwartz said.

“As a traffic engineer, one can see that was a mistake,” he said. “You don’t subject city streets to heavy trucks.”

Schwartz has come up with some solid plans for Windsor, including a new feeder route that separates cars and trucks on the way to the border and takes congestion away from Huron Church Road. His proposal also calls for a new bridge to cross the Detroit River, in addition to the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

The Windsor City Council unanimously approved Schwartz’s proposal in November 2005, even though it is not site specific on where exactly to build the bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge is eight decades old and is privately owned.

“More and more over the next 10 years, the bridges start needing more maintenance,” Coleman said. “If you have to shut down a bridge, you have no redundancy. Trucks don’t fit through the tunnel.”

The City Council will have to decide in the next month whether or not to continue to use Schwartz to see the proposal come to fruition. Work in the border city is ongoing and time consuming, Coleman said.

“You can’t do it as a cheap way to accomplish a transportation network,” she said. “You have to spend the dollars necessary to keep quality of life. That will be the discussion. Do we need to bring Mr. Schwartz back in to finish it?”

– Dave Tanner, staff writer