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Published: Wednesday, 9/21/2011

2nd bridge to Canada called for at conference

Trade depends on it, local gathering told

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Charles "Shorty" Whittington Charles "Shorty" Whittington
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What if the recent closing of an Ohio River bridge near Louisville because of structural cracks were to be repeated at the Ambassador Bridge, a vital artery for trucks carrying about one quarter of all trade between the United States and Canada?

Charles "Shorty" Whittington, owner of an Indiana trucking company and a past chairman of the American Trucking Associations, raised that possibility during a lunchtime address to the Ohio Conference on Freight 2011. By doing so, he joined several other conference speakers who said failing transportation facilities pose a critical threat to the regional and national economies.

"It would be an unbelievable disaster if somebody finds cracks in your 83-year-old bridge," Mr. Whittington said, referring to the international bridge linking Detroit with Windsor, Ont.

The Sherman Minton Bridge, which carries I-64 across the Ohio between Louisville and New Albany, Ind., is 29 years younger than that, he noted. It was closed indefinitely on Sept. 9 after construction crews on the bridge discovered cracks in two key support beams. Since then, Mr. Whittington said, trucks have been backed up 20 miles into Indiana on southbound I-65, waiting to use the Louisville area's only other freeway crossing of the Ohio.

Mr. Whittington's remarks followed comments from Roy Norton, the consul general at the Canadian consulate in Detroit, who said building a second Detroit River bridge is Canada's top national infrastructure priority because of that corridor's importance to U.S.-Canada trade.

"It's not just a Michigan-Ontario issue," he said, urging transportation interests from throughout the region to advocate for such a bridge and thanking the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, which organized the conference and whose board has endorsed the project, for its support.

The Ambassador Bridge links an entire region, not just Michigan and Ontario, a Canadian diplomat says. The Ambassador Bridge links an entire region, not just Michigan and Ontario, a Canadian diplomat says.
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The first featured speaker of the two-day conference at the University of Toledo's Dana Conference Center, Washington lobbyist Leslie Blakey, rebuked Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) for trying to add oil and gas drilling provisions to long-awaited transportation legislation.

"We don't need to be bringing in extraneous, controversial issues" to make the transportation bill more complex than it will be," said Ms. Blakey, executive director of the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors.

"Our transportation infrastructure is falling apart. We must reverse this trend. … We must invest in the infrastructure that keeps goods moving."

Later in his address, Mr. Whittington warned his audience to expect rising costs for trucking because of stiffening industry regulation, higher fuel costs, and a shortage of drivers that he expects to deepen if proposed new federal limits on driving hours become law.

About 180 people, ranging from government transportation planners to private-sector professionals, are attending the conference, now in its fifth year in Toledo.

As well as hearing speakers from government agencies and the trucking, rail, maritime, air cargo, and pipeline industries, participants could opt to tour the Port of Toledo or the Walgreens' regional warehouse in Perrysburg Township.

Contact David Patch at dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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