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Published: Monday, 8/29/2005

U.S. maps options on border crossings

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn) gets his way, a new international bridge or tunnel across the Detroit River won't go anywhere near the 11,000 residents of Grosse Ile, Mich., or their neighbors in Detroit's other Downriver suburbs.

"I will tell you this, and I think this will be comforting: It is my feeling that a site in the Downriver area, particularly the one at Grosse Ile, will not meet the criteria," the congressman said Friday.

He and Gloria Jeff, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, appeared before about 700 people in a high school gymnasium last Thursday to explain how a route for the proposed Detroit River International Crossing Project will be chosen.

But for now, a corridor clipping the northern tip of the island community remains among the options for a project to relieve congestion at the busiest United States-Canada border crossing and address traffic needs there through the year 2030.

Other corridor possibilities, according to Ms. Jeff's presentation, include anywhere along a broad swath of the river between River Rouge and downtown Detroit and a narrower strip near the east end of Belle Isle, a Detroit city park.

All of the corridors are designed to connect to either I-75 or I-94 on the Michigan side and Highway 401 in Ontario.

How the study will proceed, and what issues it will address, will be the subject of a "scoping" meeting Wednesday in Detroit. Representatives of seven federal regulatory agencies are scheduled to attend the meeting along with state and local officials.

"This meeting will allow the federal, state, and local governments to have an opportunity to comment and ask questions about the project and the study with the public present," said Mohammed Alghurabi, the senior project manager for a four-government cooperative in charge of the project.

Also expected to attend are members of the Local Advisory Council, a group comprising representatives of local community organizations. The council is set up in similar fashion to the Maumee River

Crossing Task Force, which served as a public-participation consultant for the Ohio Department of Transportation's I-280 Veterans' Glass City Skyway project in Toledo.

The meeting is scheduled for 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the Ambassador Room at the Cobo Hall and Conference Center in Detroit.

According to a draft Purpose and Need Statement for the project, cross-border passenger traffic between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit is forecast to grow by 40 percent, from about 52,000 trips per day in 2000 to about 70,000 in 2030. Truck traffic, meanwhile, is expected to more than double, from 12,800 daily trips to 28,000 per day.

Over $1 billion in trade crosses the U.S.-Canada border daily, about 70 percent of it by truck and with about 23 percent of surface trade activity occurring at the Detroit crossings.

A study commissioned by the Border Transportation Partnership, representing Transport Canada, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, MDOT, and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, predicts that if no improvements are made to the Detroit River border, the United States and Canada will lose a combined 149,000 jobs and $13.4 billion in economic productivity.

Along with its own work, the four-government partnership at some point will have to reckon with proposals to either build a twin for the Ambassador Bridge or convert rail tunnels between Detroit and Windsor into truck tubes after building a new rail tunnel. Detroit International Bridge Co., owner of the Ambassador Bridge, is pursuing the former, while Borealis Funds Management, a consortium of two major Canadian pension funds that owns 50 percent of the existing rail tunnels, is promoting the latter.

Border Transportation Partnership planners expect to narrow their study corridors down to "preliminary illustrative alternatives" by December, with public comments to be received before a final selection of "practical alternatives" is made by the third week of March.

But after that, the study's schedule provides for further discussion and Draft Environmental Impact Statement preparation during the rest of 2006, a formal public hearing in January, 2007, and a "recommended alternative" only by the end of 2007.

After that, Mr. Alghurabi said, detailed design and right-of-way acquisition is expected to take two to three years, followed by three years for construction - for a tentative completion sometime in 2013.

"We are so far from construction right now," Mr. Alghurabi said. "We are just at the beginning of studying the feasibility of this."

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



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