Planking being installed under Ambassador Bridge

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Officials for the Ambassador Bridge confirmed Tuesday they were installing wooden planking under the span after falling debris caused the closure of several Windsor streets under the 86-year-old bridge.

At the same time, bridge officials said Windsor city officials had blown reports of falling debris “out of proportion,” and accused them of taking a hypocritical stance on repairing and replacing the old bridge.

“They can’t have it both ways,” said Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge. “They complain that we have an 86-year-old bridge but then stand in the way of any improvements. We have installed a retention system under the bridge out of caution ... and to take away bullets people want to shoot us with.”

According to Stamper, the company has planned to replace the aging bridge with a new span that would stand next to the current bridge, which opened in 1929.

“When we started a project to build a new bridge, it was 76 years old; today it’s 86 years old,” Stamper said. “The city of Windsor has objected to everything we’ve wanted to do to the bridge. They objected to the U.S. Coast Guard and to Transportation Canada.

“They can’t stand in the way of any improvements while at the same time throwing stones.”

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Windsor officials announced that two roads under the bridge were set to reopen during the afternoon after being closed to traffic last week due to the falling debris.

The streets that will reopen Tuesday are Wyandotte and Peter. A third street, Donnelly, should reopen Wednesday or Thursday.

The street closures are just another firefight in a long and intense three-sided battle between the bridge company, Windsor and Gov. Rick Snyder.

On one side, the bridge company has been fighting to build a new bridge that would parallel the current span between southwest Detroit and downtown Windsor. To date, the bridge company has purchased land and homes in Windsor and installed footings where the new span would touch Canadian soil.

Windsor officials have objected, claiming a newer bridge would dump more truck traffic into downtown Windsor. Currently, the Ambassador Bridge is used by about 10,000 commercial vehicles a day, making it the No. 1 international crossing in North America.

On the U.S. side of the river, the bridge company has been frustrated in its attempts to obtain needed park land from the city of Detroit plus it was ordered to demolish a new ramp constructed to be part of the new bridge.

The bridge company has also been denied a building permit by the U.S. Coast Guard.

At the same time, the bridge company is fighting tooth and nail against plans by Michigan and the Canadian governments to build a new, multi-billion dollar bridge two miles down the Detroit River, where it would stretch between Delray and a largely industrial part of Windsor.

Over the past few years, the bridge company has poured millions into legal battles trying to stop construction of the new bridge, claiming it would take away about 75 percent of the truck traffic that currently uses the Ambassador Bridge.

Working both in front of (and behind) the scenes, Snyder has worked out an agreement with the Canadian government in which Ottawa has pledged to pay for the entire construction of the new bridge, recouping its money through bridge tolls.

The Canadian government has gone all out in building its side of the new bridge, buying up more than 100 acres of property in an area across from Zug Island. It has also constructed a six-mile-long spur from the proposed bridge site that connects directly to heavily traveled Highway 401, completely bypassing downtown Windsor.

While the bridge company has met nothing but setbacks in its efforts to stop the other bridge, while building its own, it did receive a legal boost recently from the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals.

On Oct. 19, the court directed the U.S. Coast Guard to either issue a permit to the bridge company or, by Jan. 4, explain to the court why the permit has still being withheld.

“I hope the Coast Guard gets the idea from that ruling,” said Stamper, who said he was aware that Canada was about to swear in Justin Trudeau as its new prime minister.

“He doesn’t get sworn in for another couple of weeks. But we hope he has better things to spend Canadian money on than a new bridge down river.”

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