Ambassador Bridge traffic re-opens to U.S.-bound traffic, bridge owner says

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Ambassador Bridge reopened to U.S.-bound traffic after a protest by Canadian truck drivers had closed it since Monday, Windsor police and the bridge's owner said.

The news comes after the protest against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions in Canada spread Monday across the Canadian border with the U.S., sparking traffic delays. The traffic-blocking convoy was the first sign demonstrations could affect the United States.

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters block lanes of Huron Church Road in Windsor on Tuesday.

"Thanks to exceptional Windsor Police Services and Freedom Convoy negotiations, inbound traffic from Windsor to Detroit is now fully open," a representative from the Ambassador Bridge said at 7:30 p.m. 

"Traffic into Canada from Detroit is still closed and is being rerouted to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron. The Detroit International Bridge Company hopes for a swift resolution that will allow traffic to flow unimpeded."

The bridge to Canada in Detroit shut down Monday night, the Michigan Department of Transportation tweeted at 8:50 p.m. Canada later also listed the bridge as "temporarily closed.''

While the Canadian side reopened before 6 a.m., the U.S. side remained closed at midday. Traffic cameras had trucks backed up for miles at the Blue Water Bridge. The Canadian government said the delay for commercial traffic to cross between Sarnia and Port Huron was more than three hours at 9 p.m..

MDOT cameras show trucks backed up for miles on interstates approaching the Blue Water Bridge.

The backups at the Ambassador Bridge, touted as the nation's busiest international border crossing, sparked concern among transportation leaders about the impact amid COVID-led supply chain and staffing shortages on Michigan businesses relying on transported goods.

"Any delay or disruption in the supply chain creates problems, not just for agriculture but the state economy," said Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, which represents businesses that support farmers, said early in the shutdown.

The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the Detroit Three automakers, called for an end to the protest, citing its effect on the country's economy.

“Auto production relies on efficient supply chain logistics for delivery of parts, components and vehicles," the association said in a statement Tuesday. "Persistent delays at the Ambassador Bridge risk disrupting automotive production that employs tens of thousands of Canadians.”

The bridge's owner echoed those claims.

"We encourage the appropriate officials to take prompt action to alleviate the situation as quickly as possible in a manner that reflects mutual respect," Matt Moroun, chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., said Tuesday in a statement.

"International commerce needs to resume. The Ambassador Bridge and the Moroun family sympathize with truck drivers and those caught up in this blockade."

The protest follows rallies over opposition to vaccine mandates and other restrictions in cities across Canada in a show of solidarity with a demonstration in Ottawa that has gone on for more than a week by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy. The protests paralyzed the Canadian capital's business district and led the mayor to call for 2,000 extra police officers to quell the nightly demonstrations.

Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. They also called for the removal of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the restrictive measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.

Protesters say they are staying put until Canada ends its COVID-19 mandates.

Trudeau backed demonstrators' right to protest, he tweeted Monday night, but not to disrupt daily activity.

"Canadians have the right to protest, to disagree with their government, and to make their voices heard," he tweeted. "We’ll always protect that right. But let’s be clear: They don’t have the right to blockade our economy, or our democracy, or our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop."

Last month, Canada started to turn away unvaccinated U.S. truckers at the border. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.

The first trucks in a convoy organized to protest the vaccination measures arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 28.

Protesters have drawn support from those including extremists waving offensive signs, the Windsor Star reported. Demonstrators issued a statement saying they had a right to peacefully assemble and protest.

“We have witnessed peaceful demonstration and observed multiple acts of humanity, which define what it means to be Canadian,” read the statement, signed by multiple groups and individuals, including Randy Hillier, an independent member of Provincial Parliament.

Soon after the disruption started Monday at the Ambassador Bridge, the Canada Border Services Agency, Southern Ontario Region, said travelers should reroute to the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel or Blue Water Bridge.

Windsor police said on Twitter that the exit from the span onto Huron Church Road was temporarily interrupted and warned drivers to avoid the area: "Officers are working to restore the orderly flow of traffic in the safest manner possible."

A protest against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions in Canada has spread across the border and is leading to traffic delays at the Ambassador Bridge on Monday.
A protest against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions in Canada has spread across the border and is leading to traffic delays at the Ambassador Bridge on Monday.

The protests follow a shift for truckers in an industry already facing fewer drivers during the pandemic, Lippstreu said.

He estimated the mandates left 30-50% of truckers on the U.S. ineligible to cross.

"We are very concerned frankly that these policies are threatening international trade and commerce with our No. 1 partner," he said. "We urge governments on both sides to rethink some common sense exemptions."

A late January poll by the Angus Reid Institute, a research firm in Vancouver, found 54% of Canadians want to end restrictions and let people self-isolate if they’re at risk. That was up 14 percentage points from just a few weeks earlier. 

Meanwhile, some criticized the demonstrations.

In a statement Saturday, Stephen Laskowski, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, said his group "does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges."

"OTA believes such actions — especially those that interfere with public safety and impede the flow of traffic or citizens — are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed. We strongly urge all protestors to please respect traffic laws and comply with direction from authorities to not block access to the hospitals and critical care facilities around the legislature."

He added: "As of January 22, the only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated. As an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate and the vast majority have."

Associated Press contributed.