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Letter: Wayne County sheriff: Driving hazmat over Ambassador Bridge is safer for Michigan

The Detroit News

As Wayne County’s top public safety official, it is my responsibility to assess risk, using facts and data to determine what is in the best interest of the citizens of Southeast Michigan.

That is why I and many other elected officials in the area have sent letters to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urging her administration to reverse the current ban on certain hazardous, yet necessary, materials like gasoline crossing the Ambassador Bridge.

The reason I did so is simple; because it is without question the safest and most efficient way to transport these products to and from Canada.

The Ambassador Bridge is without question the safest and most efficient way to transport these products to and from Canada, Napoleon writes.

Currently, thousands of trucks each year are forced to haul these materials from Detroit to Port Huron traveling through some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the state. According to the Michigan Department of State Police, since 2011 there have been 29 accidents involving trucks carrying non-radioactive hazardous materials on the unnecessary 50-mile route to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron. 

The math here is pretty simple: the more time and miles these materials travel on Michigan roads, the higher the risk of an accident. Even the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the agency that could reverse this unsafe policy, concluded in a comprehensive study in 2012 that certain classes of non-radioactive hazardous materials could be safely transported across the Ambassador Bridge, just as they have been transported across the Blue Water Bridge without serious incident for 60 years. So why has MDOT continued to impose this unsafe restriction on one bridge and not the other?

Simply stated, the answer is politics.

In 2014, at the height of the controversy over the construction of the Gordie Howe Bridge (which has ironically already been approved to transport the same products that are restricted on the Ambassador Bridge), MDOT suddenly reversed its recommendation to allow the Ambassador Bridge to transport these materials under pressure from then Governor Snyder.

The political nature of this decision has been acknowledged in a recent email by former State Representative Steve Tobocman, a vocal opponent of the owners of the Ambassador Bridge: “I believe Governor Snyder blocked this in part, because of his feuds with the Bridge Company over the new Gordie Howe Bridge.” 

Especially during this increasingly polarized political environment, it is even more important that those of us with a sworn responsibility to protect the public do not let politics get in the way of making sound decisions based on facts and data. And the facts here are clear.

Forcing trucks to drive 50 miles on Michigan roads to deliver products like gasoline and hand sanitizer to Canada, when they should be allowed to travel less than two miles while being accompanied by protective escort vehicles is neither safer nor reasonable. 

It is long past time for MDOT to pay more attention to their own engineers and career public safety officials, like myself, and turn the page on tired old political grudges.

Benny Napoleon, Wayne County sheriff