Ambassador Bridge permit for a 2nd span expires, fuelling uncertainty in west-end Windsor

·3 min read
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra wouldn't elaborate on discussions between the federal government, the City of Windsor and the Ambassador Bridge Company relating to the future of a second span. (Jason Viau/CBC - image credit)
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra wouldn't elaborate on discussions between the federal government, the City of Windsor and the Ambassador Bridge Company relating to the future of a second span. (Jason Viau/CBC - image credit)

Tammy Murray is relieved the Ambassador Bridge no longer has Canadian approval to twin the international crossing after the permit expired this week, but the west-end WIndsor, Ont., resident is also among those worrying about what may come next.

The more than 90-year-old bridge is owned by Michigan businessman Matthew Moroun, chair of the Detroit International Bridge Company. Boarded-up homes owned by the bridge company and green space where they once stood make the neighbourhood unrecognizable, said Murray.

The federal Liberal government granted the permit in 2017 through the Privy Council Office, so it didn't require debate in the House of Commons or the Senate. Bridge owners were given five years to start construction or the permit would expire.

The Canadian permit also didn't include any community benefits similar to what's being done with construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge just further west.

In Murray's eyes, the west-end community would benefit from a legacy fund because of how the Ambassador Bridge Company has impacted the surrounding neighbourhood.

"When this first started happening, it looked like a bomb went off. Our community overall has suffered by the impact of what the Bridge Company did to the community," said Murray. "We want to know what's going to happen next, but we want the community to be made whole. It's time. There's an opportunity here for closure."

If another permit is granted by the Canadian government, Murray said, she wants to see community benefits included in the fine print. However, she opposes the project altogether.

Ottawa in talks about 2nd span for bridge

It isn't clear what will come next.

During a visit to Windsor on Tuesday, Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said discussions between the federal government, the City of Windsor and the Bridge Company are ongoing, but wouldn't elaborate further.

"Right now I don't want to negotiate or discuss in public, but there's ongoing discussions about making sure that vision is realized," said Alghabra, referencing improvements to the Ambassador Bridge. "We remain committed to this."

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

The permit Transport Canada issued calls for the bridge to be demolished when the new span is finished; but a permit issued by the U.S. Coast Guard requires that the old bridge remain in place.

Alghabra wouldn't say if the federal government is considering removing its requirement to demolish the current bridge once the new one is built.

The Detroit International Bridge Company didn't respond to CBC's request for comment about ongoing talks with the Canadian government.

Canadian, U.S. permits conflict

In a statement earlier this month, Ambassador Bridge president Dan Stamper said the Canadian permit that was in place "was not a permit at all.  Instead, it is an absolute block."

It conflicts with the U.S. permit for twinning the bridge, as it won't allow the current crossing to be torn down.

"In terms of reapplying, unless and until Transport Canada drops that condition, there is no reason for us to waste more time, money and energy," said Stamper.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

Murray vividly remembers when she was 12 years old living on Indian Road right next to the Ambassdor Bridge.

The sounds of truck traffic would be muffled by children laughing, kids riding their bikes and neighbourhood barbecues.

About 15 years ago, Murray started to notice "the dismantling of the neighbourhood."

"We have deaf ears here with the Morouns, and that's been frustrating," said Murray.

Now, Murray said she's waiting to see if ongoing discussions involving the federal government will materialize into something that can benefit west-end residents.

"The west end has taken a hit overall. The community is hopeful, but we're guarded."