Proposal to allow hazardous materials on Ambassador Bridge not worth the risk, trucker says

Heavy traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, August 30, 2023. (Dax Melmer/CBC - image credit)
Heavy traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, August 30, 2023. (Dax Melmer/CBC - image credit)

As the Ambassador Bridge looks for permission to allow trucks carrying corrosive materials and flammable liquids, one trucker from Michigan is expressing concern.

"With the Ambassador Bridge being the busiest border crossing between Canada and the USA, having that damaged or eliminated would be very, very detrimental," said Ryan Stewart of Lake Orion, Michigan.

Stewart says he has seen trucks with placards warning of hazardous materials that are currently banned crossing into Canada from the U.S. on the bridge and he wants to see more education for drivers.

"The one instance...they had corrosive placards on the truck, I was in line at the customs booth heading to Canada, and I don't know who's supposed to enforce those rules, but they didn't have any issue getting across and they just went on down Huron Church Street," he said.

"The second time was a flammable and corrosive placarded truck and it was on all sides. So I don't think it was a situation where they forgot to take them off. They just had them on there, left them on and crossed the bridge."

Stewart says he saw the one truck the last week in September when the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry — which had been used to carry hazardous goods — ceased operations. He says he saw the other truck a few months earlier.

Stewart says if a truck has finished carrying the load, the driver supposed to take the placards off but it's also possible people can forget.

Ryan Stewart is a trucker from Lake Orion, Michigan.
Ryan Stewart is a trucker from Lake Orion, Michigan.

Ryan Stewart is a trucker from Lake Orion, Michigan. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The Ambassador Bridge has asked the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to allow trucks carrying corrosive materials and flammable liquids to use the bridge.

The bridge is arguing that it is safer for trucks to use a shorter route than to travel overland all the way to the Bluewater Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron, where the materials are allowed.

The company also says the bridge is "fully equipped" to handle the materials and trucks will be escorted by safety vehicles.

The Gordie Howe International Bridge will be able to handle hazardous goods, but it's not expected to open until at least the end of 2024.

Stewart posted video on social media showing the trucks lined up at Canadian customs and shows one of the trucks from the Challenger Motor Freight company clearing customs and leaving down Huron Church Road.

CBC News reached out to the company and a spokesperson says they don't ship hazardous goods on the Ambassador Bridge and the particular trailer in question never had hazardous goods in it. He says the placards were placed on the truck by mistake.

"We acknowledge this oversight and sincerely regret any inconvenience or apprehension this may have caused," said Paul Weatherbie, the marketing and communications manager for Challenger Motor Freight.

"Challenger Motor Freight is actively addressing this issue internally to prevent any reoccurrence, and we are reinforcing our commitment to adhering to strict safety protocols."

It's not clear whether the other truck spotted by Stewart had been carrying hazardous goods either. CBC News is in touch with the other trucking company, which has asked for more information about the incident in question.

Meanwhile, Windsor West MP Brian Masse is petitioning the Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez to deny any requests from the bridge company to allow the corrosive materials and flammable liquids on the bridge.

Brian Masse is the NDP MP for Windsor West.
Brian Masse is the NDP MP for Windsor West.

Brian Masse is the NDP MP for Windsor West. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

He said the bridge company should be monitoring the trucks and preventing the ones with the banned materials from entering the bridge.

"The reality here is that the Ambassador Bridge has to take command of its operations as a private border crossing. It goes without saying that they need to maintain the integrity of who their customers can or can't be by law, and that really falls on them," said Masse.

Masse brought up the issue of the bridge request to allow the goods in Question Period Tuesday and housing minister Sean Fraser said he would be glad to sit down and discuss the issue with Masse in person.

CBC News has reached out to the Ambassador Bridge and Transport Canada and is awaiting a response.

The Canada Border Services Agency says it does help Transport Canada enforce the safe and secure transportation of dangerous goods. But an emailed statement made no mention of whether officers have found trucks with the banned substances at the Ambassador Bridge.

MDOT has launched a public consultation period on the application to allow the goods on the bridge. The deadline is Dec. 23.