Proposed truck tunnel connecting Detroit and Windsor not pie-in-the-sky

by Canadian Shipper

A proposed truck tunnel connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, would help speed the movement of freight at the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing, the Toronto-based planners of the tunnel claim.

Under the proposal, the Detroit River Rail Tunnel, a 100-year-old cargo train tunnel under the Detroit River, would be converted into a truck tunnel. A new tunnel for trains then would be built under the truck tunnel, or beside it on the bed of the river, the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday.

The plan was announced by Borealis Infrastructure Management Inc., a Toronto company backed by $50 billion in Canadian pension funds. Borealis owns the Detroit River Rail Tunnel in partnership with Canadian National Railway. In March, Borealis also purchased land around the tunnel openings, Borealis CEO Michael Nobrega said. That land would be used to construct connectors to Highway 401 on the Windsor side, and Interstate 75 on the Detroit side.

“The funding is there. The engineering studies are in place and have come back positive. … We’re proceeding and ready to go,” said Marge Byington, former economic development aide to Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and Gov. John Engler. Byington is president of Ontario Michigan Rail Incorporation, which brokered the tunnel partnership deal for Borealis.

The new rail tunnel could be operational by 2005, and a two-way truck tunnel by 2006, according to Nobrega. He estimates the project will cost $350 million to $400 million, and would be paid for by Borealis and other large pension-fund groups. The company would then charge tolls.

Commercial traffic at Michigan’s three commercial truck crossings doubled to 5.3 million trucks a year from 1990 to 2000. Each year, $155 billion in commercial trade passes through Michigan’s border crossings.

However,the issue of where to deploy customs agents could prove an obstacle.

“Conceptually it’s a great idea, and we’re supportive of it,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. “But where would you put Customs agents? Are you going to get commitment from the federal government for more agents?”

Nobrega said Borealis is lobbying government officials on both sides of the border to back the plan.

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