Issue 38, Volume 85
April 17, 2013
A PROPOSED CROSS-BORDER LINK COULD UNITE TWO DOWNTOWN CORES
Plans are underway to create a ferry route between the downtowns of Windsor and Detroit to increase tourism for the region and further integrate the two cities economically.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the Detroit Port Authority have secured a grant of $2.4 million dollars to create ferry service between Detroit and Windsor, the first international passenger ferry crossing between the U.S. and Canada since the last one crossed the Detroit River in 1929.
“We’re in the process of trying to build a business case to show there is a viable market between Detroit and Windsor for this ferry service,” explained Christopher Johnson of the Detroit Port Authority.
Market research, surveys and preliminary research is complete, with the Port Authority already considering ferry deck amenities including a newsstand and bike rack.
“The original market was to focus on the healthcare workers that travel [between the two countries]” said Johnson, who explained that many nurses in Windsor travel to Detroit to work at the Henry Ford Medical Center and the Detroit Medical Center.
Johnson explained that there is virtually no opposition to the proposal and that “everyone really seems to like it.”
“We’re encouraged from what we’ve heard. It’ll be the first international passenger-only ferry operating between the United States and Canada,” said Johnson, who was unable to provide a complete timeline but did express that the project could begin construction this spring.
“Even if we did get everything sorted out with the respected customs and governments on both sides, the time to actual build a boat is six months or so, and the intended schedule [hasn’t been set], but roughly [aims for] shipping season for
the Great Lakes.”
Excitement is mounting on the Canadian side of the border and Windsor-West MP Brian Masse hopes to see the project advance over the coming months.
“We’re excited to work with [Detroit Port Authority] and get it off the ground here. We’ve made connection with the Department of Transportation, so as soon as that [business] case is available we’ll be active on the file,” said Masse, who believes that the fen-y would help improve tourism between the two cities.
“We were able to get a bike lane on the bridge [and] we can create an incredible international biking loop and circuit with the ferry,” said Masse.” We know that Michigan cyclists are interested … when you look at Detroit’s waterfront, they’ve done a lot of work on it [and] spent a lot of money on this nice waterfront and likewise on the Canadian side, and it’d be great to be able to [take part in recreational activity] back and forth for the whole day.”
There are several locations on the Windsor waterfront that would be ideal for a docking location, but Masse explained that a full analysis needs to be conducted before a specific location would be decided.
“I’d imagine it would be the city and core area, but I’ll leave it to the experts to determine the best location,” said Masse. He added that the Detroit River was ideal for sea navigation as it’s “well protected, it’s not very choppy and it’s one of the reasons, that it’s so advantageous for ferries.”
Masse’s counterpart on the American side of the border, Congressman Gary Peters, also looks forward to seeing a ferry further integrating the two countries.
“I’ve certainly been very intrigued by the idea [and] I think it’s certainly a potentially very promising project that we need to continue to pursue, make sure the economics are sound and that some of the issues related to the border crossing could be worked out, but [it’s] something that could be a real benefit to both sides of the river,” said Peters.
Like Masse, Peters believes that a ferry will help to increase tourism and trade while making the region “more of a destination for people to come down and enjoy the riverfront and traverse back and forth between our two countries and it will increase business on both sides of the river.”
Regarding border security, Peters explained that there are logistical issues which will need to be sorted out, but he is confident that with all of the relevant stakeholders working together that any issues will be overcome.
Peters has a grand vision for further developing transportation and linking the two regions intrinsically together by applying for funding to create a new rail tunnel between Windsor and Detroit.
“Right now we have a very old tunnel that services the border crossing, it was built back in 1909 and it doesn’t accommodate the double containers that modern freight travels on by rail now,” said Peters. “I believe we need to build a new tunnel that can accommodate that kind of traffic between our two countries and accommodate the ways in which goods are moved via rail today.”
Following construction of a new rail tunnel, Peters would like to the existing rail tunnel upgraded for high-speed rail.
“My ultimate dream would be after we build that tunnel, we would convert the current tunnel into a high speed passenger rail tunnel [and] what would be transformative for us in Windsor and Detroit would be a high-speed rail that travels between Chicago and Toronto,” said Peters.
Peters believes that the new Detroit River International Crossing, the ferry service, a new cargo tunnel and a high-speed rail tunnel would transform the region.
“Throughout human history, if you are city located on an international border crossing between two major world financial centres … if you’ve been a city in that location, you will thrive,” said Peters. “We need to make sure that Detroit and Windsor are thriving because of our key geographic positioning between two economic powerhouses of Chicago and Toronto …. we just need to make it a reality now.”
Jon Liedtke was the Features and Opinions Editor, Associate News Editor, Advertising Manager and Deficit Consultant at the UWindsor Lance.