SPECIAL REPORT: Truck ferry asks MDOT to rekindle hazmat enforcement rules
Posted: August 1, 2014
DETROIT — It was big news a couple of years ago, but it seems that hardly anyone notices anymore that the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge at the Windsor-Detroit border continues to allow hazmat trucks on the structure despite a 75-year-old U.S. law that prohibits it.
Gregg Ward hasn’t forgotten, though. The owner and operator of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry — the only link designated by the U.S. and Canadian governments to transport cross-border hazmat loads in Windsor — has fired off a letter to Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle, urging him to enforce the federal routing restrictions.
The transportation of flammable, corrosive, radioactive and explosive materials across the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is banned under a federal rule called the National Hazardous Materials Route Registry.
The designation of a restricted route for such loads across the bridge has been on the books since 1929. But because of the Ambassador’s autonomous control of the structure (it can deny safety inspectors, and even police access to the bridge), law enforcement agencies are virtually powerless to step in and block hazmat trucks once they’re on bridge property.
In the past, Ambassador Bridge President Dan Stamper has insisted the route registry does not apply to the bridge because the state doesn’t have the "authority to determine what crosses a private piece of property."
In 2006, The Windsor Star revealed that bridge company mangers were writing special permits to a select number of hazmat carriers. Reportedly, other truckers have been known to remove their hazmat placards before crossing the Ambassador, which is quicker and cheaper than the truck barge or Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia.
Signs in Windsor notify hazmat truckers to use the ferry, but no such warning exists en route to the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit.
Politicians on both sides of the border promised to investigate, but according to Ward, nothing has changed.
"Historically the operators of the Ambassador Bridge have demonstrated their arrogance by continually dismissing state or federal authority as it pertains to the operation of their privately owned and operated bridge," wrote Ward, who also copied Canadian and Ontario transport ministers Lawrence Cannon and Jim Bradley on the letter.
"…they continue to ignore the legal authority of your department to establish, maintain and enforce restricted hazardous material routes at their privately owned, publicly used facility."
In Windsor there are signs notifying border-bound hazmat truckers they must cross by using the ferry. But Michigan DOT hasn’t posted similar signage warning drivers of the regulations, says Ward.
He adds that in a post-9/11 world, the State of Michigan should be more serious in its efforts to protect the traveling public as well as the only bridge at the world’s most important international trade gateway.
Short Sea Solutions
Meanwhile, Ward continues to lobby Capital Hill to boost border-crossing redundancy as well as loosen regulatory restraints for short-sea shippers to expand services in the Great Lakes region.
When contacted by todaystrucking.com for this story, Ward was in D.C., trying to convince politicians to eliminate the so-called Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) for certain marine cargo in the Great Lakes region.
The tax ($125 for every $100,000 in merchandise value) is a competitive impediment since it only applies to water-bound freight and not, in the case of Windsor-Detroit, to the Ambassador Bridge or tunnel.
"Because of the HMF, the seamless diversion of traffic from congested highways and bridges to waterborne services will be unlikely, expensive and require extraordinary co-ordination among the carrier, shipper and import community," Ward told Congress in a previous appearance last year.
There are several Harbor Maintenance Tax waiver bills currently before Congress, and while there doesn’t seem to be any stiff opposition to the proposals, Congress, as is suggested by interested parties, has "become dysfunctional" and few of the legislative items are moving forward.
The window to get one of the bills approved is small, says Ward. There is just over a week remaining before Congress adjourns on September 26th.