Ambassador Bridge company claims opening more customs booths would 'save lives'

The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says opening six unused customs booths on Huron Church will "save lives and money."

CTC wants to close southbound Huron Church for 4-6 hours in the afternoon when bridge traffic peaks

The Canadian Transit Company says opening these six customs booths west of Huron Church Road would "save lives and money." (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge claims opening six unused customs booths on Huron Church will "save lives and money," but Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens maintains the debate around the booths is just an attempt to get a leg up in negotiations for a second span.

The statement from Canadian Transit Company (CTC) president Dan Stamper comes in response to a letter sent by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, which criticized Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Marchand for writing to Canada's public safety minister about the possibility of opening the booths.

Dilkens blasted Marchand and the chamber for "allowing itself to be used" by the CTC in an attempt to get around critical negotiations that must be completed before the company can build its new bridge.

"Anyone who wants to interfere and ... try to cut the city off at the knees or do something that's going to jeopardize the work the city has been doing in terms of the protection of the people in Sandwich Town, the protection of the businesses downtown and the protection of our city for the next 100 years in that area, I would suggest you'd better be very well-informed and on side," he said. "Because I'm on the side of the residents."

He added the city's past history with the bridge company means officials are "very, very calculated" when making decisions and added seeing the chamber "link arms" with the CTC set off "alarm bells."

When reached by text message, Marchand said he is out of the country and currently not able to respond to requests for comment.

Ambassador Bridge company president Dan Stamper says the request to open the customs booths is about safety, not politics. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Stamper says the CTC is aware the negotiations are ongoing and argued the request for more booths wasn't a political move, it was based on safety.

"The [CTC's] concerns regarding traffic congestion on the Ambassador Bridge are the result of the number of traffic deaths and injuries on U.S. freeways approaching the bridge and are in no way related to ongoing discussions with the City of Windsor regarding the bridge expansion," he wrote. "We appreciate that Mayor Dilkens may not have been aware of the tragic incidents when he issued his letter to the Minister."

Stamper says the CBSA refuses to use 6 truck inspection lanes that were completed west of Huron Church Road in 2007. (CBC/Google Maps)

Stamper also took on Dilkens' concerns that opening the booths would result in Huron Church Road being immediately closed, as stated in a 2008 letter from the CBSA director general, who was concerned about a public street running through a customs area.

He explained the CTC is only hoping to temporarily close the southbound side of the busy road starting at Wyandotte Street for four to six hours each weekday afternoon.

"Our concern is that we have constructed six booths which, if fully staffed by Customs during peak times, would save lives and money for bridge travelers," he said.

Road a 'vital access point'

The mayor described the section of Huron Church as a "vital access point" to the University of Windsor and the city's downtown and riverfront.

He added delays at the border can be attributed to ongoing construction and maintenance work on the bridge, not the number of booths.

"I think they need to  ... fix their own internal issues before they start ringing the alarm bells at the federal level," said Dilkens.

with files from Dale Molnar