A question of trust - DRTP

PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2007.11.29
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A3
COLUMN: Gord Henderson
BYLINE: Gord Henderson
SOURCE: Windsor Star
WORD COUNT: 662

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A question of trust

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If city council falls hook, line and sinker Monday for the latest pitch on behalf of the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP), it will only reconfirm the cynical wisdom of circus showman P.T. Barnum who claimed there's a sucker born every minute.

We're being told, five years into the bitter and enormously costly battle between city hall and the DRTP, that the firm has abandoned its plan to ram a truck route through the heart of Windsor and now only wants to build a bigger tunnel to accommodate double-stack rail cars. That's the message being delivered by Coun. Bill Marra with his seemingly benign motion asking council to endorse a new DRTP rail tunnel.

I want to believe this. I truly want to believe the DRTP leadership has either seen the error of its ways or recognized the futility of continuing the fight and is now focused totally on the welcome, environmentally friendly business of moving trains.

But given the Lazarus-like existence of the DRTP over the past half-decade, given its uncanny ability to reinvent itself, it would take a blood oath, signed by CEO Mike Hurst and witnessed by the Pope, to persuade me that trucks are off the DRTP wish list now and forever.

Hurst, as recently as an April letter to The Star, was still advocating a DRTP truck route.

"Our plan is to convert the rail corridor into a tunnel for international trucks," he wrote. "We see a tunnel for trucks approaching the border as optimal for a host of reasons, not the least of which are the beneficial human health and environmental advantages."

And just a year ago, the DRTP boss said the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study team had made a "huge mistake" in ruling out the DRTP route and could soon be challenged legally if they fail to reconsider.

'OPTIMAL' PLAN

What changed over the past few months? What made them abandon their "optimal" plan? And if they did, why hasn't that message been delivered in stark, black and white terms all of us could understand? And maybe even trust.

Speaking of trust, Windsor West New Democratic MP Brian Masse, who has done masterful work on the border file, put it best in explaining what it will take to convince him trucks are off the DRTP agenda for good.

"Shoot it. Bury it. Dig it up. Shoot it again. Drive a stake through it. And then bury it again," said Masse.

He too wants to believe, but it will take more than glib words of assurance or a slick power-point presentation.

Ward 1 Coun. Dave Brister, who played a pivotal role in the community fight against DRTP, is appalled by the timing of Marra's motion and the naivete of anyone who could be so easily convinced DRTP has capitulated.

Brister said he'll be only too happy to discuss DRTP rail plans once the federal and provincial governments sign off on the city's GreenLink border route from Highway 401 to E.C. Row.

"But first I want to confirm we have the funding ($1.6 billion) for GreenLink. Let's get that nailed down. I want to see the deal done and the money in the bank. I want to see the cheque and I want to make sure it clears. Then I'll sit down and talk to anybody about rail."

Progress is being made on the border file, said Brister, and now's the worst possible time to lose focus.

"We can't be this naive after five years, to think we should be addressing the rail portion first, before the GreenLink money is in the bank," Brister said.

The Marra motion -- which contains only a one-line assurance that it's "limited to rail only and to the exclusion of trucks" -- should be put on ice until the fate of the border route is resolved and until there's a lot more clarity from the DRTP team.

It would be especially helpful if Hurst were to restate his position of December 2002, when, as mayor, he issued a stirring call to arms against DRTP's truck plans.

"It cannot be supported and it will not be supported," vowed Hurst. "The City of Windsor will do whatever it needs to do to make sure this proposal does not move forward. We cannot in good conscience agree to bring forward a proposal that is extremely damaging to the City of Windsor."

Powerful words then. Powerful words now.

ghenderson@thestar.canwest.com