DRTP pursues rail project; Border proponent would drop controversial road plan, MP says

PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2007.11.16
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A3
BYLINE: Dave Battagello
SOURCE: Windsor Star
WORD COUNT: 465

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DRTP pursues rail project; Border proponent would drop controversial road plan, MP says

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The Detroit River Tunnel Partnership is considering building a $350-million high-clearance tube beside its 100-year-old Windsor rail tunnel to accommodate larger double-stack rail cars.

DRTP officials have been busy in recent weeks meeting with politicians and transportation authorities on both sides of the border to explore the possibility.

"What they presented to me was that they would drop the road component and are pushing for the rail tunnel," said MP Brian Masse (NDP -- Windsor West). "They are doing a financial analysis and proposing rail only."

DRTP's latest move indicates it may be steering away from controversial plans for a truck route within its rail corridor, which triggered anger among South Windsor residents who live nearby. The plan twas rejected by city council and the binational team trying to come up with a border solution for Windsor.

Since the DRTP truck plan was rejected, DRTP has turned its focus to rail, spokeswoman Marge Byington said.

"Right now, we are going ahead with rail and there is no considering trucks," she said. "It's a very exciting project. The best part of the rail tunnel is it seems to have far more people attracted to it than detractors."

DRTP is a joint partnership between CP Railway and Borealis, an arms-length investment company of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, which owns the aging rail tunnel. As it is, the tunnel's too small to handle many of today's rail freight cars.

CP Railway pays for use of CN Railway's larger rail tunnel in Sarnia, built in the 1990s, to get some of its goods across the border.

The political and business leaders DRTP officials have spoken with have been supportive of the rail tunnel plan, said Byington.

"It is an extremely necessary part of the transportation infrastructure for Windsor-Detroit," she said. "There is a lot of interest, even as far as Washington, because of the need of more rail infrastructure in the U.S."

Once financial analysis is complete, DRTP will work toward launching an environmental assessment for its new rail tunnel, Byington said.

"We have started the analysis and know it can be built. Engineering is sound. We are hoping to start (an environmental assessment) before too long."

Masse said he wants to make sure no road or truck routes are included as part of the DRTP plan.

"What we are doing is looking at the map to see if any neighbourhood conflicts," he said. "Also, to ensure there is no back door to add truck transportation or new highway systems to their plan. That's critical."

Coun. Dave Brister, who represents South Windsor, was once the leader of a neighbourhood group that fought the DRTP truck plan because of the potential air and noise pollution.

He declined an invitation to meet with DRTP over its latest plan, saying Thursday he first wants to secure a government funding commitment to build the new truck feeder highway in Windsor leading to the border, which would eliminate any need for the truck-route component of the DRTP plan.

"DRTP has a history of using the rail issue to mask the larger goal to have a truck route to help fund (with border tolls) the new rail tunnel," Brister said.