Detroit Bridge Owner Requests HAZMAT Transport


Detroit International Bridge Company, owner of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, has reportedly asked state transportation regulators to allow for the transport of paint and other potentially hazardous materials across the span leading into Windsor, Ontario.

According to reports, the request was specifically made for truckloads of flammable liquids and corrosives, otherwise known as Class 3 and Class 8 hazardous materials.

Bridge Background

In December 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer used line-item veto power to remove provisions allowing hazardous materials transport across the Ambassador Bridge, part of a larger COVID-19 relief package for businesses.

According to the report, around 400 residents of southwest Detroit neighborhood residents and others signed petitions to oppose the hazardous materials transport change. State Senator Stephanie Chang also opposed the measure at the time.

"Allowing these types of hazardous material to be transported across the Ambassador Bridge—a bridge that is over 90 years old, not up to the same level of inspections, traffic safety features, spill containment, or fire suppression systems needed to protect my residents’ safety—is downright dangerous," Chang stated in a December 2020 Detroit Free Press op-ed.

"The Ambassador Bridge cannot be credibly compared to Michigan’s other, more modern international bridges. The bridges in Sault Ste. Marie and the Blue Water Bridge are younger, and have solid and transparent fire suppression and spill containment plans,” Chang said.

“In addition, the Ambassador Bridge does not segregate passenger vehicles from cargo traffic. It is imperative that the busiest border crossing is protected from closures, interruptions, or damage from hazmat spills or accidents."

However, a Jan. 13, 2021, memorandum from Raymond Scott, deputy director of the city of Detroit's Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department, to City Council Public Health and Safety Committee Chairman Scott Benson put a positive light on hazmat transportation across the bridge.

The memo reportedly also contained a review of the proposal by several city departments.

About the Request

A report from the Detroit Free Press stated that if the request is approved, the trucks hauling these materials would also have safety escorts to cross the bridge, which also has an emergency response plan and fire suppression systems. 

Additionally, a release from the Michigan Department of Transportation announced that the owner has also requested to keep the existing restrictions for explosives (Class 1), infectious substances (Division 6.2) and radioactive materials (Class 7) from transport over the Ambassador Bridge.

MDOT also stated that it would be opening a public comment period on a proposal to change the current non-radioactive hazardous materials (NRHM) route restrictions for the bridge.

Company officials have stated that these materials are currently allowed to cross the Blue Water Bridge from Port Huron, Michigan, into Canada and are expected for clearance on the new Gordie Howe Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

"Every year, approximately 4,200 truckloads of liquid petroleum departs refineries and fuel terminals in Southwest Detroit and Romulus, pass the Ambassador Bridge, and drive an additional 60 to 70 miles through heavily populated areas in Detroit, Wayne County and Macomb County to cross at the Blue Water Bridge," Kenneth Dobson, the vice president of the Ambassador Bridge, said in a statement.

"Considering just these 4,200 truckloads, lifting the restrictions will reduce the number of miles driven by commercial motor vehicles hauling Class 3 materials in Michigan by over 250,000 miles annually, providing a substantial net safety benefit to the State of Michigan."

A report from CBC News states that Member of the Canadian Parliament Brian Masse currently also opposes the change to allow these materials to be transported the bridge, mainly because of safety concerns. 

Masse added that a move like this could “jeopardize trade” by shutting down the bridge, while also posing environmental risks, with chemicals that could contaminate the river.

"It's disturbing. There is a reason why there's restrictions and there was no reason to shut the truck ferry down," said Masse.

The truck ferry had reportedly been an approved way for hazardous materials to cross the border; however it shut down earlier this fall for financial reasons. Masse said he urged Ottawa to support the ferry instead until the Gordie Howe International Bridge opens in 2025.

"Environmentally we put ourselves at a greater risk, and the bridge itself is not, you know, built to deal with the spilling of liquids," said Masse, adding that he plans to urge the transport minister to prevent its approval.

The Detroit Fire Department Fire Marshal's Division also stated, "We do not have any objections to changing the hazardous transport restrictions on the Ambassador Bridge as requested. They have all of their safety precautions in place and the overall plan looks good."

Additionally, an assessment from the Detroit Police Department reportedly expected a rise in semi-truck traffic on the bridge if the restrictions are changed, though it also stated that the move "poses no significant impact on surrounding areas, surface or residential streets."

Department officials added that flammable liquid and corrosives transport were allowed on area roads, "therefore, any change in restriction will not introduce new materials in the area."

Officials for the Ambassador Bridge reportedly estimated a less than 1% increase in truck traffic if the restrictions were lifted.

This month, MDOT also released a study to better “understand and evaluate the risks.” The FACTOR study reportedly discovered only a minor difference in statewide risk if the restrictions were lifted, though “not significant enough to make a compelling case for or against any changes.”  

However, it added that potential consequences of a Class 3 incident could be larger than those of a Class 8 incident. MDOT stated that the proposals “address public safety while looking to ensurethe consistency of movement and not limit or delay the transportation of hazardous materials.”

Free Press requests for comment to MDOT were reportedly met with an emailed statement from MDOT emergency management office officials, announcing that in addition to public comment, the agency would conduct a review before any determination "and will have stakeholder engagement to discuss any additional requirements that may be needed."

MDOT stated that it is accepting public comment until Dec. 23 through an online comment form.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Construction; Corrosion; Corrosion protection; Department of Transportation (DOT); hazardous materials; Hazards; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Safety; Transportation

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