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Subject: Planned Detroil River Rail Tunnel between US and Canada
(Posted on Mar 26, 2013 at 04:28PM by Media Manager)

Plan for New Detroit to Windsor Rail Tunnel
under Detroit River



March 26, 2013 Detroit — A long-delayed second rail tunnel under the Detroit River to Windsor may finally break ground early next year, supporters say, creating jobs and bolstering international trade.

But the project to replace an old double train tunnel between the two cities still has some hurdles, including securing half the amount needed for the $400 million project from the U.S. and Canadian governments.

The Detroit-Windsor Crossing tunnel's proponents said the project will increase trade with Canada, link Detroit through to other high-volume ports and help make the city into a transportation center. The proposed tunnel along with the new bridge Gov. Rick Snyder wants to build to Canada will give the Detroit area a boost to compete with other markets, advocates said.

At least $200 million has been pledged by Continental Rail Gateway — a coalition of two private organizations and the Windsor Port Authority, said county and rail officials, adding they hope the remaining $200 million will be pledged by year's end.

The project has a big backer in Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, who has touted it would create nearly 2,000 jobs and transform the region into a transportation hub for rail and truck commerce.

Ficano, who mentioned the tunnel project in his recent state of the county address, said it will be a boon for the region because it will allow double-stacked rail cars to move between the two countries. The tunnel the trains use today is not tall enough to accommodate double-stacked container cars.

"We're hoping that there can be some real fruition that's ultimately going to result in a new tunnel," he said.

Ficano said creating a tunnel to accommodate double-stacking trains is key. "You'll find that whether it'd be shipping by sea or even by truck and most rail, double stacking is now standard procedure for how they move rail," he said.

The project hinges on funding from the United States and Canada but advocates of the project say the $200 million put on the table by Canadian Pacific and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System should send a message to the two countries that the effort is serious.

Officials said they expect environmental approvals to come soon, perhaps as early as the next few months, from both governments, which would keep the project moving.

"They are putting a lot of private skin on the table, which is always enticing to the government," said Cindy Dingell, the deputy chief operating officer for Wayne County. "But the other thing, too, is we have to get the environmental clearances done before it proceeds to the next level."

Existing tunnel too small

The Jobs Tunnel, as it was called when it was proposed in 2003, was opposed by some because it would have included converting the old tunnels for use by trucks. But, when it was determined there was not enough space in the tunnel to put in lanes for trucks, the plan became rail only.

Officials have estimated the new 1.6-mile tunnel would take up to two years to complete and would be built about 150 feet to the west of the one that opened in 1909.

The idea for the new tunnel emerged after it was determined the existing one couldn't be made any larger. That tunnel was heightened in 1993, but to go any higher makes the structure vulnerable to taking in water from the river.

Mickey Blashfield, a spokesman for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun, who strongly opposes the construction of a government-backed bridge to Canada, said given that the truck option is out of the project, Moroun is good with a new rail tunnel if it can be built.

"We're certainly not opposed to it," Blashfield said.

"The concept of a rail tunnel is certainly desirable for the region."

Boost to both communities

Marge Byington, corporate affairs director for Continental Rail Gateway, said land for the project has been acquired.

Byington said the Michigan Department of Transportation is helping to fight for the federal dollars, but there are "multiple options" such as grants and loans her company can get to push the project to the finish line.

"We feel very secure that this project is going forward," she said.

County and rail officials said discussions are under way to use the old tunnel, which is just south of the Michigan Train Depot, for creating a passenger rail some day because it is still in very good condition.

County officials estimated with the building of the tunnel, Canadian ports in Montreal and Halifax will double their shipping by the year 2020 while bringing more volume through the region.

"It takes away the hassle that some of the shipping companies have of going into Norfolk, going into Baltimore, going into New York or even going to Philly," said Ray Byers, Wayne County's chief economic development officer, "because it's a straighter shot."

David Cree, the president and CEO of the Windsor Port Authority, said he expects "we will be shovel-ready by early next year."

Cree said the Canadian government will soon begin reviewing its 2014 budget that includes infrastructure projects, and the private money pledged should help shake his government's commitment loose.

"This is going to give the Detroit-Windsor area all the pieces with the new bridge, the new double-stacked rail tunnel, to build a really significant multi-modal center, which is going to bring in a lot of jobs and a lot of benefits to the two communities," Cree said.

From The Detroit News

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