Should hazardous materials be allowed to be transported on the Ambassador Bridge?

Bridge owners say there's no safety concern

The owners of the 91-year-old suspension bridge across the Detroit River asked the Michigan Department of Transportation to allow trucks carrying flammable, chemical or corrosive materials to cross the bridge.

DETROIT – The owners of the 91-year-old suspension bridge across the Detroit River asked the Michigan Department of Transportation to allow trucks carrying flammable, chemical or corrosive materials to cross the bridge.

The big concern is if trucks carrying hazardous materials had a spill when they were crossing the bridge, what would that mean to the environment, the residents on both sides of the river, and to Michigan’s economy as the bridge is the busiest trade crossing in North America.

An estimated 10,000 trucks cross the Ambassador Bridge every day and bridge owners are pushing for a change to allow trucks carrying Class 3 Flammable liquids and HAZMAT Class 8 Corrosive substances to be transported over the 4-lane bridge.

“I hope that the state of Michigan will recognize that this is health and safety issue and will keep our current guidelines in place,” said Sen. Stephanie Chang.

In the state Senate, Chang represents Michigan’s 1st District -- covering parts of Wayne County along the Canadian border. She said she’s fighting for the residents that live near the bridge. They aren’t just concerned over increased truck traffic in their community.

“We don’t need to be adding potential hazardous material slips onto the bridge or into the river,” Chang said.

“If something happens to the bridge, we all are going to have an economic breakdown like nobody has ever seen,” said Greg Ward.

Ward owns the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. His ferry is allowed to transport trucks carrying hazardous materials and admits this change would affect his business.

“We have done it for 30 years. The trucks go on, they park and they go one mile across the river and discharge,” Ward said. “They are away from the public, away from residences and it is a very safe mode of transportation. Our safety records shows it over 30 years.”

Besides using the Truck Ferry, trucks carrying HAZMAT can travel to the Port Huron–Sarnia Border Crossing to cross the Blue Water Bridge.

When Local 4 Defenders spoke with bridge company president Dan Stamper, he said allowing the Ambassador Bridge this change would increase safety for all Metro Detroiters. Wayne County sheriff Benny Napoleon agreed.

“I know going across the bridge puts some people in danger, but its fewer people than it would be if they had to use an alternate route through more residential communities,” Napoleon said.

What happens if there is a spill? Is Metro Detroit prepared to handle it?

“Throughout the southeast region, we have police agencies trained to respond to HAZMAT incidents consistently,” Napoleon said. “We have mutual aid agreements that allow additional resources.”

Bridge owners claim they have a new fire suppression system to handle such emergencies, but in a recent letter from MDOT, the state mentions a 2018 “inspection report did not note the presence of such system.

That inspection did also state the bridge was in good condition and no repairs were recommended.

“We can’t treat this as if it is a public entity, it isn’t -- It’s a private company that wants to handle something that is very very much dangerous to the public,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Tlaib is also in the fight to stop the bridge’s request.

“Many of the residents in the neighborhood are nearby,” Tlaib said. “There are parks and schools, a community -- a very vibrant community and neighborhoods near the Ambassador Bridge that do not want hazardous waste.”

MDOT has asked for more information on contingency and clean-up plans from the bridge owners as it considers the request.

Meantime, the Wayne County Commission unanimously voted to urge Michigan officials to block the bridge from allowing the HAZMAT to be transported.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.