Future of truck ferry uncertain once the Gordie Howe International Bridge opens

MP Brian Masse wants to see service kept for redundancy, economic development

When the Gordie Howe International Bridge opens in 2025, it will allow trucks hauling hazardous materials, leaving a question mark around the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry.

Currently, trucks carrying hazardous goods have to use the truck ferry when going between Windsor and Detroit.

While company president Gregg Ward is supportive of the bridge, he says since the bridge will handle the goods he now carries, the future of his ferry service is uncertain.

 “We haven’t received anything in writing. We haven’t had any meetings with the government, municipal, Ontario or federally. The border is something you want to have as many options as possible,” said Ward.

The Gordie Howe, now under construction, will allow trucks carrying hazardous goods.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge, now under construction, will allow trucks carrying hazardous goods. (Gordie Howe International Bridge/Twitter)

Windsor West MP Brian Masse, who is also the NDP’s border critic, agrees the ferry service should be kept. Masse has written Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino asking that the ferry service be kept as a redundancy for security reasons.

“When we’ve had other disruptions at the border, the auto industry for just-in-time delivery, and other serviceable goods they’ve gone across the truck ferry when we’ve actually had that need,” said Masse. “It [the ferry service] also has a perfect record ..so I really believe that keeping it around for a couple of years after at least would be the wisest thing we can do,” he said.

Ward said once the ferry service is gone it will be nearly impossible to bring it back, so keeping it as a redundancy would keep the options open for the future.

“So that should be a very thoughtful process to think, do we want to end or do we want to keep that redundancy in the system,” said Ward, who has been operating the service since 1990.

Trucks coming into Windsor from Detroit disembark from the Detroit Windsor Truck Ferry in west Windsor.
Trucks coming into Windsor from Detroit disembark from the Detroit Windsor Truck Ferry in west Windsor. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Ward would not say how many trucks the service handles per year for security reasons but did say it runs Monday through Friday carrying mostly flammable and corrosive goods.

Ward said the service could still be used to carry over-sized goods such as wind turbine towers which it currently handles.

“How those get across if we’re not here I’m not sure,” said Ward, adding he would still need to carry some hazardous goods as well to make the operation viable.

Masse has also not given up on the possibility of using the dock located at the end of Maplewood Drive near Morterm Terminal for a passenger ferry service.

“Having someone who can navigate the channel like Gregg Ward is a blessing. It’s a learned skill so we don’t want to lose that capacity,” said Masse, adding that Detroit is investing heavily on trails and other amenities on the riverfront which could attract visitors.

“We don’t know what the future could be but the future without the ferry would be less chances of expanding our opportunities versus getting rid of it,” said Masse.

He is hoping the report from the Rouleau Inquiry into the border blockade last February will include direction on best practices for border security that may include recommendations to keep the ferry service.

Masse said getting rid of the ferry service could also cost Windsor potential investment.

“Because the extra redundancy is something that we point to when we actually try to get people to invest, like the battery plan,t we show the multiple crossings that we have and the back up plans that we have and the truck ferry is very much part of that,” said Masse.

Tara Carson, a spokesperson for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, which oversees the Gordie Howe Bridge project, said the agency will follow directives of Canadian and U.S. agencies when it comes to transportation of hazardous materials across the border.

“The bridge along with the Canadian and U.S. Ports of Entry will include appropriate processing areas and engineering controls required to mitigate any spills,” wrote Carson, the director of communications, corporate affairs and external relations for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.

Carson said the measures to control spills include “…containment measures constructed in all storm water control facilities, material management best practices implemented in warehouse facilities, and, construction of a fire suppression system for the bridge which is being designed in cooperation with both the Detroit and Windsor Fire Departments.