Inspectors urged repairs for key U.S.-Canada bridge

Thu Oct 15, 2009 6:36pm EDT
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By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - An 80-year-old vehicular bridge that handles a fourth of U.S.-Canada trade has needed major repairs, including steps to shore up its main cables and deck, according to a 2007 safety report released on Thursday.

The once-secret report provided the first glimpse into the safety of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, the busiest border crossing in North America. It was made public after a court battle to block its release and amid a debate on both sides of the border on plans to build an alternative span.

The engineering report commissioned by The Detroit International Bridge company, the privately held firm that owns the bridge, concluded that the suspension span was in "fair" condition and safe for vehicle traffic.

The Ambassador, which runs from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, carries 11 million trucks and cars annually. It is a critical link between major automakers and component suppliers in the United States and Canada and ranks as the busiest border crossing in North America.

But some elements, including the concrete and steel in the main span and bridge railings, were in "poor" shape and in need of major repairs, the report said.

The report was released by Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, who has questioned plans by the bridge's billionaire owner to build a parallel span over the Detroit River.

The safety of aging U.S. bridges has been a focus since the collapse of an interstate spanning the Mississippi River in Minneapolis during bumper-to-bumper traffic in 2007, an accident that killed 13 people.

Michigan officials say the bridge remains safe but has become unable to handle the traffic flow across the border.   Continued...