Fort Frances Mayor June Caul said she met with MPP Greg Rickford to discuss the provincial and federal governments taking over the sale of the International Bridge, make it a public asset and cancel the tolling fee.
“Councillor [John] McTaggart and I met with minister Greg Rickford,” Caul said. “We had quite a discussion about the [bridge] and voiced our concerns. Our biggest concern is that the upkeep has not been redone. No construction has been done to improve the infrastructure on it for quite some time now and it’s in need of some work.”
Bridge maintenance is something the council wants to ensure is addressed by whoever ends up owning the bridge, Caul said, adding a concern of a potential increase in the tolling fee.
“Most international bridges don’t have a toll on them,” Caul said. “But this one is quite high as it is, and we’re worried that a new entity may decide to raise the tariff to come across for a vehicle.”
Caul said this is not a big thing to ask for since all bridges in Canada are owned by the government, except the Windsor-Detroit crossing.
“Why is this one still locally and privately owned when every other bridge, except the one at Windsor and Detroit, is owned by the federal government? It falls in the federal government’s lap for an international bridge,” Caul said.
However, she said she is pleased that Rickford is taking notice that they have concerns about it.
“He’s going to take on a job of trying to get a mutual meeting time with the people who are apparently going to buy it and also having a federal representative there as well, which I would assume would possibly be Marcus Powlowski since he’s our MP,” Caul added.
As of today, there are no final deals on the bridge sale, but Caul said Resolute Forest Products, the current owner of the bridge, is still actively trying to sell their portion of the bridge.
Caul said Rickford did not provide a timeline in which he would get back to council on high level discussions regarding the bridge. However, Caul said she got the impression that Rickford would do something as soon as possible.
Council had passed a resolution on June 15 asking the federal and provincial governments to immediately intervene in the sale of the International Bridge.
According to tolling statistics, the International Bridge sees more than 800,000 vehicle crossings annually. This includes tourists travelling through northwestern Ontario, local trips for employment, business, education, medicine, emergency response, the importing of goods used in the mining, agricultural and forestry sectors and commercial traffic serving the resource-based economy west of Thunder Bay.
In Ontario the tolls on international bridges are authorized by the provincial Minister of Transportation under the Toll Bridges Act, but both bridge owners have placed their toll collection on the Minnesota side, according to the resolution.
This act allows the provincial government to enter into agreements with Canadian or foreign authorities for the joint financing, construction, or operation of any international bridge or tunnel.
According to the resolution, a meeting held on Jan. 31, 2006 revealed that one span of the International Bridge had only 15 to 20 years left in its lifespan before it needed replacement at an estimated cost of $8 million USD.
This intervention would require the Canadian government to work with their American counterparts to operate the International Bridge as a public asset and remove tolls.
“We have to keep this bridge open,” Caul said. “It’s a necessity here in our area and in northwestern Ontario. It’s a huge hub for international travel. It’s a very important route to keep open and keep maintained properly in a good way to make sure that it’s not costing an arm and a leg to use it.”