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The Weather Network
Nov. 14, 2019 | Thursday
Local News
Opinion: A bridge too far: Canal traffic advisories often too little, too late
George Herman wants the Seaway authority to do a better job of advising motorists when bridges are available. (Kevin Maclean/Niagara Now)


Moving back to NOTL after a long absence, I was delighted to find that the problematic drive to St. Catharines over the Welland Canal had entered the 21st century. The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation had instituted a bridge forecasting system. Phone app and radio broadcast! Bravo, Seaway Corp., I thought.

Until I started using the “system.” With marginally useful information present, itself made meaningless by the inaccuracy of the forecasts themselves, it was an afterthought, with scant resources devoted to it: nothing more than a sop to address the Seaway Corp.’s community impact mandate.

So I wrote an email, outlining my needs as a typical motorist. We drive over the bridge when down, have to wait or detour when up. “Next ship at” advisories don’t tell us much. How about “bridge up” and “bridge down” forecasts? Simplicity itself.

And the FM broadcast’s vague window, in no case longer than 10 minutes, basically tells us to hurry, the bridge is going up soon. We need a longer forecast window, as with app, so motorists can listen while driving (and unable to use the app) and plan their route. That, after all, is the prime benefit of radio. And, of course, update for accuracy. Please.

Email ignored. I emailed my MP, whose contacting of Transport Canada eventually produced a Seaway Corp. contact. She listened politely and assured me the corporation would take my concerns seriously.

That was two years ago. There have never been any improvements. The only change is the FM. Its range appears to have shrunk and it is frequently off the air. The spokesperson has ignored follow-up emails. MP Rob Nicholson’s office has been a real letdown, behaving exactly the same way.

I’m neither a crank nor a crusader. I’ve adopted the path of least resistance. I’ve voted with my feet and discovered Niagara Falls. Anything I can do in St. Kitts I can do in the Falls, with the sole exception of visiting Costco. For me it’s a satisfactory solution, but I will share some perspective on the basic problem.

The Seaway Corp.’s high-handed treatment of motorists is not unique. In my working life, I saw the GTAA (Greater Toronto Airports Authority) take over from Transport Canada and run roughshod over the travelling public and Pearson employees alike.

It works like this: a corporation (or “authority”) comes to manage, via management contract or lease, major infrastructure. Because of the nature of the latter, the corporation in effect downloads a government monopoly. The commercial users of the infrastructure (airlines, shipping) become customers of the corporation.

The community, of course, remains affected, since there are no “competing” major infrastructure alternatives. But not being customers, its members have no leverage with the corporation, aside from possible, and meaningless, member board representation. Meanwhile the government — with which they did have leverage formerly as constituents — is now insulated by the presence of the corporation.

Works for everybody except the thousands of collateral victims.

With the GTAA the stakes were higher and there were no other choices. I am now retired and it just boils down to personal choices, which I fortunately have. Hello Niagara Falls, goodbye St. Catharines.

I am not writing this either to disparage St. Catharines or promote Niagara Falls, so I won’t compare or catalogue. I do, however, believe that the Seaway Corp.’s cynical approach to its community responsibilities does not come without consequences. I have illustrated one example. No doubt there are others. Bravo, Seaway Corp.