• DTS.USA
    5.811
    -0.009
    -0.2%
  • NTI.USA
    2.860
    0.000
    0%
  • NTID.USA
    2.900
    0.060
    2.1%
  • NTIDL.USA
    2.000
    0.060
    3.1%
  • OTRI.USA
    8.180
    0.090
    1.1%
  • OTVI.USA
    12,818.890
    -172.860
    -1.3%
  • DTS.USA
    5.811
    -0.009
    -0.2%
  • NTI.USA
    2.860
    0.000
    0%
  • NTID.USA
    2.900
    0.060
    2.1%
  • NTIDL.USA
    2.000
    0.060
    3.1%
  • OTRI.USA
    8.180
    0.090
    1.1%
  • OTVI.USA
    12,818.890
    -172.860
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Borderlands: CanadaInternationalNewsTop StoriesTrucking

Blue Water option: How drivers avoided the Ambassador Bridge blockade

Ambassador Bridge shutdown brings U.S.-Canadian commerce to a crawl

PORT HURON, Mich. — After crossing the U.S.-Canada border at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan, two veteran drivers for Ontario-based Challenger Motor Freight fueled up and sipped on their freshly brewed coffee at a local Pilot Travel Center and tried to look on the bright side of being rerouted from crossing the Ambassador Bridge.

“We didn’t want to take the [Ontario Highway] 402 because the police are removing protesters along the way and it would slow us down even more, so we spent the day on the beautiful country roads,” said one driver, who asked to remain anonymous but has been driving for Challenger for over 10 years.

The Challenger drivers, while pleased with their view that day, were frustrated by the reroute the Ambassador Bridge shutdown had caused but voiced more frustration toward the protesters themselves rather than the cause they represented.

The Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, with Detroit has been closed since Monday as part of the Freedom Convoy, which began late last month as a protest of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers. 

“We are both vaccinated, most drivers we know are vaccinated, everyone crossing here today is vaccinated. I just think that these protesters are using this cause to fight the government as a whole and not their vaccination status,” said the same anonymous driver.

This was day four of the Ambassador Bridge being shut down, and while traffic had begun to normalize at the Blue Water Bridge, with an average crossing time of about an hour, vaccinated cross-border drivers were still frustrated by the continued antics of the Freedom Convoy protesters.

“Today wasn’t too bad,” said Ed, an Ohio-based company driver who did not provide his last name. “But [the protesters] have a section on the 402 where they’ve got farm equipment just sitting on the road. They are closing it off now so you have to detour around it.”

Ed, along with the other two drivers, hauls auto supplies across the border five or six times a week. While he said he is still getting the same amount of hauls in, he is not getting paid more money for being on the road longer.

“[The detour] is adding to my day, but we get paid by the run, not by the hour. So if it takes five hours or 10 hours, we still get the same amount,” he explained.

Ed said his biggest fear is that protesters will take control of the Blue Water Bridge before his normal Ambassador Bridge route from Detroit reopens. 

“If that happens, they might as well just fold up the country because we are not going to be able to get anything in or out of here. Over a third of all products come through these borders,” he said.

When asked if they would consider driving farther out of their way to the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York, about 253 miles from the Ambassador Bridge, the drivers quickly shot down the notion.

“No way, we can’t. It’s too far away to come back from. … I have heard of a few guys doing that but it wouldn’t work for us and our customers’ routes. If that happens, then Michigan better hurry up and finish the Gordie Howe [International Bridge],” Ed joked of the cross-border bridge currently being constructed 10 miles south of the Ambassador Bridge.

Automotive slowdown

All three drivers at the Pilot Travel Center talked about the importance of their work as suppliers to the automotive industry in Detroit.

“A lot of [OEMs] are having to shut down because these parts can’t come across. Canada is where a lot of it comes from,” said Ed.

Earlier this week, Ford shut down its engine plant in Windsor and an SUV factory in Oakville, Ontario, due to parts shortages. 

On Wednesday and Thursday, General Motors canceled shifts at its Lansing, Michigan, plant due to parts shortages. Toyota Motor Corp. was also offline on Thursday at its Ontario and Kentucky plants because of the blockade.

Logistics providers to these OEMs have felt pain from the blockade as well. Jake McLeod, president of EXO Freight, told FreightWaves that not only was driver capacity hard to find for border shipments, but OEMs were having to get creative to secure parts — no matter the cost.

“We are seeing a massive reduction in capacity. Many of our customers are coming to us with requests for cross-border. Even freight generally routed by the Canadian arm of some of our customers are asking their U.S. counterparts for help moving loads,” said McLeod. 

“We have seen requests for breaking apart loads into smaller vehicles, like straight trucks and sprinters so they can fit through the tunnel. In turn, you can imagine rates are incredibly high compared to normal — when you can find a truck.”

Whether logistics providers like EXO Freight are able to find capacity, the added length of hauls for drivers mixed with automotive part shortages and lack of semiconductors put irreversible pressure on the region’s auto supply chain.


Watch now: First hand look at the Ambassador Bridge protest

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American Trucking Associations denounces cross-border protests

Canadian protesters continue to disrupt commercial traffic at Ambassador Bridge

‘People’s Convoy’ vows not to disrupt Super Bowl

Grace Sharkey

Grace is an entrepreneur and former supply chain executive who has held positions in sales, operations, and consulting. She is passionate about the future of the industry and how technology can improve the experience for all supply chain members. She believes supply chain is the one industry that affects every human directly, and is looking forward to creating content that mirrors that sentiment. If you have a story to share, please contact me at gsharkey@freightwaves.com.