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Privately Owned Bridge Faces Public Criticism Over Security


The busiest truck border crossing in North America is the Ambassador Bridge. It connects the U.S. Midwest city of Detroit, Michigan with the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario. U.S. Customs officials says every year three million cars, 1.7 million trucks and $80 billion worth of goods pass through this gateway. The Ambassador Bridge is also privately owned. Since September 11, 2001, the issue of private ownership of this critical juncture has come under fire from critics who want either more government control or public oversight. VOA's Brian Padden recently visited the site and has this report.

After September 11th, long lines and hours of delay were commonplace on the Ambassador Bridge when heightened security restrictions went into place. But today, traffic is not too bad on this bridge that connects the U.S. and Canada. On a normal day, approximately 8,000 cars and 6,000 trucks cross this bridge. 25 percent of all trade between the two countries passes through this juncture. High tech devices such as radiation detectors, license plate readers and high-speed computer databases have cut down the processing time to get through U.S. Customs.

Robert Perez, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Port Director in Detroit, says this border crossing is both secure and efficient. "From a U.S. Customs and Border Protection standpoint, we consider ourselves in the port of Detroit, and specifically here in the Ambassador Bridge, the epitome of our layered enforcement practices," he said.

Still there is ongoing concern about security here because the Ambassador Bridge is privately owned and not accountable to any public authority.

Critics like Marge Byington say this lack of public oversight could lead to gaps in jurisdiction among the various federal, state, local and private agencies on both sides of the border responsible for security. She says a public oversight authority is needed to assure that the security agencies are working together. "I think it's best because you are dealing with two sides of the river, one Canadian, one U.S.," she explains. "It's an international effort and there should be cooperation on both sides between Canada and the U.S. about how it's run and participation in that process."

But Marge Byington represents the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership, which has proposed a new tunnel project to compete with the Ambassador Bridge. The president of the company that owns the bridge told VOA his company does cooperate with all appropriate authorities. The whole situation leaves many wondering whether private entities should be allowed to own critical infrastructure at a time of potential terrorist threat?

Homeland security expert David Heyman says private ownership, even when it comes to bridges, is the American way. He says providing security is the responsibility of both the private and public sectors. "Across ports, bridges, any kind of critical infrastructure, nuclear power plants, you always have this fusion of security from the government, all layers, federal, state and local," says Heyman. "You have the private sector and all of those together, must come together. It is not unusual, but after 9/11 it is the norm today."

Ultimately, Heyman says, it is in the private sector interest to protect the public good.

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