Aug 06, 2015 – 5:25 PM EDT
The University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute is hoping to make life simpler for those shipping goods across the U.S. border with a program aimed at predicting bottlenecks at the border long before they occur.
The institute received funding for the project from the federal government (FedDev Ontario) and has been collecting data from remote sensors at the Ambassador Bridge since May.
“What we’d like to do is to design a program that can tell you what the border is like now, but also what it’ll be like in a couple of hours,” said Prof. Bill Anderson, director of the Cross-Border Institute.
“With that type of information someone trying to get products across the border could see a projected delay and change their plans to avoid a bottleneck.”
Anderson said university researchers have been working on getting the study up and running for a couple years. The five solar-powered, wireless remote sensors attached to poles along Huron Church Road are transmitting real-time information on every truck leaving and getting on the bridge.
The institute’s researchers are plugging that data into mathematical models on traffic flow to look for patterns.
“It’s an IT intensive research centre for traffic in the border region,” Anderson said. “The main reason this can be useful is so much is dependent on movement across the border, particularly by truck.
“I think it’ll be extremely beneficial to the automotive industry, with its just-in-time delivery system that interconnects plants on both sides of the border. It’ll also helps the agricultural industry dealing in perishable goods.”
The project cost about $100,000 to get up and running. Anderson said it’ll take about a year before the system will have collected enough data to make some definitive conclusions.
In addition to helping the transportation industry and the customers it’s serving, Anderson said having more information will benefit border agencies. Such information could help in planning staffing-level needs or react more quickly to avert situations that could lead to traffic snafus.
“Ultimately, we’re looking to integrate this with other information already out there,” Anderson said. “We’re working with Transport Canada on using GPS information from trucks to help give us a better picture further away from the border. We believe we can give truck drivers as far away as London an idea of what they might be heading into.
“For trucks coming from the GTA, that might mean taking the Blue Water Bridge instead of the Ambassador Bridge or the reverse.”
Anderson said the information will be communicated instantly through any computer or mobile device.
“We welcome anything that improves transparency and predictability at the border,” said Jennifer Fox, vice-president for trade and security for the Ontario Trucking Association.
“Having predictability at the border is what breeds efficiency. It’ll help in planning different routes, when to load and off-load and knowing where the delays are.”
Fox said the OTA is particularly pleased to hear that the information will be easily accessible.
“Communication is critically important,” Fox said. “If it’ll be that readily available, it’ll provide some real gains.
“It won’t be a cure-all, because truckers are still beholden to get goods to their customers when they need it, but this sounds very interesting.”
Anderson said now the study will focus only on trucks, though the equipment can also track cars.
He said there have been talks with Michigan’s Department of Transportation about having remote sensors on American soil and accessing truck information on the U.S. side.
The ultimate goal is to create an information corridor for traffic flowing through Michigan and Ontario by plugging in truck monitors already in existence along highways leading to the border.
“They (Americans) haven’t signed an agreement to anything yet, but we’re all interested in making things flow smoother across the border,” Anderson said.
“This actually is a pretty simple idea to improve things and reduce costly delays.”