By Ryan J. Stanton
Beyond the basic economics of a new highway-to-highway bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber says it’s an issue of Canadian quality of life.
At a luncheon this past week attended by Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general, the chamber’s John Petz talked about the traffic congestion he’s witnessed on the Ambassador Bridge, which dates back to 1929 and spits off onto a local street in Windsor.
“Especially for those who don’t cross the border very often, the Ambassador Bridge dumps out onto a street known as Huron Church Road in Windsor — not a freeway,” said Petz, who is past chairman of the chamber and a current board member. “This is a regular commercial road with businesses and residential neighborhoods.”
Petz, who works in real estate and public affairs for Domino’s Farms, encouraged those in attendance to picture 8,000 trucks a day being dumped onto Washtenaw Avenue.
“Imagine what that would do to your community,” he said. “This matters to the Canadian quality of life. This is important to what they’re addressing beyond the trade issues.”
Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, said Petz is correct in asserting that’s an overwhelming amount of truck traffic for a street like Huron Church Road, which she said might be more comparable to Liberty or Main Street in Ann Arbor.
“Think of all those trucks coming through, and there are a lot,” she said, agreeing with the need for a new bridge. “It’s a great idea and I think it’s really important for the state, not just Detroit.”
The A2Y Chamber first announced its support of the proposal for a second bridge to Canada last year and has continued to lobby for the project since Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed an agreement with Canadian officials in June. The chamber has submitted public comments in support of the so-called New International Trade Crossing to the U.S. Department of State.
“You may say, well, why do these international crossings matter?” Petz said. “What does this mean to us and our economy? There are 8 million U.S. jobs that are dependent on U.S.-Canada trade. This represents $689 billion of goods and services every year.”
Petz pointed out the Detroit-Windsor crossing serves as the main funnel of trade between the two nations. He said he personally can attest to the traffic bottleneck that exits now.
“This absolutely boggles my mind, but there are currently 17 traffic lights between Highway 401, which is the nearest freeway interchange, and the Ambassador Bridge,” he said. “There are a total of 18 traffic lights between Montreal and the Mexican border.”
On a personal note, Petz said, he’ll be pleased when the new highway-to-highway span — roughly two miles down the Detroit River from the Ambassador Bridge — is built.
“Because it will improve my travel options as I’m heading across the border to my wife’s family’s cottage out along Point Pelee,” he said, “and avoiding some of the haphazard construction-barrel shuffling that occurs with the current bridge as we navigate the schedule of their improvements.”
The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Monday voted 2-1 in favor of certification of a ballot proposal aimed at blocking construction of the bridge, but MLive.com reported the measure was kept off the ballot because it did not receive required bipartisan support.
The proposal, backed by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, would amend the Michigan constitution to require a public vote on any international bridge or tunnel project not completed by the end of the year, including the New International Trade Crossing.
The People Should Decide, a ballot committee funded by Moroun companies, collected more than 600,000 signatures from Michigan voters in order to place the proposal on the ballot.
The Morouns have been accused of grossly misleading television ads — funded to the tune of $10 million — claiming the bridge will cost Michigan taxpayers billions of dollars.
Canada, which is bringing $550 million to the table, has agreed to cover Michigan’s upfront costs for the project and recoup investment through future toll revenue.
It also has agreed to absolve Michigan of any liability for any part of the project, meaning the Canadians are taking all the risk, Norton said at the chamber luncheon.
The People Should Decide still isn’t buying it. The committee posted this message on its Facebook page on Monday:
“The governor says the bridge will be free… But his plan depends on a $550 million loan from Canada. The Crossing Agreement makes clear: So long as that loan remains unpaid, Michigan is prevented from collecting any share of the toll revenues generated from the bridge — and Canada will continue to collect interest. That could put Michigan in debt to Canada for decades to come.”