U.S. appeals court upholds Detroit-Windsor bridge plan

David Shepardson
The Detroit News

A three-judge federal appeals court panel Friday upheld a decision by the Federal Highway Administration to select the Delray neighborhood of Detroit as the preferred location for a new international bridge crossing to Canada.

The decision upheld a 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn dismissing a lawsuit by the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens with Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups — along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the privately held Ambassador Bridge. The groups sued the Federal Highway Administration in 2010 over its decision to approve the bridge location in Delray.

“The record amply reflects that the (Federal Highway Administration’s) decision regarding (bridge) governance was a lengthy, reasoned process based on an objective analysis subject to public scrutiny throughout,” said the decision by Judge David Dowd of Ohio writing for the panel. The panel also rejected the contention the United States yielded to Canada’s opposition to adding a second span to the Ambassador Bridge, writing the U.S. did not “rubber stamp” the decision.

Opponents argued the FHA review and 2009 approval violated the National Environmental Protection Act, Administrative Procedures Act, principles of environmental justice and other federal laws.

The ruling is the latest setback to opponents challenging a new bridge crossing known as the New International Trade Crossing, which is slated to be two miles from the Ambassador Bridge.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a required permit for a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada — clearing another key hurdle in the high-profile project. A federal judge in Washington, also earlier this month, rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun for his proposed six-lane span alongside the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun’s bridge company has been fighting efforts by the state of Michigan and the Canadian government to build the bridge it insists will harm the Ambassador’s business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

The Canadian government doesn’t expect to complete construction of the new bridge for at least another decade. The bridge could take even longer to finish because the Obama administration declined to propose $250 million for building a Detroit customs plaza in its annual budget plan — but Canada may opt to loan the money to the U.S. for the plaza. The Canadians plan to spend $2.1 billion buying land and for ramps and highway connections.

The appeals court noted the process to build a bridge began in 2001 with meetings between the United States and Canadian governments transportation agencies. In January 2004, a joint study concluded that for a number of reasons, including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns, additional border-crossing capacity, connectivity and redundancy was needed in the Detroit-Windsor area.

U.S. Appeals Court Chief Judge Alice Batchelder and Judge Danny Boggs joined the opinion. Boggs and Dowd were appointed by President Ronald Reagan, while Batchelder was named to the bench by President George W. Bush.