State chambers urge swift action to resolve funding for new Detroit-Windsor bridge customs facility

State Chambers of Commerce from across the U.S. including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, have all signed a letter to the President and Congress, urging federal funding for the U.S. Customs Plaza for the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

These states represent more than 40 percent of the U.S. population and all have signed the letter regarding the importance of the bridge project, the economic impact it will have on businesses and their employees in their respective states, and the importance of reliable transportation infrastructure between the U.S. and Canada at the Detroit-Windsor border.

Click here to read the letter.

Court’s rejection of environmental challenge clears next step for new bridge crossing

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” – Isaac Asimov

The new bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor took another step toward reality after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an environmental challenge filed by community groups purportedly representing the Delray neighborhood of Detroit and the Detroit International Bridge Co.  The court determined that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Executive Order 12898 (environmental justice) in selecting the Delray neighborhood as the anchor point for the American side of the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).  By taking a “hard look” at the environmental and social impacts of the Delray crossing alternative, the FHWA complied with the law.

Under NEPA, each federal agency must consider the environmental, human health, economic and social effects of any major federal action before it can act. The FHWA spent eight years, conducted numerous public meetings with experts and stakeholders, and issued over 100 reports on various aspects of the NITC in making its final decision, which was memorialized and incorporated into a “Record of Decision” or “ROD.” Under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), the court’s review of the agency’s decision is limited to the ROD.

Signed into law by Richard Nixon, NEPA is one of the oldest environmental laws in the United States. Unlike other environmental laws, its focus is not on regulated activity, but instead on federal agency decision-making. NEPA contains no substantive requirements, but instead sets up procedural requirements that force all federal agencies to consider environmental and other impacts of an agency’s actions before it can act and commit federal resources.

As long as the procedures are followed and there is evidence in the record to support its final decision, courts cannot reverse an agency’s decision, even if more environmentally or socially beneficial options exist. The process includes public notice and comment, and an analysis of the environmental and social impacts of a proposed course of action, including an analysis of other feasible options, including a no-action alternative.  Courts are extremely deferential to an agency’s decision and will not substitute its own judgment for that of the agency. In sum, NEPA challenges are very difficult to win for those opposing an agency’s decision.

With respect to the NITC-specific challenges, the court dismissed each of the following:

  • The FHWA “pre-committed” to building a government-owned bridge. COURT: The ROD demonstrated that ownership and governance of the new bridge was an open question, with the FHWA selecting a bridge that is jointly owned by Canada and the United States with some private involvement in the “design, financing, operations and/or maintenance.”
  • The FHWA did not independently consider and simply accepted Canada’s rejection of a new span adjacent to the existing Ambassador Bridge. COURT: The FHWA conducted its own analysis and found the alternative ranked highly in some categories, but not acceptable in others. That option’s downfall rested on the lack of highway-to-highway connections, significant community disruption and environmental issues on the Canadian side of the proposed bridge, and lack of redundancy (this is, one primary purpose of the new bridge was to provide a second crossing in the event of terrorist attack or natural disaster, which a second, adjacent span would not provide).
  • The FHWA considered the wrong “no-build” alternative, because a privately built second span with six lanes would have provided sufficient capacity for anticipated increases in traffic, which included the use of four lanes on the existing span. COURT: The Detroit International Bridge Co.’s own statement indicated that the existing four lanes would very likely not be available, but “could be” if “circumstances so demand.” The FHWA decides for itself what alternatives it will look at, but even considering the 10-lane alternative, the FHWA could consider that alternative unreliable due to the inconsistent statements.  Finally, the FHWA determined in its discretion that the “no-build” alternative did not meet a variety of other requirements.
  • The FHWA relied on old traffic data to support its decision. COURT: A Canadian-commissioned traffic study was not done for the purposes of the new bridge but done solely as a means of determining whether it could meet its financial obligations, so the FHWA could decide not to include it in its review.  Other reports were generated after the ROD was prepared and could not be considered in the review of the FHWA’s decision.
  • The FHWA did not conduct a “hard look” at the potential negative impacts on the minority and low-income Delray neighborhood. COURT: While there was some question whether the FHWA’s decision could be reviewed on environmental justice grounds, the FHWA did include environmental justice in its review in its ROD, so the court considered it. FHWA considered impacts early and consistently throughout the process, finding that the Delray option scored better on the local community than other alternatives.  As long as the FHWA considered the impacts and documented its review, it had the discretion to select its preferred option.

NEPA is often used by groups seeking to stop or delay projects from happening. If the plaintiffs in this matter were successful in their challenge, the result would not have been the death knell for the NITC, but only an admonishment from the court to go back and supplement the record with whatever item the agency may have forgotten to consider or appropriately document. In this case, the FHWA was extremely thorough and supported its decision with eight years of study, public involvement and documentation. This chapter of the new proposed Detroit-to-Windsor bridge has closed. Although we can expect more legal challenges, they will not be likely based on environmental or socioeconomic grounds.

Originally posted by: Crain’s Detroit Business

The Star’s View: Duggan’s photo op with Moroun doesn’t spell DRIC disaster

The sight of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan standing elbow to elbow with Matthew Moroun this week did more than raise eyebrows.

It made people speculate about whether the new mayor had formed some kind of unholy alliance with Matthew’s billionaire father Matty, the much reviled owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib could scarcely contain her disbelief at the sight of the two beaming men as they prepared to tear down an old and vacant family-owned building; one conveniently located right near their bridge.

“What’s very concerning is Mayor Duggan standing side-by-side with the Morouns — the biggest blighter in Detroit,” she said. Tlaib pointed out that bringing in the wrecking ball wasn’t creating jobs or benefiting the community, so why was the mayor in attendance? “I’m actually in shock,” she admitted.

The answer was simple. The mayor was there because it was the perfect photo op. How better to show he was making good on his promise to clean up the urban blight than by starting with the Moroun family, which just happens to hold the deed to so many of the decaying, decrepit and dangerous buildings in that city?

(And to another 150 or more boarded-up homes and apartment buildings in Windsor which were assembled so he could knock them down to make room for a second bridge on this side of the border.)

Despite Matthew’s claim that the partnership “demonstrates that corporations and civic leaders can work toward common goals of creating safer neighbourhoods,” everybody understands the real motivation behind the decision.

The Morouns will tear down this and two other nearby buildings not to improve the community, but to expand their bridge maintenance facilities.

Just as Duggan seized an opportunity to prove he was already delivering on his plan to get rid of thousands of crumbling buildings, Matthew Moroun took the opportunity to play “the good corporate citizen” by razing buildings the family traditionally leaves boarded up for years.

Ironically, the old Michigan Central train station, abandoned for decades and an iconic symbol of their neglect, is not located close enough to the bridge to warrant repair or removal. Funny how that worked.

We’re convinced this was a media event staged to serve their own best interests, and that it will not impact in any way on the new DRIC crossing.

First, the City of Detroit is among a group of leaders urging President Obama to fund the customs plaza on the U.S. side to get the project moving faster. Duggan is the city’s CEO and primary signee.

Second, no matter what he does, the province and Ottawa are not going to let Moroun set one footing of a second span on our shores. Unless we’re missing something, it’s a moot point.

Originally posted by: The Windsor Star

Automakers, unions, groups urge Obama to fund bridge plaza

Washington — Detroit’s Big Three automakers, a group of unions, several cities and groups urged President Barack Obama to fund a customs plaza for a newly planned Detroit-Windsor bridge crossing.

The New International Trade Crossing has won several key court battles and won a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a letter to Obama, the groups, Detroit, Grand Rapids and others, urged prompt action — and like the Michigan congressional delegation — want the White House to tap a point person to help speed the process.

More than 8 million United States jobs rely on trade with Canada and one-fifth of that commerce comes from Detroit, the groups said.

“With over $51 billion in vehicle exportation to Canada, the NITC will increase trade efficiencies. In the next thirty years, the Public Border Operators Association predicts trucking across the border will double. The need for the NITC is vital for long term job creation and economic growth,” the groups — including the United Auto Workers and Michigan Farm Bureau — told Obama.

The White House budget proposal unveiled in March doesn’t include any specific funding for new customs plazas in Michigan, including the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron or the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

“It is a gateway towards a brighter future in the City of Detroit. Many people will have the opportunity to train in the skilled trades through new and novel programs. Thousands of people will have the opportunity to work directly and indirectly on the project,” the letter sent to Obama Friday said. “The NITC would also be a key part of a transportation, distribution, and logistics hub that would produce long term job creation and economic growth. Detroit is in the middle of a fantastic rebound. This bridge will provide fuel to keep our economic engine moving forward, but it will also be a symbol of the rebirth of the city and the region.”

Canadian officials have said a federal funding void would delay completion of the new Detroit bridge past the original 2020 target date. The Canadian government expects the United States to finance $250 million for the bridge customs plaza while it funds the vast majority of the $2.1 billion new Detroit bridge. It remains unclear whether the Michigan congressional delegation could get $250 million inserted during the budget process.

Michigan Democratic lawmakers in March pushed for the Obama administration to name a point person for the bridge project. Gov. Rick Snyder also has expressed frustration the federal government hasn’t committed the money, which a Wayne State University economic expert said would delay the creation of thousands of spinoff jobs for Detroit.

“The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight, but we can continue to work togetherto make this customs plaza a reality,” Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in March.

The proposed NITC calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor.

“The NITC project brings together business, labor, and government to produce middle class jobs that Michigan desperately needs. This is responsible economic development the federal government should support,” said Michigan State AFL-CIO President, Karla Swift.

Business groups praise the plan.

“The NITC is so close to becoming reality. Canada has been incredibly gracious to fund the bridge, but it should be our responsibility to fund the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol needs. Canada is the top importer of U.S. goods for the majority of our states, and the NITC is imperative to economic growth, not only for Michigan, but the entire United States,” said Bret Jackson, president of the Economic Alliance for Michigan.

From David Shepardson, The Detroit News

Canadian Consul: new Detroit bridge a priority

Scott Pohl, WKAR

Canada has a new Consul General in Detroit. Douglas George has more than 30 years of experience in Canada’s foreign service, including working on the creation of the World Trade Organization and representing his country in places like Jamaica and Kuwait.

Now, he represents Canadian interests in Michigan and three other states. Current State’s Scott Pohl caught up with him for a conversation about his career and the role of the Canadian consulate in Detroit.

Douglas George says the major focus of the Canadian government in the Midwest these days is the push for a new international bridge crossing the Detroit River.

Listen to the conversation: click here

Originally posted by: WKAR

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.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Detroit River Bridge Inching Closer to Construction Stage

WASHINGTON, DC— The much discussed and long awaited Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge is one step closer to reality. The U.S. Coast Guard has granted a permit to build the planned Detroit River bridge, which will eventually link Detroit, MI and Windsor, ON.

The Coast Guard issued the permit after a U.S. federal judge rejected an attempt by the competing Ambassador Bridge to block the approval.

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge, located just a few miles upstream from the planned site of the DRIC bridge, wanted an injunction to prevent the agency from issuing the permit, but the bid was denied.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer said the Ambassador Bridge’s lawyers failed to show how the DRIC bridge would do irreparable harm to their bridge.

“We now have the presidential permit, signed off on by nine (federal) agencies in the U.S. We have the Coast Guard approval and the court case dismissed,” said Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.

The DRIC bridge has almost all the permits its owners need to begin construction, including a U.S. presidential permit from the Obama administration a year ago. The DRIC still needs to get some state permits in Michigan, which assess water impact issues.

The Canadian federal government and its private sector partners have agreed to pay about $3.4 billion for feeder roads, plazas, the bridge crossing and other costs.

The $250-million U.S. Customs plaza on the U.S. side of the bridge remains the only significant expense sill not covered. It has yet to be budgeted by Washington and could delay the project further.

Originally posted by Today’s Trucking

First major tenders issued by Canadian government to build DRIC bridge

The first major tenders for the planned $1 billion Detroit River bridge have been issued by the Canadian government, the Star has learned.

The move comes just days after news the U.S. Coast Guard issued a permit required for construction of the Detroit River International Crossing bridge and a failed attempt by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in a Washington courtroom to block the permit.

The tenders issued by Publics Works and Government Services Canada calls for companies interested in providing tolling services and electrical systems for the crossing. Applicants must respond by July 15.

Issuance of the tenders is a good indication how the time has arrived for Transport Canada to get construction rolling for the new bridge, says spokesman Mark Butler.

“This demonstrates progress for the new bridge,” Butler said. “The release of this RFP is yet another step forward in the planning and ultimate construction of the new crossing.

“The results will be included in the overall P3 (public-private partnership) procurement for the DRIC project.”

The federal agencies on behalf of Transport Canada have released a request for proposals to obtain professional services for Intelligent Transportation Systems and tolling systems for the DRIC bridge, he said.

Results of the tender will be included in the package for when an RFP is eventually issued by the federal government to find a private sector partner or consortium as the overall contractor and operator of the new DRIC crossing.

There are likely to be more such tenders issued for portions of the bridge project in the coming months so that once a final bid is put out to major global infrastructure companies to build the crossing, there will be detailed costs and specifications included in the package for consideration by consortiums seeking to be the builder and long-term operator of the new bridge.

The Canadian government is essentially paying full costs of the DRIC bridge project. Canada has already agreed to pay the state of Michigan’s full share — estimated at $550 milllion — to be used for property acquisition and to build feeder roads connecting to the I-75 freeway in Detroit.

Property acquisition in the industrial community of Delray — where the bridge will be located on the U.S. side — is expected to begin within a few months.

A preliminary clause in the state of Michigan’s transportation draft budget initially included forbidding any property purchases for the DRIC bridge, but was removed late last week by lawmakers in Lansing.

The estimated cost for work under the tolling and electronics tenders being offered range from $750,000 to $900,000, according to the document.

The bridge project — which will cost $2.1 billion once feeder roads in Detroit and plazas are counted — is expected to provide up to 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and take up to five years to complete. The scheduled opening date is sometime in 2020.

One of the project’s final remaining hurdles is to secure $250 million from the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration to pay for the U.S. customs plaza in Detroit. That is largely the only cost not being covered by the Canadian government or its future private sector partner.

All money being used to pay for the DRIC project is anticipated to be recouped through tolls.

Local MP Brian Masse (NDP – Windsor-West) applauded tenders finally being issued for the DRIC bridge project, but remains uneasy with the P3 process being used to build and operate the crossing. He would prefer to see a design-build model.

“This is positive news,” Masse said. “I am a little uneasy how this process will unfold given what’s happened on the parkway.”

The Spanish-led consortium overseeing construction of the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway was forced to ditch the company which manufactured over 500 faulty girders — 300 of which had to be pulled after already being installed.

Also, a Toronto-based company hired by the consortium to do lighting and other electrical work declared bankruptcy a few weeks ago, cheating dozens of workers out of thousands of dollars of pay they are owed and they are fighting to recoup.

“This is a good step,” Masse said. “But (building the bridge) is going to be challenging. We just have to make sure going forward (that) everything is accountable.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Editorial: Progress on much needed bridge

A key step forward for the New International Trade Crossing — the much needed new bridge over the Detroit River that will improve trade connections between the U.S. and Canada, should be celebrated across the state.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a permit needed for construction of the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor after a federal judge turned down a request from owners of a private bridge to block the permit.

The Moroun family, owners of the Detroit International Bridge Co. and its Ambassador Bridge, have fought to protect their privately owned crossing. But a broad coalition of business, labor and political leaders from both major parties have vigorously supported a new bridge to be built in partnership with Canada. The Canadians are so eager for a better crossing with improved traffic flow that they will pay Michigan’s construction costs up front, waiting to be reimbursed from tolls.

Land purchase and funding for a Customs plaza on the U.S. side of the bridge still must be resolved. Detroit is the busiest trade crossing between the U.S. and Canada. Improved crossing options with shorter wait times is especially important to the region’s automakers.

Let’s keep progress moving on this important project.

Alcohol decision was right

The Lansing City Council was right to support a liquor license for the Hope Sports Complex at its Monday meeting.

Public-private partnerships such as the one that brought an outside firm in to manage the Aurelius Road complex require a willingness to compromise, adapt and collaborate.

The majority of council members showed their understanding of that when they voted 7-1 to support the liquor license requst from Mid-Michigan Sports Turf LLC, the firm that contracted to operate the sports complex last summer. Mid-Michigan Sports Turf has made $1.3 million in improvements to the complex, and now wants to offer limited alcohol sales to create revenue that would help future improvements. Sales would be limited to a the indoor and outdoor seating areas of an on-site cafe; adults would not be free to walk the grounds carrying alcohol. The company has pledged to provide security during tournaments.

The complex hosts youth soccer, but also adult leagues and semi-pro football. The alcohol request is reasonable, as long as the company keeps its pledge of monitoring. The city already allows alcohol sales at events where young people are present with adults, including Lansing Lugnuts games. The council has done its part. Now it falls to the company to police alcohol sales and service appropriately. A good outcome all around.

An LSJ editorial

New international bridge project in Detroit wins final permit from Coast Guard

By Todd Spangler and John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Wasting no time after a judge cleared the way, the Coast Guard issued the last permit needed for construction of a new, government-owned international bridge from Detroit to Windsor that could put thousands of people to work in southeast Michigan and revitalize the trade corridor with Canada.

Word of the Coast Guard permit came today, even though the agency apparently issued the permit as early as Friday, the same day a federal judge overruled an objection from owners of the rival Ambassador Bridge.

While several issues still need to be worked out, the permit is a key step forward. Property on both sides of the border still must be acquired, and funding for a new customs plaza on the U.S. side still must be addressed by Congress or Canada.

“We have all the permits in place now,” Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., told the Free Press. “Every time we run into a speed bump on this bridge, we’ve found a way to get around the obstacle. We see this as very good news today.”

The latest speed bump came in the form of a lawsuit filed by the Moroun family, which controls the 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge. Arguing that the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) would consume up to three-quarters of the older bridge’s truck traffic and destroy their own plans for a second span, the Moroun family’s Detroit International Bridge Co. asked a federal judge to block the Coast Guard from issuing the permit. She decided against Moroun and also ruled that the Coast Guard was within its rights to hold up Moroun’s own permit for his proposed span.

Last Friday, as the Free Press first reported, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington ruled that Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family hadn’t adequately shown that issuance of the permit by itself would inevitably cause irreparable harm to their business.

There are still numerous hurdles for the NITC, including solidifying funding for a $250-million customs plaza on the U.S. side.

Michigan and Canadian leaders — with the support of Gov. Rick Snyder — have been lobbying for the customs plaza money in Washington. Also, purchasing land on the U.S. side has been slow, in part because of the ongoing court case. But the court ruling and issuance of the navigation permit could break the logjam.

The Detroit International Bridge Co., which claimed it held an exclusive franchise on an international bridge between Detroit and Windsor because of acts of Congress and the Canadian Parliament in the 1920s, had no comment on the development. But in late April, Matthew Moroun, the DIBC’s vice chairman and Matty Moroun’s son, said if the rival crossing got “all their approvals — and this is the final one — before we do, they’ve won.”

The Coast Guard refused to give the Ambassador Bridge a permit for another span, noting the city of Detroit had refused to sign off on certain rights to cross over Riverside Park.

But the Morouns argued in court that their own permit for a second Ambassador Bridge span had been unfairly held up purely out of deference for the NITC span, which has support from governments on both sides of the border. The NITC would be completely financed by the Canadian government, which would be paid back with future bridge tolls.

Canada and its American partners — which have grown to include the Michigan governor’s office, the Federal Highway Administration and more — have argued for the need for a new bridge for years, despite the bridge company’s claims that traffic projections don’t warrant a new bridge.

Many powerful businesses — including metro Detroit automakers — have backed plans for a new bridge as well, with their plants counting on just-in-time deliveries of materials on both sides of the border.

“This is very good news. The project is on track, and this is an important step in making the NITC a reality, which means jobs for Michigan families and greater economic security for our state and nation,” said Ken Silfven, a spokesman for Snyder.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press