Eddie Francis named to international bridge authority

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis has been named to the international authority that will oversee the construction of the new publicly owned $1-billion bridge connecting Windsor, Ont., and Detroit.

Francis, who did not seek re-election in last month’s municipal election, is the last of six members to be named to the authority. The appointment takes effect Dec. 1.

Craig S. Rix was also named to the board of directors of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) for a term of three years.

The international authority oversees construction while the WDBA will oversee operations once complete.

“Mr. Francis is keenly aware of the issues and challenges that face the community. I also warmly welcome Mr. Rix to the board of directors of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. Their experience will greatly benefit the WDBA and International Authority as they build the new bridge,” Mark McQueen, chairperson of the board of directors said in a release.

Francis is the only local representative on the authority that is designed to ensure the Canada-Michigan agreement to build the new crossing is followed.

“I commend the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority for its excellent choice in appointing Mr. Eddie Francis to the International Authority,” Watson said in a news release. “As long-time City of Windsor Mayor, Mr. Francis has been a key player on this file since the beginning. His experience and knowledge, combined with the public policy and governance expertise of Mr.Rix, ensure that the two authorities are well prepared to continue working toward the building of this vital, job-creating infrastructure project that is the future new bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan.”

Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder named five members back in July.

Kristine Burr and Genevieve Gagnon were appointed by Raitt. At that time, one Canadian was still to be named.

Americans Michael D. Hayes, Birgit M. Klohs and Matt Rizik were appointed by the U.S.

The group of six will oversee and approve key steps in the procurement process for the new crossing. It will also monitor compliance of the Windsor-Detroit Authority with the crossing agreement, signed by Canada and Michigan in 2012.

The bridge is expected to open in 2020.

The total cost of the project would be about $4 billion Cdn, including work on freeway interchanges, customs plazas in both countries and infrastructure work.

The new bridge will have six lanes and border inspection on both sides of the Detroit River, Raitt previously said.

The U.S. has yet to announce funding for its customs plaza in Detroit. Watson was mum on the progress of that facility.

Officials said Monday that the biggest hurdles now are time and procuring resources.

The Ambassador Bridge, privately owned by Matty Moroun, is 85 years old and has four lanes.

Originally posted by CBC News

Government Leaders Urge US Government to Fund New Customs Plaza

Government Leaders Urge US Government to Fund New Customs Plaza

September 30, 2014
By J. Carlisle Larsen

 

“I would rather have us do the right thing and just pay for it…”
—Governor Rick Snyder

 
The New International Trade Crossing has been in the works for well over a decade. First discussed and studied at the turn of this century, the new bridge was finally agreed upon between the U.S. and Canada in 2012. Since then, land has been purchased on both sides of the river; permits have been approved to build the bridge; and governing boards have been established to begin moving the project forward. But at a news conference held this summer in Windsor, a key question popped up. “What is happening with the United States custom plaza?” Canadian Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt had this answer.

“Well we don’t know what’s going to happen in the end. But what we can say right now is: we know we have construction timelines and they’re very important, ‘cause we want to get this bridge built, we want to make sure nothing holds it up. And we know there’s conversations happening,” She said. “But the important part for this is: regardless of conversations on financing, they can’t impede our progress on the bridge…”

Canada is shouldering virtually the entire cost of the new bridge—estimated at more than $500-million dollars. That’s actually been a selling point to some taxpayers since Michigan residents would not be on the hook for the project. However, state lawmakers have argued that the U-S government should take on the responsibility of funding the U-S customs plaza. But Raitt says, in order to keep the bridge on the timeline that Canadian officials want, they would be willing to consider fronting the cost for the American plaza.
“If push comes to shove, we’ll end up having that discussion and conversation. And I’ve said before, we’re open to it. But the reality is that: Governor Snyder is working on the matter, we’re working on the matter with the Ambassador to Canada from the United States…and that’s an appropriate place to have those conversations,” Raitt says.

And according to two prominent Michigan lawmakers, conversations are taking place to convince the U.S. government to make the new bridge and the customs plaza a top priority. One of those politicians is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. His administration helped finalize the deal with Canada in 2012 and he’s been a vocal supporter of the bridge as a way to bolster the state’s economy. Snyder doesn’t mince words about the slow response from the federal government when it comes to approving funding for the plaza.

“Regardless of conversations on financing [the customs plaza], they can’t impede our progress on the bridge…”
—Canadian Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt

“It’s to be used by the federal government to protect the United States. And how would you feel if you were Canada, to say you were being asked to pay for that facility?” He says, “I think it’s offensive to the Canadian government and the people of Canada. So, I would rather have us do the right thing and just pay for it or rent it. So that’s the part I’m working on with the federal government.”

Snyder isn’t alone in pushing the federal government to fund the plaza. Michigan congressman Gary Peters introduced the Customs Plaza Construction Act of 2014—or H-R 4057—in February. Peters says he’s working to get support for the bill.

“It’s critical that this customs plaza be built. It’s important that the US federal government contributes to that seeing as most of the bridge project is being funded by the Canadian government,” Peters says. “But the facility that basically houses the US government agencies—border control and customs, needs to be funded by the federal government and we’re in the process of putting together the pieces and the support necessary to make that a reality.”

But the Peters’ bill has been sitting in both in the Homeland Security Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee since February. It’s likely that the hold-up to moving it out of committee is largely political. Tim Bledsoe is a Political Science Professor at Wayne State University and a former Democratic state legislator. He says he’s not confident that Peters’ bill will get passed given the make-up of the U-S House of Representatives.

“First of all, Gary Peters is a Democratic Congress member from Michigan and the US House is currently controlled by Republicans,” He says. “And generally the bills submitted by minority party members simply don’t move in the House of Representatives.”

Bledsoe says the bill would have had more political appeal in the House had it been co-sponsored by a Republican–such as Michigan Representative Mike Rogers or Dave Camp–instead of a slew of Democrats. However, Bledsoe says it’s possible that lawmakers could see a similar resolution tacked to another bill in the Senate, where its chances of passing are greater.

“Once it’s actually in a bill that’s been passed by the Senate…there’s a much greater likelihood of the Republican leadership of the House persuading its caucus to go along with it,” he says.
That fact isn’t lost on Gary Peters. He says it’s crucial that the bridge project is a bi-partisan effort, crediting the Governor—a Republican—with being an important part of the project. He admits getting his Republican colleagues on board in the House has been difficult. But Peters says he’s optimistic that the customs plaza will receive funding in some capacity. He says he’s been working with the Obama administration—which has funded other border projects, such as the customs plaza at the US-Mexico crossing in Laredo, Texas. Peters says there’s still time to secure money for the Detroit plaza since the bridge is in its earliest stages.

“Funding for the customs plaza doesn’t have to happen today or even next year, you don’t build a customs plaza until you build a bridge and that’s a few years down the road.

So we’ve got some time and I believe we’re making some good, constructive progress,” he says.
“It’s important that the US federal government contributes to [customs plaza] seeing as most of the bridge project is being funded by the Canadian government.”
—Representative Gary Peters, MI-14

Until the New International Trade Crossing is built, goods and motorists traveling through Michigan will still use the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, and the privately owned Ambassador Bridge to get to Ontario. It’s estimated that nearly eight-thousand trucks alone cross at the Ambassador Bridge daily. Supporters of the new bridge argue the project is needed to guarantee that trade will continue to flow freely between the two countries. The new bridge is scheduled to open by 2020.

Originally posted by J. Carlisle Larsen on WDET News

Land transfer deal for new border bridge approved

DETROIT (AP) — The state has approved Detroit’s transfer of 301 city-owned properties to a Michigan land bank authority in exchange for $1.4 million from the Canadian government as part of plans for an international commuter bridge.

The proposal was approved Friday in Lansing by the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board.

All of the properties are in southwest Detroit and within the footprint of the New International Trade Crossing over the Detroit River between the city and Windsor, Ontario.

Canada is paying most of the $2 billion project’s cost and plans to recoup the money through tolls. Officials say they hope to open the bridge in 2020.

The loan board also approved transactions Friday that will help Detroit settle financial claims as the city goes through its bankruptcy.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: The Times Herald

Traffic chaos following construction near Ambassador Bridge

Traffic was at a standstill coming off the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor on Saturday.

“There’s nothing I can do about it. We’re held captive by the city,” says one distraught truck driver.

Transport trucks along with regular traffic was detoured to Wyandotte Street west down Crawford to Tecumseh Road West and then back to Huron Church Road.

On an average day, the detour adds about 10 minutes onto the commute.

On Saturday that that doubled.

“We worked really closely with the city of Windsor, Windsor PD and the contractor to ensure the detour worked very efficiently,” says Randy Spader of the Canadian Transit Company.

Southbound lanes off the Ambassador Bridge were closed to replace the railroad tracks intersecting with Huron Church.

“Over the years the tracks have deteriorated, rusted and the head of the rail separated from the web, so it cracks. So when the train goes by it could leave the tracks,” says Richard Gouin, signal maintainer.

During the closure, the Canadian Border Services Agency was reporting a 30 minute delay.

Originally posted by: CTV Windsor

$80 million for the train station? Skeptics doubt it.

Some say $80 million could put a big dent in fixing the exterior, public areas and installing HVAC.

In the more than 20 years since the trains stopped running at the Michigan Central Station, dreamers and schemers have suggested all sorts of new uses for the depot: a casino, convention center, world trade mart, Detroit police headquarters and more.

Nothing worked. All the ideas were dashed by the realities of renovating a huge ruin of a century-old building remote from the immediate downtown.

So it’s no surprise that skepticism greeted the surprise declaration last week by Dan Stamper, a top aide to train station owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who with his family also owns the Ambassador Bridge, that the Morouns would spend $80 million to fix up the station in coming years.

Some say $80 million could put a big dent in fixing the exterior, public areas and installing HVAC. But most developers interviewed by the Free Press said it would cost much more to restore the building to its former glory, with some previous estimates in the $300-million range.

Skepticism arose partly this week because of where Stamper made his revelation — before the Detroit City Council, where he was trying to persuade council members not to sell land in southwest Detroit for the government’s New International Trade Crossing bridge project.

The NITC bridge would siphon traffic and toll revenue away from the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun for years has been trying to block the new bridge. Promising to clean up the train station might have been a bid to win a few votes from a skeptical council.

Skepticism also arose because Moroun, who has owned the train station since the 1990s, has moved at a snail’s pace to renovate it. He has increased security and replaced a few windows but otherwise has left the station pretty much as he found it.

n 2003, when then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced the depot would become the city’s new police headquarters, the project was to have cost $100 million to $150 million. But there were doubters then, too, who said restoring the landmark to service could cost up to $300 million.

Then there are the costs of other, smaller historic rehabilitations in downtown Detroit.

Book-Cadillac Hotel: $190 million.
Fort Shelby Hotel: $75 million.
Broderick Tower: $53 million.
The Broderick is only 200,000 square feet, give or take — Michigan Central Station is almost three times that size.

“Eighty million, to me, is a drop in the bucket for that building,” said Roger Lesinski Sr. of Rochester Hills, one of the partners in the Broderick renovation. “I have no idea what they’ve invested to date in terms of the partial window replacement, but to restore that building and install all the mechanical systems, the heating, the electrical, the elevators, etc., is going to cost a lot more than $80 million.”

Others are more hopeful, albeit cautiously so.

David Di Rita is a principal at the Roxbury Group, which is doing a $92-million renovation of the David Whitney Building in downtown Detroit. Like the train station, the Whitney is one of those 20th-Century Detroit landmark buildings, loaded with jaw-dropping architectural detail and history.

Unlike Michigan Central, however, the Whitney wasn’t destroyed by scrappers, vandals and the elements. So while Di Rita is hopeful, “given the scale and advanced state of deterioration, that price seems a little light.”
Still, he said, “a great deal of good could be done with $80 million to put it back on the path toward being a productive building again. You could probably return the building’s core and shell, shore up its exterior, get windows, basic HVAC, fix up public areas, maybe the concourse. If they were looking to just bring the building back from the brink, that may be enough money.”

But if they’re going to restore the depot’s dazzling décor, Moroun would have to open his wallet a bit wider. When it comes to the ornate plasterwork and marble lining the station’s walls, floors and ceilings, “there is so much damage — and there is so much of it. It would certainly be the most expensive part of the renovation if they can pull it off.

“Most importantly, the building can be restored, and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand how well these buildings were built. Despite the neglect and abuse that building has taken, it is absolutely salvageable — and is worth the cost to save it.”

Michigan Central Station by the numbers:

$2.5 million: Cost, in 1913 dollars, to build
$58.9 million: Cost, in 2013 dollars, to build
1913: Year the depot opened, on Dec. 26
1988: Year the depot closed, on Jan. 5
18: The number of floors of the building’s office tower
8 million: The number of bricks in the building
7,000: The number of tons of structural steel used
3,000: The approximate number of employees who worked in the building in the 1940s
4,000: Average daily number of passengers at MCS in 1945
1,000: Average daily number of passengers at MCS in 1967
74: Number of years depot was in service
$110 million-$300 million: Estimated cost to renovate the building
$5 million-$10 million: Estimated cost to demolish it

Originally posted by: The Detroit Free Press

Detroit EM To Go Ahead With Land Sale For New US-Canada Bridge Despite Objections

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The Detroit City Council might not like a proposal to sell 301 city-owned properties to build a new bridge between the U.S. and Canada — but that’s not going to stop state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

The council on Tuesday unanimously rejected the $1.4 million deal to make way for a new commuter bridge to Windsor, Ontario, saying the proposal did nothing to protect the Delray neighborhood or its nearly 900 residents who would be forced to move.

Orr is expected to push the deal through, anyway.

Under Michigan state law, Orr has the power to veto council’s vote and go ahead with the sale. Otherwise, the council would have until Sept. 16 to submit an alternative plan. A state emergency loan board would then decide between Orr’s original plan and the council’s counter-offer.

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge project last year, but construction hasn’t started yet. Canada is paying most of the $2 billion project’s cost on both sides of the border and plans to recoup the money through tolls.

The new span would cross the Detroit River about two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge, from the Brighton Beach neighborhood in Windsor to the Delray neighborhood in Detroit. Officials say they hope to open the bridge in 2020.

The project is opposed by the owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, whose family wants to build its own second span. Records show the Moroun family has spent over $1 million since 2009 in their fight to stop a new government-owned span.

An estimated 2.7 million trucks pass through the Detroit-Windsor crossing, carrying $120-billion worth of goods annually.

Originally posted by: CBS Detroit

More tenders issued to advance construction of DRIC bridge

Several tenders to advance construction of the planned $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project are being issued over the next several weeks with the first being issued on Tuesday.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) is rolling out requests for proposals and seeking quotations on information technology, finding office accommodations, website development and others.

“These requests for proposals mark an important step towards the WDBA becoming fully operational,” said Michael Cautillo, the WDBA’s president and CEO.

“We look forward to having local and area businesses compete and for them to be part of this exciting project.”

Information on the RFPs and other opportunities will be published in local newspapers, on the MERX electronic tendering system and eventually on the new WDBA website.

Decisions on the RFPs are expected to be made within weeks, according to a spokesman for the WDBA.

More office and project related opportunities will be issued over the coming months, Cautillo said.

The WDBA will oversee planning, construction and operation of the DRIC bridge which will connect the industrial communities of Brighton Beach and Delray. It is expected to open in 2020.

Originally posted in: The Windsor Star