Detroit council wants a piece of future bridge proceeds

By Joe Guillen, Detroit Free Press

If the Moroun family builds a second Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit City Council wants to make sure the city has a chance to generate revenue from its traffic.

The council could vote as early as Tuesday on a much-debated land swap agreement with the Detroit International Bridge Company that would advance the Morouns’ plans for a twin span to the aging Ambassador Bridge.

Although approval would still be required from the state and federal governments in both the U.S. and Canada, the land swap would give the Morouns a 3-acre piece of land at Riverside Park in southwest Detroit needed for a twin span.

“If and when a bridge is constructed, the city needs to be able to participate in the upside,” Councilman Scott Benson said in an interview.

To that end, Benson proposed a mechanism to capture property taxes associated with a second Ambassador Bridge. The money would be used to offset air pollution, increased truck traffic and other negative impacts of a new bridge. The mechanism wouldn’t necessarily raise more money, but it would direct the property taxes to specific uses rather than going into the city’s general fund, Benson said.

The council’s planning and economic development committee also wants to set up a work group with the Bridge Company to figure out other ways the city could make money off another bridge. Benson said his idea for the city to get $1 off tolls paid by each car crossing the new bridge was rejected.

The council is expected to attach an addendum that incorporates Benson’s property tax capture and the work group to study a second span to the land swap deal Mayor Mike Duggan proposed in April.

A vote on the deal is on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting, but the vote could be pushed back a week if the addendum’s terms are not satisfactory.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, whose district includes the Ambassador Bridge, has a much longer list of proposed changes she wants made to the land swap deal.

Rather than transfer a piece of Riverside Park to the Bridge Company, Castaneda-Lopez suggests the city grant an easement for 100 years, with the city collecting 10% of revenue generated from a second Ambassador Bridge. She also wants the city to become part owner of a second bridge, similar to the public-private partnership that manages the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Furthermore, she wants the Bridge Company to enter into a legally binding community benefits agreement that includes requirements for training and hiring Detroiters, environmental mitigation and community investment.

Castaneda-Lopez said now is the time for the council to negotiate benefits from a second Ambassador Bridge.

“Everyone supports the park, the reopening of Riverside,” she said. “The conditions around a second span need to be incorporated now.”

For now, it appears Duggan’s office is leaving it to the City Council to prepare the city for a potential second Ambassador Bridge.

A list of 55 questions Castaneda-Lopez submitted to Duggan’s office about the Riverside Park land swap included nine questions about a second bridge. Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, answered every question the same way. She referred Castaneda-Lopez to the proposed work group, which has not been approved or set up yet.

Bridge Company officials were receptive to the property tax capture and work group, Benson said. A Bridge Company representative declined to comment Friday because the concepts had not been given to him in writing yet.

Councilwoman Mary Sheffield agreed the pending land swap deal with the Morouns needs to include some sweeteners for the city.

If the second span is built, that’s a significant revenue stream the bridge company could be receiving, Sheffield said. “How does the city benefit from that?” she said.

Under the proposal pending before the City Council, Detroit would give the Morouns about 3 acres at Riverside Park in exchange for nearly 5 acres of land next to the park that the bridge company owns. The swap would allow the city to expand Riverside Park and would give Moroun control over land needed to pursue a twin span of the Ambassador Bridge.

The Bridge Company also would pay the city up to $5 million for park improvements under the proposal. On top of that, the Morouns have agreed to install about 1,050 windows in the Michigan Central Station, a commitment Duggan values because it could help erode the train depot’s international reputation as a sign of Detroit’s decay.

Duggan and residents who support the deal say it is a unique opportunity to fix up the park and provide valuable recreational opportunities in southwest Detroit. Park improvements to be made starting this fall include new baseball and soccer fields on the northeastern part of the park, a new riverfront playscape, new benches, picnic tables and an improved waterfront promenade.

Sheffield said she is ready to support the land swap deal if it includes the addendum spelling out the work group and other provisions discussed with the Bridge Company earlier this week.

But Benson said he’s not sure. “I am not committing to anything,” he said.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

U.S., Canada strike deal to speed border checks

Melissa Nann Burke, Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Travel by roadway, rail and water between Michigan and Canada could become easier under a deal signed Monday by U.S. and Canadian officials.

The impact on crossings in the Great Lakes state is likely years away, though the effects could be felt sooner in other states if the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament approve it.

The proposed change could mean shifting some American customs inspections to the Canadian sides of the border crossings at Detroit and Port Huron, and allowing U.S. customs agents to carry weapons while stationed inside the Canadian border.

The deal — years in the making as part of the Beyond the Border Initiative — sets out a legal framework allowing law enforcement agents into each other’s countries to conduct customs, immigration and agricultural inspections inside the border. It is a process already in operation at eight Canadian airports, including Toronto.

“This agreement will help facilitate the legitimate trade and travel that keeps our economy thriving as we maintain utmost vigilance to the security of our borders,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. “We remain committed to our deep partnership with Canada, a true ally, neighbor and friend of the United States.”

A new process for advance government screening of business shipments and individuals could relieve congestion and shave off time while traveling between the two countries, officials say.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney said the “historic” agreement builds on decades of successful pre-clearance operations in Canadian airports. About 4.5 million passengers traveling through Toronto airport now go through the pre-clearance process before traveling to the United States, Blaney said.

The administration of Gov. Rick Snyder welcomed the development with Michigan’s largest trading partner.

“It is extremely helpful for goods to move quickly across the border in a way that still protects residents in both countries,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Monday, but noted the administration still needs to review the agreement.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor is the busiest along the U.S.-Canada border, carrying more than 20 percent of all merchandise trade between the nations through the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Detroit is also a popular crossing for travelers, last year ranking the third-busiest U.S.-Canada crossing for passenger vehicles with more than 4 million, behind Niagara Falls, New York, and Blaine, Washington, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Port Huron was the fourth-busiest crossing with more than 1.9 million passenger vehicles in 2014.

The agreement could cut valuable seconds and even minutes off getting across the border.

“It means the same number of officers at the border can process more trucks, and those officers can spend more time on those trucks who do require more attention,” said Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit. “Both our countries are very interested in ensuring there’s still a very high level of security.”

Maryscott Greenwood, an adviser to the Canadian American Business Council, said she expects arrangements for the Detroit-Windsor crossing would move quickly after the agreement receives legislative approval because of how busy and important it is.

“We’ve talked about pre-clearance at Detroit-Windsor for years because of how congested it is on the Detroit side, and how relatively less congested it is on the Windsor side,” Greenwood said.

“There’s always a complicated dance that you do in Detroit-Windsor with the various stakeholders, so that will remain to be seen,” she added, referring to the private ownership of the Ambassador Bridge.

The re-clearance operations would require approval by both Canada and the United States. Johnson said there will be “some negotiation” that goes into each border-crossing site, and “this agreement even spells that out.” The deal will be implemented at select sites “where it makes sense,” he said.

The trucking industry applauded the agreement as a step toward easing costs and increasing predictability at the border, although David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, doesn’t see Detroit-Windsor as a top candidate for a pre-clearance site.

Buffalo-Fort Erie is a more likely site, in part because there’s no space for a modern customs plaza on the Buffalo side, and officials want to relocate inspections to the Fort Erie side, said Bradley, whose group represents more than 4,500 Canadian trucking companies.

“In Detroit-Windsor, you really don’t have that same sort of issue, and you certainly won’t with the new bridge,” Bradley said. “They’ll have a modern customs facility on both sides and the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t have the same land constraints that you have in Fort Erie and Buffalo.”

Last month, officials said Canada would pay to build a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. finances its operations. The $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River is to be built two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge by 2020.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, supports the new agreement but called on the Obama administration to finish the long-delayed project to expand the customs plaza and ease congestion at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, estimated at $165 million.

“In the interim, it should employ every means possible to facilitate the flow of commerce and trade with one of our greatest neighbors and allies, Canada, including using this new authority to ease congestion, starting with the Blue Water Bridge,” said Miller, who chairs of the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also welcomed the agreement.

“Thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan depend on our trade and travel partnership with Canada,” Peters said Monday. “Today’s announcement will strengthen that relationship and bring new economic opportunities to both countries.”

How Michigan compares

Two Michigan ports lead the nation when ranked by the total value of goods traded with Canada.

1. Detroit, $133 billion

2. Port Huron, $86.1 billion

3. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y., $85.1 billion

4. Pembina, N.D., $27.9 billion

5. Champlain-Rouses Point, N.Y., $23.2 billion

Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Originally posted by The Detroit News

New $2.1 Billion Detroit-Windsor Bridge Promises Boon to U.S. Trade

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

Amid the gloom over the partisan deadlock in Washington over an infrastructure program and the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. and Canadian governments have quietly cut a deal on a new $2.1 billion bridge linking Detroit and Ontario designed to eliminate a massive bottleneck in the flow of goods between the two countries.

With more than $650 billion in goods exchanged each year between Canada and the United States, Canada represents this country’s largest trading partner, overshadowing China, Mexico and Japan. Nearly half of all goods that are transported between the two countries by truck each year – or roughly $131 billion worth – currently pass over the Ambassador Bridge or through an adjacent  tunnel.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is swamped by over 8,000 trucks daily. A combination of heightened border security and persistent traffic jams is creating a drag on potential growth in U.S. exports and imports along the Detroit-Windsor border. Some experts say construction of a new bridge would pave the way for a significant increase in trade in coming years.

“Among all the border crossings between Canada and the United States, Detroit is really the most emblematic of the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed,” Joseph Kane, a senior policy specialist on U.S. metropolitan areas, said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a huge scale of value really going across the border, and it’s not just a local issue where it’s just benefiting local workers and business establishments in Michigan itself.”

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge in 2013, but the project has been dogged for years by financial and legal problems and challenges from community residents.

The new bridge is to be constructed about two miles south of the  Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned suspension bridge that currently is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. The project also will include construction of new highway interchanges in downtown Detroit and Windsor to handle more easily the crush of traffic. Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020, although construction hasn’t started yet.

The deal was finally sealed after the Canadian government agreed recently to pick up the $250 million to $300 million cost of a customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security says that a “public-private partnership” will use tolls to reimburse Canada for the plaza’s construction. In return, the U.S. will pay for the workers, operations and maintenance of the plaza in Detroit – with a first year cost of about $100 million.

Much of the $131 billion worth of cargo transported by truck between Detroit and Windsor annually is high-value transportation and electronic equipment that is destined for regions well beyond Detroit and Ontario.  By comparison, the next highest volume border crossing, in Buffalo, N.Y., handles about $151 billion of truck traffic a year, or one third of what is trucked across the Ambassador Bridge, according to data prepared by Brookings.

Click here to read the entire article from

Editorial: Build the Detroit River bridge

Latest legal setback should end the challenges to new Detroit River crossing

Piece by piece, preparations for the new Detroit River bridge are falling into place. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared a potential major legal hurdle by refusing to hear a lawsuit brought by community activists and the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The challenge came from 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., owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The parties claimed the Federal Highway Administration, in approving the Delray neighborhood of southwest Detroit as the site of the new crossing, violated the social and environmental justice provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and other federal laws.

Federal District Court Judge Avern Cohn rejected the lawsuit, and his decision was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the Supreme Court has put the matter to rest.

It is the latest in a string of legal victories for Gov. Rick Snyder and other backers of the new Detroit River International Crossing.

Last summer, the appellate court also rejected the contention that the federal government had bowed to pressure from Canada in denying a permit for Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun to build a second span adjacent to his current bridge.

And earlier this month, the United States and Canada reached agreement for the Canadians to front the money for building out the customs plaza on the Detroit side of the crossing. As with the entire $2 billion cost of the bridge, which Canada is also putting up, the $300 million for the plaza will be repaid with revenue from tolls.

By now, the inevitability of the new bridge should be evident. Continuing court battles and other blocking moves is pointless.

Moroun, as well as the community groups, should stand down and let the process of building the bridge proceed.

Instead of continuing a futile fight, they should work with the state and federal governments to mitigate the community’s concerns.

There is no reason the crossing should be a negative for the devastated Delray neighborhood. The international trade expected to be generated by the bridge should create opportunities for warehouses and other logistic industry investments, and with them much needed jobs. The focus now should be on training local workers for those jobs, and making sure development unfolds in a manner that benefits the neighborhood.

As for Moroun, he should accept that he’s lost this battle. Further legal maneuvering is pointless. He has a major investment in the Ambassador Bridge, and it is natural that he would want to protect it.

But the government has no compelling interest in damaging Moroun’s business. He should be working with the state to assure there’s enough traffic to sustain both spans. Increasing trade traffic is the objective, after all.

Once construction begins, it will take five years to complete the crossing. There should be no further needless delays. This is a project vital to the region’s economy.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

New Detroit bridge owes existence to Canada

There is one thing to be said about the Detroit River International Crossing: Canada wants it; it wants it badly.

The new bridge between Detroit and Windsor has been a tough sell on this side of the border. Michigan taxpayers never were enthused about it, so Gov. Rick Snyder worked out a deal with Canadian leaders that funds the bridge’s construction with an estimated 2.1 billion Canadian dollars.

When the Obama administration didn’t include money for the bridge’s U.S. customs plaza, the Canadians again stepped up. The Canadian government has agreed to pay the $250 million cost for the inspection plaza on the span’s Detroit side.

If Canada’s financing of the U.S.-Canadian bridge appears unusual, it is. But supporters cite the span’s importance to U.S.-Canadian trade — and Canada wants that trade enhanced.

“A new Windsor-Detroit crossing remains one of Canada’s top infrastructure priorities for Canada,” Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement on the plaza construction agreement.

Canada will recoup its investment in toll revenue when the bridge opens. So Canadian politicians are assuring their constituents that the project won’t require new taxes. Everybody wins.

Still, it is worth noting what can happen when Ottawa is on board even when Washington is not.

Port Huron’s Blue Water Bridge plaza was scheduled for substantial expansion some years ago, but the federal dollars dried up. That didn’t happen before a large swath of the city lost its homes and business to the expansion’s footprint.

Apparently, Canada never was as interested in augmenting trade between Port Huron and Sarnia as it is in the commerce between Detroit and Windsor.

In any case, Port Huron and St. Clair County still are recovering from the scrapped plaza expansion’s effects. As remarkable as the effort to build a new Detroit-Windsor bridge and its U.S. plaza might be, there is little appetite here for revisiting the Blue Water Bridge plaza project.

The lesson is when Washington is broke, Ottawa might be willing to take on the financing — but that depends upon the project. The Blue Water Bridge undoubtedly is a vital instrument of U.S.-Canadian trade. Expanding its U.S. Customs Plaza proved to be less vital.

On that point, Washington and Ottawa seem to agree.

Originally posted by The Times Herald

Moroun loses another court decision in attempt to block the NITC

Foes of new bridge won’t be heard by U.S. Supreme Court

David Shepardson
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not review a June decision by a appeals court that upheld the Federal Highway Administration’s decision to select the Delray neighborhood of Detroit as the preferred location for a new international bridge crossing to Canada.

Without comment, the Supreme Court let stand the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ affirmation of 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 and wants to build one next to it.

The court’s decision comes five days after Canada and the United States reached a deal in which Canada will put up the hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a U.S. Customs plaza at the new Windsor-Detroit bridge and be repaid through tolls. The bridge could open as early as 2020.

Sara Wurfel, press secretary to Gov. Rick Snyder, praised the ruling last year: “The decision affirms the exhaustive work and public transparency that went into the siting decisions. This is the latest round of great news regarding the NITC.”

A panel of the appeals court wrote that the federal agency used a “a lengthy, reasoned process based on an objective analysis subject to public scrutiny throughout.” 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 United States did not “rubber stamp” the decision.

Mickey Blashfield, director of governmental relations for the Ambassador Bridge, last year criticized the appeals court ruling. He did not have an immediate response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

The highway administration “refused to consider the Ambassador Bridge Twin Span even though it was the highest ranked alternative in most of the environmental tests the (agency) was required to apply. The (agency) supposedly based its decision on the unsupported claim that Canada objected to the environmental impacts the Twin Span would have in Canada, despite no evidence of any such impact,” Blashfield said.

Opponents argued the highway agency’s 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 foes of a bridge crossing known as the New International Trade Crossing, which is to be two miles from the Ambassador Bridge.

In June, 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 in June, 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.

Originally posted by The Detroit News