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

The Star’s View: Coast Guard permit brings DRIC bridge closer to becoming a reality

Last week a Washington judge told the U.S. Coast Guard it had carte blanche to grant the permit needed to start on the $1-billion Detroit River International Crossing.

It wasted no time giving its stamp of approval, which allows the process to move one step closer to reality. And why not? The Coast Guard determined back in 2009 that the DRIC project had “no significant effect on the human environment.”

It was Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun who was having the significant effect, and it wasn’t a good one.

There was considerable cheering on this side of the border, starting last week with the news District of Columbia Judge Rosemary Collyer had quashed an injunction request by Moroun.

His lawyers had claimed the permit would cause “irreparable harm” to Moroun’s business, but the judge saw it for what it was — just another ploy to delay the inevitable.

The good news is that virtually every strategy employed by the ruthless billionaire to protect his monopoly at the Windsor-Detroit crossing has failed, including trying to take on the Coast Guard.

The bad news is that it won’t stop him from trying again and again, and he’ll be aided and abetted every step of the way by the indentured Michigan Republicans who do the dirty work for him.

A few weeks ago, for instance, Republicans passed a motion forbidding the Michigan Department of Transportation from buying up any property related to DRIC this year.

That seemed strange — until the details came out. Canada had committed $631 million so cash-strapped Detroit could buy up property to make way for the feeder roads and plaza in Delray, which is where the bridge will land on the U.S. side.

MDOT was supposed to manage all the money and spend about $300 million of it to assemble the land. Purchasing was supposed to start in the spring. To date? Nothing has happened. The process was paralyzed by Republican interference.

It was no coincidence. Indeed, it was a blatant attempt to stall a deal that everyone from President Barack Obama to Gov. Rick Snyder — himself a Republican — wants done.

If Snyder decides to go through the Detroit Port Authority to get that property bought, it would be a brilliant move that would help thwart Moroun and his sycophants, who seem to forget they were elected to serve their constituents. It would be a great strategy, now that the Coast Guard permit is in hand.

Snyder spokesman Ken Silfven was happy with the Coast Guard approval, saying “The (DRIC) means jobs on both sides of the border.” He’s got that right.
Not only does it mean jobs, it means flowing billions of dollars in trade through this corridor. Maybe someone should tell that to the Michigan State Republicans.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Property buying for DRIC bridge remains on hold in U.S.

The Windsor Star

Dave Battagello

Property acquisition in Detroit to make room for the planned $1-billion Windsor-Detroit bridge has been slow to get off the ground, despite the federal government’s $631-million budget commitment in February.

The bulk of those funds was to be filtered into Michigan to help start the process of buying up properties to make room for the plaza and feeder roads in Delray — the industrial community where the Detroit River International Crossing will be located on the U.S. side.

The Michigan Department of Transportation was to be the recipient of those funds and help oversee the property buying effort which is anticipated to have an overall price tag of about $300 million.

Government leaders had said property buying would start in early spring, but seems to be stalled because of political wrangling.

The state government’s Republicans threw a wrench into the plan a few weeks ago when they passed a motion attached to the state transportation’s budget forbidding MDOT from spending anything this year on property buying for the DRIC bridge.

The state budget is not expected to be finalized until later this month, so there is hope the motion will be withdrawn But property buying is on hold pending a resolution.

Property required on the Canadian side for the bridge project in Brighton Beach — largely vacant land — is already in the hands of the Canadian government.

“The Government of Canada is continuing to work with the State of Michigan regarding the acquisition of property needed for the U.S. components of the project,” said Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada.

“We are in the process of completing the necessary land title searches. Next steps will include completion of property appraisals, property surveys and environmental assessments.”

Butler could not say exactly when property purchases might start.

There is some discussion that Gov. Rick Snyder may use the Detroit Port Authority as a conduit to purchase property in Detroit.

The contract for the port’s executive director John Jamian was not renewed last week by the board, causing some speculation that the Snyder administration may have a role in finding a successor.

Jamian, who had run the port for the past three years until his contract expired, would only say “I accomplished everything I needed to accomplish in three years” in a story that appeared in Crain’s magazine about his abrupt departure.

Under Michigan legislation, the Detroit port authority may acquire property rights on behalf of a partnership or corporation “considered by the authority to be necessary for the construction or efficient operation of a project.”

A spokesman for Snyder’s office did not respond Monday to The Star.

Windsor’s port authority under Canadian legislation has similar rights, but there has been no need to go down that road given how the federal government already has the lands it needs on the Windsor side for the bridge project, said David Cree, CEO for the Windsor Port Authority.

The remainder of the $631 million budgeted over two years by Ottawa for the DRIC bridge project is expected to go toward pre-construction planning and utility relocations.

Construction of the DRIC bridge is scheduled for completion in 2020.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

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