Canadian transport minister, Michigan governor announce plans for Detroit-Windsor bridge

DETROIT – Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday the creation of two international authorities to oversee the planned new Detroit-Windsor border crossing.

Speaking on the Windsor side of the Detroit riverfront, Raitt and Snyder said the project will be managed by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. The non-profit Canadian-based corporation will select the project’s private sector developer, oversee the construction process, as well as setting and collecting the tolls when the bridge is complete.

Another organization, the Canada-Michigan International Authority will manage the land acquisition necessary for the six-lane bridge, Custom’s and toll facilities on both sides of the border, and a new I-75 interchange that connects the bridge directly to the freeway.

The project is expected to cost $2 billion with Canada fronting Michigan’s $550 million share of the project. They will be repaid from Michigan’s share of toll revenue.

Michigan and Canadian leaders have agreed to build the bridge over the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor. The bridge’s Detroit footprint would be on the city’s southwest side.

Officials say Canada would finance construction of the bridge, which would open in 2020.

Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun has fought the proposal for years, instead pushing for the building of an additional span to his private bridge.

Originally posted by Click On Detroit

‘Major announcement’ to be made about new Windsor-Detroit bridge

A “major announcement” will be made Wednesday in Windsor regarding the New International Trade Crossing.

A source tells CTV Windsor that Canada’s Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will announce the bodies that will oversee the NITC project. A bridge authority and an international authority will be responsible for things like land acquisitions and procurement going forward.

The announcement will be made at the Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor at 10:30 a.m.

On Monday, Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr delayed the proposed transfer of 301 properties to the Michigan Land Bank in exchange for $1.4 million from the Canadian Government.The city of Detroit is currently under bankruptcy protection.

The $2 billion NITC is expected to open in 2020.

Originally posted by CTV Windsor

Announcement Wednesday on new authority to oversee Detroit-Windsor bridge

Leonard N. Fleming and David Sheparson
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canada’s minister of transport are expected Wednesday to announce the formation of a six-member authority to oversee the construction of a new public bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Snyder’s office said he will attend a 10:30 a.m. news conference about the New International Trade Crossing at the Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor with Canada’s Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who has been involved in discussions with Canada and U.S. officials about a new bridge, said Tuesday the new board will hold its first meeting Wednesday and said the bridge is making progress.

“This is about jobs. We can’t move goods. We can’t compete internationally without infrastructure,” Stabenow said in an interview in her Capitol Hill office.

Snyder has reportedly selected the three U.S. members and it is not clear who is choosing the three Canadians. The bridge will be owned by a Canadian “crown corporation” placing Canadians in charge of the day-to-day operation of the bridge, but oversight and ownership will remain joint between the two countries.

Stabenow, who has met and talked repeatedly to Raitt, praised Canada’s role in getting the new bridge

“We’re lucky to a willing partner that understands how important this is,” Stabenow said.

The bridge, which is to be two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge, isn’t scheduled to be completed until at least 2020. It still doesn’t have $250 million from the federal government to build a Detroit customs plaza, and the Obama administration has yet to try to budget money for it.

Stabenow said there are discussions about what a plaza would look like and possible costs. The board will look at options to pay for the plaza, she said.

“I would expect in the next few months we will have it worked out” as to how the new customs plaza will be financed, Stabenow added.

Douglas George, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, said he couldn’t speak about the specifics of the news conference but said his country and Michigan are “proceeding with the necessary steps to oversee the construction and running of the bridge.”

“I think the underlying message is that this is an infrastructure project that will be a benefit to both sides of the border,” George said. “The Canadian government has made it clear what the process is. We’re moving to the next step.”

The Economic Alliance of Michigan, a nonprofit that advocates for companies and unions, said Tuesday it is expecting the governor and Canadian transport minister to announce the formation of a bridge authority and an international authority.

Both bodies could help with land acquisition and other construction matters that are dictated by the crossing agreement signed in June 2012 by Snyder and Canada’s transport minister.

“It would be great if they were to announce the authorities tomorrow,” Bret Jackson, the president of the Economic Alliance of Michigan, said in a Tuesday statement. “These are the people who are going to make the decisions as to who gets hired, what the construction contracts look like. We hope this is an opportunity to use local workers and businesses to supply goods and services.”

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Detroit considering sale of 301 properties for construction of new bridge to Canada

By Khalil AlHajal | MLive.com

DETROIT, MI — City Council has set a Monday special session to discuss the proposed sale of land for construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River to Windsor, reports the Associated Press.

Land acquisition remains one of the few hurdles left standing in the way of building the long-awaited North American International Trade Crossing.

Canada plans to cover most of the cost of building the $2.1 billion bridge. Toll money from the U.S. side would then go toward repayment.

U.S. State Department approval was granted last year and the final Coast Guard permit came last month.

Council on Monday will consider selling 301 city-owned properties needed for the project to the Michigan Land Bank for $1.4 million, according to the A.P.

Officials in Ottawa and in Michigan are also awaiting a $250 million promise from Washington to build a customs plaza on the U.S. side.

The bridge would be a second commuter span between Detroit and Windsor.

Officials hope to open the bridge in 2020.

The owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge has opposed construction of a publicly owned second span.

Originally posted by MLive

Moroun fails at running a bridge with 21st century technology

Customers complain about bridge’s new tolling system

TruckNews.com

WINDSOR, Ont. — The Ambassador Bridge’s new electronic A-Pass toll system in its early rollout has been met with some criticism from customers being billed incorrectly.

The system, which uses an overhead truss to capture RFID windshield tags on trucks moving onto the Ambassador Bridge from US interstates on their way to Canada, complements a similar system put in place two years ago for inbound US trucks.

The truss not only detects RFID tags but has cameras to capture truck licence plates, USDOT numbers, and even names and logos painted alongside cabs and trailers.

But not all customers have been happy with the new system.

Rose Monteforte, accounting administrator for flatbed steel and machinery hauler Frontier Transportation Services in Beamsville, Ont. detailed a list of billing errors.

“They would invoice us and we’d get the invoice and it wouldn’t be our freight number, it wouldn’t be our truck, so we’d have to call and request pictures or backup and 99% of the time they were not our invoices,” she said.

Frontier has been getting paper invoices and was being charged on a credit card, which a minority of the companies use, according to bridge officials, who are trying to encourage customers to sign up for permanent accounts.

“I’ll get an invoice in the mail that they crossed and sometimes it’s not our truck, it’s not our licence plates, it’s nowhere near who we are, but they just take it off your credit card,” Monteforte said.

If using a credit card, users must agree to put up $500 along with a $25 administration fee to cover the bridge’s own transaction costs. With each crossing money is deducted and when the balance hits $50 another $500 plus $25 is added.

Monteforte also complained about the difficulty of reaching Ambassador Bridge staff to complain about errors.

“I’ve left messages, nobody calls me back,” she said but added eventually invoices are corrected. “I’ve never had a problem getting it taken off of our account.” 

Independent London-based owner/operator Ralph Allen called the system “an ordeal.”

He signed up for an account through his credit card and was billed 17 times “all at once” and 14 of those “were not mine” with some charges for companies as far away as Illinois.

“So it took about five weeks to get this straightened out, you can’t get them on the phone,” he said. “Actually e-mail is the only way you can get a hold of them.”

Allen was so put off he now refuses to use the Ambassador Bridge, opting instead for the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron.

Danny Kang, operations manager of Ranger Truck Lines in Brampton, Ont., which hauls mixed freight and whose trucks cross the Ambassador as many as 30 times a week, said his company was also a victim of false billings and said larger firms are especially vulnerable because their accounts are larger and more detailed.

“We had to get some corrected but you know when there’s so many (trucks) going through it’s really hard to catch every single one,” he said.

Ambassador Bridge officials admit there were teething problems after the system opened this spring.

“There were problems at the beginning,” said Stan Korosec, the bridge’s director of security and government relations. “I fully admit to that but I think we’re getting better now.”

The same, he said, might explain delays in the company responding to complaints. “We had a lot of issues in the beginning that (staff) had to work through so they were probably swamped,” he said.

Korosec said the bridge processes more than 10,000 transactions a day so some errors will occur. 

But bridge officials said the vast majority of problems are related to the fact drivers have not signed up for permanent accounts where billing is sent weekly by e-mail, a more efficient and transparent method.

Bridge chief financial officer Peter Farah called that system “in my mind 100% foolproof.” 

He said where most errors occur is when users don’t have RFID tags and where photos of their licence plates or company names and USDOT numbers are instead used for billing.

In these cases bridge staff have to individually track the users down, sometimes by looking up company internet sites or even through phone books, finding addresses and billing accordingly. That’s where mistakes can occur because information may be outdated.

“I’m not saying we’re 100% perfect when it comes to the manual – all I’m saying it leaves it open for potential errors and we double-check all of our work so we’re quite confident we’re sending the proper invoice,” Farah said.

One reason some truckers, especially smaller operators, might not sign up for a permanent account is because of the cost of the initial “security deposit.”

Farah said the deposit is based on the vehicle’s average crossings per month with a minimum charge of $1,000 and if customers are delinquent the bridge can draw from it. “But again it’s their money and they get it back when they leave,” he said.

Originally posted by TruckNews.com

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

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