Canada to pay for bridge customs plaza, U.S. to operate

Gary Heinlein, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Canada will pay for the construction of a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. government finances its operations, under a deal announced Wednesday.

A Canadian public-private partnership overseeing the bridge project will pay for building the customs plazas on both sides of the border and that the United States would staff, operate and maintain the Detroit customs plaza.

“This arrangement is good for Canada and for Canadians. It ensures that all the elements of the project will ultimately be delivered through a public-private partnership,” said Transport Minister Lisa Raitt at the announcement in Ottawa, Ontario. “It also allows Canada and Michigan to move the project forward immediately to its next steps which include further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side of the border.”

Raitt said the proposed span “is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border.” It’s one of Canada’s top infrastructure projects, she added.

The agreement appears to remove the largest lingering hurdle for the $2.1-billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River. The publicly financed bridge is scheduled to be built two miles south of the privately owned and operated Ambassador Bridge.

The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the building of the Detroit customs plaza through toll revenue. The Obama administration has made a commitment to staff and to equip the plaza at an estimated cost of $100 million the first year and $50 million annually afterward.

The Obama administration previously said it was difficult to commit an estimated $250 million in the federal budget for building the Detroit plaza because of a congressional prohibition against earmarked money for certain projects.

The Detroit News first reported this month that an agreement was close after several months of talks. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told The Detroit News this month that a deal between the two countries on funding the customs plaza was close.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in an interview Wednesday that Congress will need to approve the funding for the new customs plaza, but won’t have to act until closer to the bridge’s completion, scheduled for 2020. She said she didn’t think it would be a problem.

“The bridge has to be built first,” Stabenow said. “We all want to get this done as soon as possible.”

Canada wanted assurances that the United States would staff the customs plaza if it built the facility.

The key was getting a commitment from the Obama administration to fund the operations and equip the plaza. Stabenow praised the Canadian government for “working creatively with us to solve this last roadblock.”

“The final stage (of the talks) was just to make sure that everybody was clear that the United States would, of course, pay for the staffing and operations,” she said.

She praised the bridge as key to national security and Michigan’s economic future.

“This is really is the final critical step to be able to get this done,” Stabenow said.

She said the precise cost of the estimated $250 million to $300 million customs plaza could change before the final design is completed.

Officials from both countries explored other options but with the Obama administration refusing to propose funding and the Republican-led House refusing to add funds for years, there was little choice, supporters said.

While touring a high-tech plant in Lansing on Wednesday U.S. Sen. Gary Peters mildly criticized the Obama administration’s reluctance to fund more of the U.S. share of the project, but welcomed the deal.

“I certainly would have preferred to have the federal government being there. … putting up funds for the customs plaza but I think the important thing right now is that it’s moving forward,” Peters said.

“The key right now is to have … a commitment from the federal government to make sure that plaza’s fully-staffed as is necessary to operate it and continue to expand trade between Canada and the United States,” added the Bloomfield Township Democrat, calling the bridge “an incredibly important infrastructure project” for the state and federal governments.

Gov. Rick Snyder released a statement saying he’s “appreciative of the work of our partners in Congress and in the Canadian government to ensure that the New International Trade Crossing — important to both of our countries — continues to move forward.” He pledged to keep pushing the federal government for funds for the customs plazas there and at the Blue Water bridge in Port Huron.

As designed, the bridge would provide direct access between I-75/I-94 in Michigan and Ontario Highway 401 through a parkway in Windsor. Formal talks between to two countries toward construction of the bridge began a decade ago, and a feasibility study was completed in 2008.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor carries more than one-quarter of all merchandise trade between the two countries, currently by way of the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The two countries estimate goods and services worth an amount approaching $2 billion flow between the U.S. and Canada daily.

The process to build a bridge began in 2001, and a 2004 joint U.S.-Canada study concluded that additional border-crossing capacity was needed for reasons including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns. The State Department approved a permit for the new bridge in 2013.

Last year, 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.

In addition, a federal judge in Washington in 2014 rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who wanted 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

It appears we have a deal

Detroit-Windsor bridge plaza deal expected within days

David Shepardson, The Detroit News

U.S. and Canadian officials are expected, as early as Wednesday, to announce a deal to pay for a U.S. Customs plaza at a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, American and Canadian officials briefed on the plan said Tuesday.

The issue is one of the largest lingering hurdles for the $2.1 billion bridge over the Detroit River. The deal is expected to include a commitment by the Obama administration to staff and equip the plaza, which is estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million.

The Canadian government has offered to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the U.S. share through toll revenue. The public-private partnership overseeing the bridge is expected to announce it will pay for construction of the customs plazas on both sides of the border and that the United States will staff, operate and maintain the customs plaza in Detroit.

It was not clear Tuesday how much the U.S. government will contribute.

The Detroit News first reported this month that an agreement was close after several months of talks. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told The News that a deal between the two countries on funding the customs plaza was close.

The publicly financed bridge is scheduled to be built two miles south of the privately financed and operated Ambassador Bridge.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s spokeswoman, Sara Wurfel, didn’t comment Tuesday on any deal. But she reiterated “how strongly we feel about what a critical infrastructure project this is for the state of Michigan, the city and region, our country and Canada.”

“Discussions are ongoing between Canada and the United States. Transport Canada will not speculate on the outcome of the ongoing discussions,” said Transport Canada spokesman Mark Butler.

In January 2004, a joint U.S.-Canada study concluded that additional border-crossing capacity was needed for reasons including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns. The State Department approved a permit for the new bridge in 2013.

Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge, has been fighting efforts by Michigan and Canada to build the bridge, insisting it 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.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Saturday negotiations have centered on the Canadians fronting money for construction of the plaza and then be repaid by tolls.

“My focus right now has been to ensure that … when the plaza is built that it is fully staffed” with customs and border patrol agents, Peters told The Detroit News.

He expressed frustration that the Obama administration and Congress have resisted appropriating tax dollars toward building the customs plaza to be “a partner in this border crossing.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment to the United States government,” Peters told The News.

Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Editorial: Fund the bridge

The Detroit News

From the way the Obama administration treats Canada, you might think our northern neighbor was hostile, rather than our closest friend and ally. The Canadians want two things from the United States in terms of joint infrastructure projects: The Keystone XL pipeline and the Detroit River International Crossing, the new bridge that will connect Detroit and Windsor.

The former is famously held hostage to President Barack Obama’s political agenda, and the latter was curiously missing from the administration’s $4 trillion budget released Monday.

While we disagree with the president’s stubborn stance on Keystone, at least it can be explained as an appeasement to the Democratic Party’s environmental base.

Not providing the $250 million to $300 million needed to get construction of the Detroit River span underway is harder to understand.

The money would go to build the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Plaza to service the new bridge. It represents the only up-front funding for the project from the United States.

Canada considers the bridge so essential to North American trade that it is putting up the rest of the $1.5 billion cost; Michigan will repay it’s share by forfeiting toll fees. It’s a great deal for the state, and for the country.

That charity shouldn’t be necessary. Obama has said federally funded infrastructure projects are a priority and would create jobs for middle-class workers.

And yet on both the Keystone project and the Detroit River crossing, the administration is stalling.

The binational authority formed to build the bridge is proceeding the best it can.

Last week, it awarded a $17 million contract for engineering work. And the Canadians have been building the Windsor-Essex Parkway to handle bridge traffic.

But the customs plaza is integral to the project, and must be funded before actual bridge construction begins.

Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation say they are still hopeful a supplemental appropriation will provide funding for the plaza. Senior members of the delegation should use their clout to move it up the priority list.

Washington has scaled back on bridge and highway spending because of shortfalls in the national trust fund that helps pay for such work.

But the rest of the budget is packed full of non-essential spending. Finding the money for a special appropriation to get the Detroit River span underway shouldn’t be impossible.

Construction of the bridge is expected to create 10,000 to 15,000 jobs over the five-year build-out. Many of those construction workers will be hired from Michigan. That’s an enormous economic boost for the state.

Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, with $1.7 billion worth of goods crossing the border every day. A large portion of that commerce goes back and forth over the Detroit River, and the new span will enhance Michigan’s share.

This is a real project and one that soon will be shovel ready. The Obama administration should do its part to get construction underway.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Hiring begins for Detroit-Windsor bridge project

By John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press

In January, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a nonprofit Canadian entity that is leading the bridge project, sought applicants to fill a range of staffing jobs

The early organizational work for the planned new bridge between Detroit and Windsor appears to be speeding up.

In January, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a nonprofit Canadian entity that is leading the bridge project, sought applicants to fill a range of staffing jobs in administration, communications, information technology, human resources, policy analysis, accounting and finance, engineering, operations and legal.

Michael Cautillo, president and CEO of the bridge authority, said more job postings would be published as operational needs are identified.

A Windsor recruitment firm has been retained to assist with the hiring process. Candidates interested in working with the project should apply online at thejobshoppe.com.

And just this past week, the bridge authority announced it had awarded a significant engineering contract worth $17 million to Parsons to serve as the general engineering consultant for the project, which is known by two names — the Detroit River International Crossing (the Canadian title) and the New International Trade Crossing (the title that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder prefers).

Much remains to be done, including land acquisition in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood and — perhaps the thorniest issue — resolving who will pay to build the U.S. Customs and Border Protection plaza on the Detroit end of the bridge. The U.S. government, which will operate the plaza, has so far balked at paying for it, a cost that could total somewhere in the $250-$300 million range depending on the scope.

But as this month’s moves by the bridge authority show, the project is moving forward.

“This is an important milestone for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority,” said Mark McQueen, chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, said of the selection of Parsons last week. “With the selection of the general engineering consultant, the WDBA is able to move forward in the development of the (bridge) project. Parsons and their team will work closely with the border inspection agencies, Michigan and Canada as we design and eventually build the new crossing, highway interchange and inspection plazas.”

A California-headquartered firm, Parsons operates offices in 28 nations, including an office in Southfield. Parsons is a recognized authority on bridge design and has worked on Canada’s Highway 407 in Toronto and bridge projects in Ohio and Indiana as well as the John James Audubon Bridge in Louisiana — the longest cable-stayed bridge in the western hemisphere.

Under its six-year contract, Parsons will perform a range of engineering services including project management, engineering studies, technical design, utility relocation and development of the specifications for all components of the crossing project on both sides of the border.

Parsons has assembled a team of sub-consultants to support their work, including Hamilton Anderson Associates of Detroit. The majority of the team will be working out of the WDBA offices in Windsor. The firm will also be hiring local professional staff to assist with the project.

Still to come: Selection of a team of companies that will actually design and build the bridge.

Canadian officials have said that the disagreement over paying for the U.S. Customs plaza will not hold up the construction of the bridge, which is scheduled to open in 2020. The moves in January by the bridge authority show they mean business.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Detroit River bridge team issues first significant job postings

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

The authority overseeing construction of the planned $2.1-billion Detroit River bridge is poised to issue its first substantial job postings for the project.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority on Friday will open up the application process for nearly 20 positions — most related to establishing the executive team that will oversee construction of the Detroit River International Crossing bridge that will connect the industrial communities of Brighton Beach and Delray.

“Since the formation of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority in July of last year, the organization has been focused on making the WDBA operational,” said CEO Michael Cautillo. “One of the first orders of business was to start the recruitment process for individuals to work on this exciting project.”

In October, the WDBA advertised for several senior executive positions which are scheduled to be announced shortly.

The new postings will include jobs in the area of engineering, financial, human resources and administrative assistants.

“As operational needs are identified, further job postings will be published,” Cautillo said.

Jim Lyons, executive director of the Windsor Construction Association, called it good news that job positions are starting to be rolled out by WDBA, but believes the primary hiring blitz to build the DRIC bridge is at least another 12 to 18 months away.

“They are manning the office and getting the technical expertise they need to get the tenders out and evaluate the RFQ (request for qualifications),” he said. “That hasn’t been issued yet and then they will need a reasonable amount of time for evaluation.”

There will next be a short list created by the WDBA of major construction consortiums with each asked to assemble a Request for Proposal (RFP) to build the bridge, Lyons said.

That will again take some to time for the WDBA team to study and decide on the winning bid, he said.

The DRIC project includes four components — a six-lane bridge, a Canadian plaza with border inspection and toll facilities, a U.S. plaza with border inspection, plus a feeder road and interchange with I-75 in Detroit.

The tender process and selection of contractors could be more complicated than the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway because two countries involved with the bridge project, Lyons said.

The WDBA has retained a local recruitment firm to handle the hiring process for the current postings, Cautillo said.

Those interested in learning of the exact jobs and applying should look online at thejobshoppe.com.

“We encourage talented individuals in the local communities to apply for these and upcoming positions,” Cautillo said.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

New Michigan senator poised to lead fight and secure new bridge plaza funding

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Newly elected Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) listed securing $250 million for a U.S. Customs plaza for the new Detroit River bridge as a top priority Tuesday just before being sworn into office.

Peters, a Detroit-area congressman elected as freshman senator in November to replace retiring political stalwart Carl Levin, has long been a primary advocate to get construction started on the $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing project.

In his new role as senator, he called the DRIC bridge critical for both the Michigan and U.S. economies during a conference call with reporters.

“The international trade crossing is perhaps the most important infrastructure project in the whole country,” Peters said. “I will continue to push very aggressively for that.”

Peters has already secured a seat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — a key entity in Washington that decides spending and legislative priorities.

Peters indicated Tuesday he is also working hard to develop a relationship with Homeland Security boss Jeh Johnson — who DRIC supporters have been tirelessly lobbying to put money in the budget for the customs plaza in Detroit.

“(Johnson) just saw me in the hallway, raised his hand, and said ‘I know, I know, the bridge, the bridge,’” Peters said. “He knows where I’m coming from. It’s a priority. It’s something I’m going to continue to push very hard for.”

Peters will also sit on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, among others.

Committees are “quite influential” in terms of decision-making in Washington, said Bill Anderson, a Boston native and director of the University of Windsor’s cross-border institute.

“It varies from committee to committee, but in the American system, most of the give and take takes place in committees,” he said. “Whether you are in the House or Senate, getting a seat on the right committees is something every legislator really strives for.

“(Peters) having a seat on Homeland Security is a great thing. He can be a strong voice on the (bridge) issue. I hope he not only can appeal to the Senate, but also administration (under President Obama) in his own party.”

Peters also spoke at length Tuesday about ongoing concerns of petroleum coke — a byproduct from Canada’s oilsands. He was a political leader over a year ago to help remove massive piles of petcoke from the riverfront in Detroit.

Peters indicated he remains opposed to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada into the U.S. largely because of the petcoke issue.

“Petcoke on the Detroit River was not handled properly — it was blowing into people’s homes and businesses,” he said. “Detroit was just an example of what may happen if the Keystone pipeline goes all the way into New Orleans.

“We need a study on petcoke to determine its effects and best practices on how to handle it. I want to go from no standards to best standards.”

Local MP Brian Masse (NDP–Windsor-West) said having a seat on such influential committees gives Peters a chance to “steer the ship” and set the agenda on “issues he wants to focus on.”

“Having this (Windsor-Detroit) border reinforced in Washington is critical,” Masse said. “It has not been getting the attention it deserves. Having him there can make a difference. Just raising the issues and bringing it there is a critical component to getting any change.

“If someone can do this, it would be him. I’m confident in his abilities. He will bring this region to Washington. He is one of those type of guys. He has a real genuine interest in the area.”

Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Chamber — also active in lobbying to build the DRIC bridge — believes it will definitely make a difference with Peters in place as “someone who has really been engaged on the issue.”

He cited Peters’ being able to secure a seat on the homeland security committee, previously introducing legislation last term as a congressman to get funding for the bridge plaza, plus his growing ties with Johnson as positive signs.

Baruah said he believes it won’t be necessary for Canada to pay for the DRIC customs plaza — as Ottawa hinted it will do if delays continue.

“I really don’t think it will come to that,” Baruah said. “We have been working closely with the (Michigan) governor (Rick Snyder) and we think there are things afoot to ensure Canada does not have to pay for it.

“That would be embarrassing if that were the case. Canadians have already done a lot of heavy lifting on this project. Our position is this is U.S. infrastructure required for the U.S. government, so the U.S. government should pay for it.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Ambassador Bridge crash snarls traffic

CTV Windsor

Traffic was backed up on the Ambassador Bridge Tuesday afternoon after a reported collision between three transport trucks.

Windsor police say bridge traffic was slow coming into Canada and has stopped heading to the U.S.

A truck driver stuck on the bridge around 1:30 p.m. told CTV News both directions were at a standstill. He says Windsor emergency crews attended the scene. The crash appeared to be right in the middle of the bridge.

Traffic was also lined up along Huron Church road leading to the bridge.

Police say there were no injuries.

All lanes were open again around 3:30 p.m.

Originally posted by CTV Windsor

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