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

Politics and Prejudices: Matty Moroun’s very own congressman

How the troll under the bridge keeps Mike Bishop in his back pocket

Matty Moroun, the greedy billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, always reminds me of Sauron, the evil eminence in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Thought from time to time to be finished, even dead, he merely bides his time, recovers his strength, and strikes back.

Enter Moroun. The last few years have been politically wretched ones for Matty, or as wretched as they can be when you’re down to your last $1.8 billion or so.

But now he seems about to have his very own bought-and-paid-for congressman, and his newest “pet bull” is already vowing to help sabotage the new Detroit River bridge as soon as he can.

First, a little background: Moroun, an 87-year-old bag of fertilizer waiting to be planted, has one goal in life. Not to help mankind, find a cure for cancer, not even to enjoy himself. He wants to prevent a new bridge across the river.

The auto industry badly needs a new bridge to stay competitive. Canada’s economy needs this bridge even more.

So much, in fact, that they’re willing to front all of Michigan’s costs for this project; they’re content to let us pay them back years later out of our share of the tolls.

Right now, Moroun’s 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is the only way to get heavy components across the river. But it wasn’t built for today’s monster loads, and it’s wearing out.

Which is why a new one is needed. But Moroun wants to keep his monopoly, even though he is very old, very rich, and may very well be dead before a new bridge could ever open.

For years and years, Matty Moroun has managed to successfully buy off the legislature through the form of legalized bribery known as “campaign contributions.” He shelled out hundreds of thousands — and money by the millions rolled in.

One of his best boys was former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Four years ago, Bishop promised to allow the Senate to hold a vote on whether to form a public-private partnership with Canada. But Matty didn’t like that.

Suddenly, Moroun poured more than $150,000 in contributions to political candidates and committees under Bishop’s control. Guess what. Mikey went back on his word!

He refused to hold a vote, something that stunned Canada. Brian Masse, a member of Parliament from Windsor, called it “an international betrayal.”

For Moroun, it was just another day at the office, using his latest tool. But then things changed.

Along came Rick Snyder. There’s one thing about very rich people in higher office: they’re harder to buy off. Snyder recognized two things: A) business, most notably manufacturing interests, needed a new bridge, and B) the legislature was owned by the Morouns.

So he found a way to go around the trolls, and used a little-known clause in the Michigan Constitution to conclude an agreement with Canada. The Morouns filed lawsuit after impotent lawsuit. That just made the lawyers richer.

Now, pretty much all that needs to happen is for the federal government to approve the $250 million customs plaza any international border crossing must have.

The first few years after Bishop betrayed his promises also weren’t good for ethically challenged Mike. He was term-limited out of his Senate job. That same year, his fellow Republicans denied him their nomination for attorney general.

Bishop next ran for Oakland County prosecutor, and Jessica Cooper beat him like a drum. He then found a job as a lawyer for a credit-card processing firm in Clawson.

Eventually, he might have moved up to repo man. But fortune smiled on him this year; Mike Rogers, the congressman from Lansing, quit to host a radio talk show.

Bishop became the GOP’s choice to replace him in the 8th District. And the minute he got back to the political kennel, he ran to his master. So far, the Moroun family and that of his chief mini-me, Dan Stamper, has given Bishop’s campaign $18,200.

In return, Matty’s man has promised to try to block the bridge by preventing funding for the customs plaza, telling a reporter for the Livingston Daily that he supports Moroun building a second bridge next to the Ambassador instead.

That’s what the Morouns love to tell the ignorant. In fact, high-level Canadian diplomats have told me they’d never let that happen; two bridges next to each other would be an air-pollution hazard and a traffic-snarling nightmare.

Democrats have a decent candidate in Eric Schertzing, a moderate Democrat who is the Ingham County treasurer.

But the district leans Republican. Unless something drastic happens, voters are about to elect a congressman who will owe his true allegiance not to them, but to Matty Moroun.

Moroun, the slumlord of the abandoned train station. Moroun, the man who has done everything he can to kill a new bridge that both countries desperately need.

You have to wonder if they have any idea.
Rockin’ Down the Ballot: One of the odder things about democracy in Michigan is that we vote to elect the state board of education and the people who run our three major universities: Wayne State University, Michigan State, and that school off in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan.

Even odder is that this isn’t a nonpartisan election. No group of seasoned experts in academia or university finance is called on to help select candidates. Nope. The party hacks delegates to their state conventions pick ‘em.

What’s amazing is that we’ve usually gotten pretty decent and responsible people as a result, with the occasional old football coach or businessman’s wife/kid thrown in.

Ironically, the candidates themselves have almost nothing to do with who wins these races. Except for a few of their friends, nobody even notices they’re running.

Most people who split their tickets ignore these races. Usually, if more straight-ticket GOP votes are cast, as was the case in 2010, Republicans win all or nearly all the board seats.

When the Democrats’ top candidate wins easily, as in 2008, their guys win. However, this year the governor’s race could be close, which means these races could go either way.

Which means you should educate yourselves about the education board candidates, for one simple reason: Education is vitally important to any chance of an economic recovery.

Three candidates are of special interest. First, a negative: Whatever else happens, it is vital that Maria Carl, one of the GOP candidates for the state board of education, be defeated.

Carl is an anti-abortion, radical right extremist who hates the Common Core education standards, in part because, as her website makes clear, she doesn’t understand them.

Chad Selweski the longtime politics reporter at The Macomb Daily, reports that at a Michigan GOP state convention in the 1990s, Carl shouted “She’s a Jew! She’s a Jew!” when Andrea Fischer (now Newman) was nominated for a seat on the Republican National Committee.

Classy Maria then loudly urged Macomb County delegates to support Betsy DeVos “because she isn’t a Jew.”

Yep, that’s just the kind of person we want making state education policy … in hell. At the other end of the spectrum is Cassandra Ulbrich, who is running for re-election.

Ulbrich is everything a board member ought to be: savvy in politics (I first knew her when she was a young aide to Congressman David Bonior), highly educated, and dedicated.

Currently, she is vice-president for college advancement and community relations at Macomb Community College, and really gets the challenges our schools face.

The other must-win candidate is Marilyn Kelly, a former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who is running for a seat on the Wayne State Board of Governors.

Kelly herself was once a state board of education member; her knowledge of law, politics, education, and essential human decency mean she’d be a prize wherever she chose to serve.

Originally posted by Jack Lessenberry in: Metrotimes

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

Two Detroit eyesores that have to be fixed

It has been quite a while since we were able to get the cement plants on Detroit’s riverfront torn down, and it has made a dramatic difference in the waterfront.

Now we have to turn our attention to two major architectural eyesores that need the entire community’s action to get rid of or fixed up.

The Michigan Central Depot railroad station is a giant eyesore that almost symbolizes the plight that Detroit has had for the last few decades. We all know the owner and how he has fought the new bridge being built just a bit downriver from his existing bridge.

Somehow, this railroad station has something to do with his plan. There are some tunnels under the station, and I have no doubt it will become a pawn in whatever Matty Moroun’s grand plan turns out to be.

By all accounts, it would take far too much money to fix up the station for some business use, and so it would seem that unless someone comes up with a plan, the best thing to do is tear it down. Perhaps it should even be condemned, if for no other reason than it is a hazard.

Meanwhile, right in the middle of downtown is the legacy of our Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano: the half-built or less county jail. Sitting in a spot that was pretty inappropriate to begin with, it stands as a symbol of the corruption and inefficiency of our county government.

Hopefully, the plans for this jail will be transferred to somewhere outside of downtown Detroit. But in the meantime, let’s hope that Dan Gilbert’s plan for demolishing the structure can come to pass.

It is amazing that these two structures, separated by decades, can create such a blight on our image.

The city is doing a great job of attacking blight in our city, and there is a real program to eliminate abandoned houses or to sell them with plans for renovation.

To continue to allow these two eyesores to remain standing as the perfect photo op for every visiting journalist who comes to write about our city seems simply absurd.

Both of these structures have existed far too long without positive resolution. I am not sure how we ever got those concrete monstrosities removed from the riverfront, because it took several decades. But it happened, and I hope that we’ll find the same government magic to make these two structures disappear as well.

Maybe we can ask the Ilitches to tear them down when they’re building their new arena.

Originally posted by: Crain’s Detroit Business

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

Ferry owner favors Detroit River bridge – even if it costs his job

There have been many voices speaking up in favor of a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Top Canadian officials, Gov. Rick Snyder, big business all hunger for this planned new bridge to be built about two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge.

But one of those speaking up for a new bridge is someone who stands to lose his livelihood once the bridge is up and carrying traffic.

Gregg Ward operates the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. It carries the trucks hauling hazardous materials across the Detroit River, since the Ambassador Bridge is not certified for trucks carrying cargos like gasoline or paint.

Ward says it’s the larger picture that matters, even if that means putting him out of job.

“One of the benefits of this project is, there will be thousands and thousands of jobs, and thousands and thousands of families that will benefit. We have to look at this as a very large regional project that will expand our opportunity … not just look at ourselves,” says Ward.

http://cpa.ds.npr.org/michigan/audio/2014/09/ss_9_10_14_Ward_Bridge-ferry-owner_.mp3

* Listen to our conversation with Gregg Ward above.

Originally posted by: Michigan Radio