By David Shepardson and Chad Livengood
The Detroit News
The Obama administration has approved a presidential permit clearing the way for a new $2 billion six-lane bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor — hailed by Michigan and Canada as a way to boost trade and create thousands of jobs.
The State Department, which informed Michigan and Canadian officials of the planned decision late Thursday, formally announced approval on Friday. The lengthy review was in part to ensure that the decision can survive multiple legal challenges of the New International Trade Crossing.
“This is huge,” Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday afternoon in announcing the permit. “It’s more than a bridge to me. It’s about jobs and our future in this state.”
U.S. and Canadian officials hailed the presidential permit as a step toward strengthening trading relations between the two countries.
“It’s a real significant step forward for everybody,” Canada Labor Minister Lisa Raitt said at the announcement.
“We have taken today what is undoubtedly the greatest relationship between two neighbors anywhere in the world and we’ve made it a little better,” said David Jacobson, U.S. ambassador to Canada. “And that’s something to be proud of.”
But not everyone is satisfied with the bridge plans.
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Democrat who represents the southwest Detroit area where the crossing will be built, said she welcomes the bridge, but residents need a legally binding agreement to address issues such as air quality, jobs and community oversight.
“Gov. Rick Snyder and the United States and Canadian governments have yet to effectively address the negative impacts on the residents, local businesses and churches in Detroit that will directly be impacted by this massive project,” Tlaib said in a statement. “… The project must include a comprehensive plan that creates permanent jobs for Michigan families and supports local businesses and a community benefits process.”
Snyder said the major construction project is expected to create 12,000 direct jobs and as many as 31,000 indirect jobs.
“Getting Michigan-made products to more markets faster will enhance our economic competitiveness in the future and help our state create more jobs,” he said in a statement.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lauded Snyder for his “tireless leadership” while praising the economic benefits of the bridge.
“The New International Trade Crossing will be much more than just a bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario,” LaHood said in a statement. “As those who have worked so hard to move this project forward know, it will be an economic engine for the entire region.”
Still, the bridge faces legal challenges.
Several lawsuits have been filed to stop the span, which would compete with the privately owned Ambassador Bridge. The Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge and is controlled by Manuel “Matty” Moroun, filed suit in Washington in November to block it. The suit is pending. Moroun also spent millions trying to convince Michigan voters in a failed referendum last November to block the bridge.
Canada, which has been calling the new bridge the Detroit River International Crossing, praised Friday’s announcement.
“Canada and the United States are each other’s most important trading partners. The presidential permit represents an important step towards a new bridge, which will be needed for growing trade and traffic at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing with over 8,000 trucks crossing each day,” said Canadian Labor Minister Lisa Raitt. “This project will create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border both during the construction period and in the years to come.”
The State Department also has scheduled a telephone briefing Friday for members of Congress.
Jeff Watson, a member of parliament for Essex, called the approval a “vital” one.
“One-quarter of all U.S.-Canada trade, which is the world’s largest two-way trading relationship, crosses at Windsor-Detroit,” Watson said. “The Detroit River International Crossing will make a vital contribution to our community, the auto industry, Canada’s economy and the well-being of both countries.”
Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, applauded the news as “a huge win for southeast Michigan, and we can expect thousands of much needed new jobs now that construction can begin. The Detroit-Windsor border is already the single busiest trade corridor between the U.S. and Canada, but this crossing will transform Greater Detroit into a global transportation hub”
Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, said the U.S. Coast Guard still must approve the state’s pending permit to allow the project to move forward. The state must acquire additional land to build the bridge
“This bridge will be of an enormous help to the state of Michigan and the industries that call it home —including our valuable automotive sector,” Dingell said. “It will allow for more efficient international transfer of our goods and services, and is sure to increase exports from our home state. More importantly, this project will create 10,000 construction jobs in Michigan, and will encourage the creation of permanent jobs that new business will bring.”
Southeastern Michigan leaders also hailed the news.
“This is great news for Michigan,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “We need this critical piece of infrastructure to support trade with Canada, which provides more than 230,000 jobs in Michigan, including 41,000 jobs in Oakland County.”
The new Detroit-Windsor bridge is supported by more than 175 business, labor, and community leaders and organizations representing more than 10,000 businesses and hundreds of thousands of Michigan employees.
“This is great news for Michigan and North America. To ensure our companies can compete, they need the infrastructure to connect them to the marketplace,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “The New International Trade Crossing is a key platform for improving the flow of trade, and it will play a vital role in creating and supporting economic growth, including right here in West Michigan.”
Officials say the new bridge should boost trade between the nations while reducing congestion.
“The New International Trade Crossing expands our markets with our largest trading partner and will position Michigan as a global trade hub for decades to come,” said Paul Tait, executive director, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). “This bridge will make freight movement more efficient and give our border critical backup to expand our region’s standing in the market.”
Snyder has held several meetings in Washington this year with the Obama administration about the permit. Snyder’s office issued a media advisory Thursday saying the governor would hold a 2:30 p.m. news conference Friday to “discuss Michigan’s business climate and job creation at a growing Detroit business.”
Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the Governor’s Office asked him to attend the event without detailing what would take place.
Baruah said he met with Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, about a month ago to discuss the bridge. He said Doer had recently returned from Washington after meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry about the permit.
“He indicated that he thought it was close and that Secretary Kerry gave him all of the positive signs,” Baruah said.
Rep. Fred Durhal, D-Detroit, recently filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court challenging Snyder’s authority to enter into an agreement with Canada without the Legislature’s approval. After legislation authorizing a new bridge failed to get out of a Senate committee in 2011, Snyder bypassed the Legislature and signed a deal with Canadian officials last June that calls for Canada to build the bridge.
The Obama administration has backed a new Detroit bridge crossing since 2009, when then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood endorsed the idea, saying it would create thousands of jobs in construction and via additional trade. In January, LaHood said federal approval for the bridge crossing was expected soon.
“We’re just about over the finish line,” LaHood said in January. “They are working on it.”
Canada agreed to front Michigan’s $550 million share of the cost, which will have to be repaid through toll revenue. The Canadians also pledged to reimburse Michigan for any expenses the state Department of Transportation incurs in connecting the new bridge to Interstate 75 through a new international plaza.
The United States and Canada have the largest trading partnership in the world, totaling over $524 billion in merchandise trade in 2010. Thirty-five states have Canada as their largest foreign trade-partner, and 57 percent — $297 billion — of U.S.-Canada trade moves by truck, according to the Michigan application.
Approximately 31 percent of truck transported trade, or $91.4 billion, between the United States and Canada passes through the Detroit River area and reaches markets across the nation.
U.S. and Canadian trade supports over 8 million U.S. jobs; approximately 237,000 Michigan jobs; and 1 in 3 Canadian jobs. The Detroit-Windsor border is the busiest trade corridor on the U.S.-Canada border and the second busiest trade corridor in North America.