The Star’s View: Bridge maintenance seems sorely lacking

Slow-moving traffic on the Ambassador Bridge turned out to be a real eye opener for Robert Hood.

The long-haul driver from Peterborough had nothing better to do than look around while waiting to cross into Detroit, and what he saw were guard rails that were in “shocking shape,” with missing sections, heavy rust and cracks.

“It’s hanging. It’s ready to fall. There’s nothing holding it up other than broken clamps,” he said of the section leading from the Canadian plaza to the newer main span. The sight so troubled Hood that he started snapping pictures.

People appreciate the fact Hood sounded the alarm bells, but Windsorites already know the 85-year-old bridge is full of rust and holes and crumbling concrete.

That’s been public knowledge since 2009, when Matty Moroun, the bridge’s billionaire owner, lost his court fight to keep secret a report outlining the condition of the structure. It wasn’t that we couldn’t see the damage. It’s that we wanted to know what the experts had to say about it. A U.S. safety report revealed that, among other things, Moroun’s bridge was in “fair” condition, needed “major maintenance or repairs,” and there were missing bolts, deteriorating support channels, rails that didn’t meet current standards and rail posts that would having trouble withstanding vehicular impact. (Man overboard!)

Some things changed, but many didn’t.

The results of a 2012 report, on the bridge’s 83rd birthday, showed there were still significant problems.

In fact, it had University of Windsor students and faculty fearing the still-crumbling concrete and holes were a danger to both them and their vehicles. “When you see trucks driving over the holes, that can’t be good,” said one university staffer. No kidding.

Transport Canada indicated in 2013 it was satisfied the bridge was complying with report requirements regarding inspections, maintenance and repairs. But the agency didn’t say that meant it was satisfied with the actual work.

When asked about the guard rails in question, Dan Stamper, president of the Canadian Transit Company, indicated they were awaiting government approval to add new foundations, decking, lighting and hand rails.

The truth is, Stamper is awaiting approval for things unrelated to current safety requirements, namely a six-lane approach on the Canadian side and the twinning of the Ambassador Bridge.

We all know hell would freeze over before that happens, but that doesn’t mean Stamper and his successors can wait forever to fix what’s wrong.

Officials on both sides of the border haven’t cautioned people against driving on the bridge. But they’ve raised enough red flags — over and over — to show Moroun does the bare minimum, and only because it’s a matter of public record.

Originally posted by: The Windsor Star

Editorial: Another step forward on a new bridge

There is progress on the New International Trade Crossing. That bodes well for all of Michigan, the U.S. and Canada, as a more efficient crossing will benefit business on both sides of the border.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced a new authority to oversee construction of the bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will be international. Snyder named three members at a news conference this week.

The Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, have fought relentlessly to block the bridge project, but their efforts — including an attempt to pass a 2012 ballot proposal that would have hampered the bridge project — have failed.

While there remains a question of federal funding to construct a customs plaza in Detroit, Snyder and Raitt said that would not stand in the way of efforts to begin construction of the bridge, called by Snyder the New International Trade Crossing.

One hurdle still ahead: U.S. government officials have not yet committed funds for a customs plaza needed as part of the project. Michigan’s congressional delegation should keep that need top-of-mind — and Michigan voters should question candidates about it this fall.

The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the nation’s busiest. Automakers and other manufacturers, as well as major business groups, former governors from both political parties and numerous others support the new bridge. Canadian officials want a better route than the existing bridge provides for traffic on their side of the crossing. Business wants better efficiency. And many note that private ownership of a major international bridge is a risk to national security.

Snyder has kept this project moving. Now the Congressional delegation must do its part.

An LSJ editorial

Snyder, Canadian transportation minister vow new bridge will be built

Canada’s top transportation minister vowed today that construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor won’t be stopped by a dispute with the U.S. federal government over paying for a new customs plaza on the Detroit side.

The U.S. government so far has failed to commit to funding the U. S. Customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing bridge between Detroit and Windsor, set to open in 2020. Failing to agree to pay for the roughly $250-million facility where incoming trucks would be inspected by U.S. Customs workers has been a sore point in the ongoing bridge saga.

At a news conference this morning to announce the members of two bodies that will build and oversee the bridge project, Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said that the dispute over paying for the plaza on the Detroit end of the new bridge will be resolved.

“Our government won’t let financing disagreements get in the way of construction time lines,” Raitt, flanked by Gov. Rick Snyder, said. “We are going to be building a bridge, and we are going to stick to our time lines. … It’s time to get the work done and financing arrangements in our point of view will not hold up our construction time lines.”

At the news conference, Raitt and Snyder announced the appointments to the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a Canadian entity that will build the span, and to the joint International Authority, which will oversee the project.

The WDBA will hire a private contractor or team of contractors to perform the actual construction work. The International Authority will settle disputes on procurement of materials and hiring of workers, tasks that are supposed to be split equally between Canadian and U.S. firms and workers.

The three Michigan representatives appointed by Snyder to the six-member International Authority were Michael Hayes, president and CEO of the Midland Center for the Arts and a former vice president with Dow Chemical; Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of the Right Place, a West Michigan economic development agency; and Matt Rizik, the chief tax officer of Rock Ventures and a former longtime partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Snyder, echoing his earlier comments on the matter of the customs plaza funding , chided the U.S. federal government for its failure to commit to funding the facility.

“That’s something I’m going to continue to have strong and ongoing dialogue with the United States government,” he told the news conference on the Canadian waterfront. “The government of Canada has been fabulous. To be blunt, I think the U.S. federal government needs to do a better job.” To the extent that the U.S. government doesn’t want to pay for its own facility, Snyder said, “I don’t believe that’s a rational position to take, and I think it’s something that’s inappropriate.”

But both Raitt and Snyder emphasized the positive today. Snyder noted that the bridge project has received multiple permits and approvals in the past year, and the appointments announced today will allow the project to move ahead even faster.

“We’re on a time line to get this bridge built,” Snyder said.

The bridge project, known as the New International Trade Crossing in Michigan and as the Detroit River International Crossing in Canada, will cost about $950 million. Because Michigan legislators have blocked any state funding for the project, Canadian is fronting all the costs except for the customs plaza and will be paid back through future tolls.

Some observers have suggested that Canada might even pay upfront for the customs plaza, too, and be repaid through tolls, but Michigan officials, both within the Snyder administration and among the state’s congressional delegation, are working hard to convince U.S. officials to pay for the customs plaza.

They see it as a matter of fairness for the U.S. to pay for its own facility. And they worry that if Canada has to pay even for a U.S. customs plaza, negotiating with Canada over other issues will become more difficult.

With a planned opening in 2020, the new bridge project remains in the early stages of planning and organization. The first visible signs that something is happening may occur later this year as the Michigan Department of Transportation, using Canadian money advanced for the project, begins buying up the hundreds of parcels in southwest Detroit’s Delray district needed for the bridge approaches and customs plaza.

Originally posted by John Gallagher in the Detroit Free Press

‘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

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

The Star’s View: Duggan’s photo op with Moroun doesn’t spell DRIC disaster

The sight of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan standing elbow to elbow with Matthew Moroun this week did more than raise eyebrows.

It made people speculate about whether the new mayor had formed some kind of unholy alliance with Matthew’s billionaire father Matty, the much reviled owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib could scarcely contain her disbelief at the sight of the two beaming men as they prepared to tear down an old and vacant family-owned building; one conveniently located right near their bridge.

“What’s very concerning is Mayor Duggan standing side-by-side with the Morouns — the biggest blighter in Detroit,” she said. Tlaib pointed out that bringing in the wrecking ball wasn’t creating jobs or benefiting the community, so why was the mayor in attendance? “I’m actually in shock,” she admitted.

The answer was simple. The mayor was there because it was the perfect photo op. How better to show he was making good on his promise to clean up the urban blight than by starting with the Moroun family, which just happens to hold the deed to so many of the decaying, decrepit and dangerous buildings in that city?

(And to another 150 or more boarded-up homes and apartment buildings in Windsor which were assembled so he could knock them down to make room for a second bridge on this side of the border.)

Despite Matthew’s claim that the partnership “demonstrates that corporations and civic leaders can work toward common goals of creating safer neighbourhoods,” everybody understands the real motivation behind the decision.

The Morouns will tear down this and two other nearby buildings not to improve the community, but to expand their bridge maintenance facilities.

Just as Duggan seized an opportunity to prove he was already delivering on his plan to get rid of thousands of crumbling buildings, Matthew Moroun took the opportunity to play “the good corporate citizen” by razing buildings the family traditionally leaves boarded up for years.

Ironically, the old Michigan Central train station, abandoned for decades and an iconic symbol of their neglect, is not located close enough to the bridge to warrant repair or removal. Funny how that worked.

We’re convinced this was a media event staged to serve their own best interests, and that it will not impact in any way on the new DRIC crossing.

First, the City of Detroit is among a group of leaders urging President Obama to fund the customs plaza on the U.S. side to get the project moving faster. Duggan is the city’s CEO and primary signee.

Second, no matter what he does, the province and Ottawa are not going to let Moroun set one footing of a second span on our shores. Unless we’re missing something, it’s a moot point.

Originally posted by: The Windsor Star

Automakers, unions, groups urge Obama to fund bridge plaza

Washington — Detroit’s Big Three automakers, a group of unions, several cities and groups urged President Barack Obama to fund a customs plaza for a newly planned Detroit-Windsor bridge crossing.

The New International Trade Crossing has won several key court battles and won a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a letter to Obama, the groups, Detroit, Grand Rapids and others, urged prompt action — and like the Michigan congressional delegation — want the White House to tap a point person to help speed the process.

More than 8 million United States jobs rely on trade with Canada and one-fifth of that commerce comes from Detroit, the groups said.

“With over $51 billion in vehicle exportation to Canada, the NITC will increase trade efficiencies. In the next thirty years, the Public Border Operators Association predicts trucking across the border will double. The need for the NITC is vital for long term job creation and economic growth,” the groups — including the United Auto Workers and Michigan Farm Bureau — told Obama.

The White House budget proposal unveiled in March doesn’t include any specific funding for new customs plazas in Michigan, including the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron or the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

“It is a gateway towards a brighter future in the City of Detroit. Many people will have the opportunity to train in the skilled trades through new and novel programs. Thousands of people will have the opportunity to work directly and indirectly on the project,” the letter sent to Obama Friday said. “The NITC would also be a key part of a transportation, distribution, and logistics hub that would produce long term job creation and economic growth. Detroit is in the middle of a fantastic rebound. This bridge will provide fuel to keep our economic engine moving forward, but it will also be a symbol of the rebirth of the city and the region.”

Canadian officials have said a federal funding void would delay completion of the new Detroit bridge past the original 2020 target date. The Canadian government expects the United States to finance $250 million for the bridge customs plaza while it funds the vast majority of the $2.1 billion new Detroit bridge. It remains unclear whether the Michigan congressional delegation could get $250 million inserted during the budget process.

Michigan Democratic lawmakers in March pushed for the Obama administration to name a point person for the bridge project. Gov. Rick Snyder also has expressed frustration the federal government hasn’t committed the money, which a Wayne State University economic expert said would delay the creation of thousands of spinoff jobs for Detroit.

“The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight, but we can continue to work togetherto make this customs plaza a reality,” Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in March.

The proposed NITC calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor.

“The NITC project brings together business, labor, and government to produce middle class jobs that Michigan desperately needs. This is responsible economic development the federal government should support,” said Michigan State AFL-CIO President, Karla Swift.

Business groups praise the plan.

“The NITC is so close to becoming reality. Canada has been incredibly gracious to fund the bridge, but it should be our responsibility to fund the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol needs. Canada is the top importer of U.S. goods for the majority of our states, and the NITC is imperative to economic growth, not only for Michigan, but the entire United States,” said Bret Jackson, president of the Economic Alliance for Michigan.

From David Shepardson, The Detroit News
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