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

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

Purchase of first U.S. properties for new border bridge close

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Detroit’s city council is being asked to approve the sale of 301 properties needed for a new border crossing bridge to Windsor.

They will be the first properties acquired on the U.S. side if Detroit council approves the request by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, as expected within the next 10 days.

The properties are largely vacant, “tax-reverted” parcels with a total price tag of $1.4 million.

The state of Michigan would be the new owner of the properties, which the Canadian government would buy from it for the $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing project. Ottawa has budgeted $631 million over the next two years for the project, including the land purchases.

Canada has committed to paying Michigan’s share of the project cost, up to $550 million, to buy land and build a feeder road linking the bridge plaza in Detroit to the I-75 freeway.

The government expects to recoup its investment through tolls.

The Windsor-Detroit Detroit Bridge Authority was established last month to get the project moving. It has already staged a handful of meetings and has plans to establish an office in Windsor and begin hiring about three dozen staff in the coming weeks.

“The WDBA continues to work with our Michigan colleagues to advance this important project,” said authority CEO Michael Cautillo said Thursday. “All involved are encouraged that the issue will be considered by Detroit’s council.”

The DRIC bridge, scheduled to open in 2020, will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach in Windsor and Delray in Detroit.

Nearly all property required on the Canadian side for the project has been acquired by Transport Canada.

In total, there are roughly 1,000 residential and commercial properties that need to be expropriated and purchased for the bridge, plaza and feeder roads in Delray.

It is anticipated the overall cost for those properties will be about $300 million — roughly the same amount spent in Windsor to buy land for the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway.

The parkway – the new border feeder highway that will link with the DRIC bridge – is expected to be completed late next year.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

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