New $2.1 Billion Detroit-Windsor Bridge Promises Boon to U.S. Trade

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

Amid the gloom over the partisan deadlock in Washington over an infrastructure program and the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. and Canadian governments have quietly cut a deal on a new $2.1 billion bridge linking Detroit and Ontario designed to eliminate a massive bottleneck in the flow of goods between the two countries.

With more than $650 billion in goods exchanged each year between Canada and the United States, Canada represents this country’s largest trading partner, overshadowing China, Mexico and Japan. Nearly half of all goods that are transported between the two countries by truck each year – or roughly $131 billion worth – currently pass over the Ambassador Bridge or through an adjacent  tunnel.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is swamped by over 8,000 trucks daily. A combination of heightened border security and persistent traffic jams is creating a drag on potential growth in U.S. exports and imports along the Detroit-Windsor border. Some experts say construction of a new bridge would pave the way for a significant increase in trade in coming years.

“Among all the border crossings between Canada and the United States, Detroit is really the most emblematic of the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed,” Joseph Kane, a senior policy specialist on U.S. metropolitan areas, said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a huge scale of value really going across the border, and it’s not just a local issue where it’s just benefiting local workers and business establishments in Michigan itself.”

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge in 2013, but the project has been dogged for years by financial and legal problems and challenges from community residents.

The new bridge is to be constructed about two miles south of the  Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned suspension bridge that currently is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. The project also will include construction of new highway interchanges in downtown Detroit and Windsor to handle more easily the crush of traffic. Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020, although construction hasn’t started yet.

The deal was finally sealed after the Canadian government agreed recently to pick up the $250 million to $300 million cost of a customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security says that a “public-private partnership” will use tolls to reimburse Canada for the plaza’s construction. In return, the U.S. will pay for the workers, operations and maintenance of the plaza in Detroit – with a first year cost of about $100 million.

Much of the $131 billion worth of cargo transported by truck between Detroit and Windsor annually is high-value transportation and electronic equipment that is destined for regions well beyond Detroit and Ontario.  By comparison, the next highest volume border crossing, in Buffalo, N.Y., handles about $151 billion of truck traffic a year, or one third of what is trucked across the Ambassador Bridge, according to data prepared by Brookings.

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Editorial: Build the Detroit River bridge

Latest legal setback should end the challenges to new Detroit River crossing

Piece by piece, preparations for the new Detroit River bridge are falling into place. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared a potential major legal hurdle by refusing to hear a lawsuit brought by community activists and the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The challenge came from Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens with Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups, along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The parties claimed the Federal Highway Administration, in approving the Delray neighborhood of southwest Detroit as the site of the new crossing, violated the social and environmental justice provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and other federal laws.

Federal District Court Judge Avern Cohn rejected the lawsuit, and his decision was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the Supreme Court has put the matter to rest.

It is the latest in a string of legal victories for Gov. Rick Snyder and other backers of the new Detroit River International Crossing.

Last summer, the appellate court also rejected the contention that the federal government had bowed to pressure from Canada in denying a permit for Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun to build a second span adjacent to his current bridge.

And earlier this month, the United States and Canada reached agreement for the Canadians to front the money for building out the customs plaza on the Detroit side of the crossing. As with the entire $2 billion cost of the bridge, which Canada is also putting up, the $300 million for the plaza will be repaid with revenue from tolls.

By now, the inevitability of the new bridge should be evident. Continuing court battles and other blocking moves is pointless.

Moroun, as well as the community groups, should stand down and let the process of building the bridge proceed.

Instead of continuing a futile fight, they should work with the state and federal governments to mitigate the community’s concerns.

There is no reason the crossing should be a negative for the devastated Delray neighborhood. The international trade expected to be generated by the bridge should create opportunities for warehouses and other logistic industry investments, and with them much needed jobs. The focus now should be on training local workers for those jobs, and making sure development unfolds in a manner that benefits the neighborhood.

As for Moroun, he should accept that he’s lost this battle. Further legal maneuvering is pointless. He has a major investment in the Ambassador Bridge, and it is natural that he would want to protect it.

But the government has no compelling interest in damaging Moroun’s business. He should be working with the state to assure there’s enough traffic to sustain both spans. Increasing trade traffic is the objective, after all.

Once construction begins, it will take five years to complete the crossing. There should be no further needless delays. This is a project vital to the region’s economy.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Moroun loses another court decision in attempt to block the NITC

Foes of new bridge won’t be heard by U.S. Supreme Court

David Shepardson
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not review a June decision by a appeals court that upheld the Federal Highway Administration’s decision to select the Delray neighborhood of Detroit as the preferred location for a new international bridge crossing to Canada.

Without comment, the Supreme Court let stand the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ affirmation of a 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn dismissing a lawsuit by the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens With Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups — along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the privately held Ambassador Bridge and wants to build one next to it.

The court’s decision comes five days after Canada and the United States reached a deal in which Canada will put up the hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a U.S. Customs plaza at the new Windsor-Detroit bridge and be repaid through tolls. The bridge could open as early as 2020.

Sara Wurfel, press secretary to Gov. Rick Snyder, praised the ruling last year: “The decision affirms the exhaustive work and public transparency that went into the siting decisions. This is the latest round of great news regarding the NITC.”

A panel of the appeals court wrote that the federal agency used a “a lengthy, reasoned process based on an objective analysis subject to public scrutiny throughout.” The panel also rejected the contention the United States yielded to Canada’s opposition to adding a second span to the Ambassador Bridge, writing the United States did not “rubber stamp” the decision.

Mickey Blashfield, director of governmental relations for the Ambassador Bridge, last year criticized the appeals court ruling. He did not have an immediate response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

The highway administration “refused to consider the Ambassador Bridge Twin Span even though it was the highest ranked alternative in most of the environmental tests the (agency) was required to apply. The (agency) supposedly based its decision on the unsupported claim that Canada objected to the environmental impacts the Twin Span would have in Canada, despite no evidence of any such impact,” Blashfield said.

Opponents argued the highway agency’s review and 2009 approval violated the National Environmental Protection Act, Administrative Procedures Act, principles of environmental justice and other federal laws.

The ruling is the latest setback to foes of a bridge crossing known as the New International Trade Crossing, which is to be two miles from the Ambassador Bridge.

In June, 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. A federal judge in Washington, also in June, rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun for his proposed six-lane span alongside the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun’s bridge company has been fighting efforts by the state of Michigan and the Canadian government to build the bridge it insists 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.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Thank goodness for the Canadians

Canada has agreed to cover all construction costs of the U.S. customs plaza, and with the deal removed the last political hurdle Wednesday for the planned $2.1-billion Detroit River bridge.

The Canadian government has agreed to pay the $250 million cost for the inspection plaza in Detroit under a deal agreed to by both countries.

It had been hoped the Obama administration and Washington would pay for construction of its own customs plaza, but that will not happen under the newly signed agreement.

Canada along with a private sector partner soon to be selected by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority — which is overseeing the project’s completion — will now be paying the Detroit River International Crossing project’s full construction costs.

The public-private partnership is expected to recoup construction costs in the years ahead through tolls and other potential revenue generators such as duty-free goods and gas.

“I am pleased to confirm that following significant discussions with the United States and Michigan, Canada has now signed an arrangement to ensure the new publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit can proceed without further delay,” said Lisa Raitt, Canada’s transport minister on Wednesday.

The U.S. inspection plaza will be procured as part of the public-private partnership assigned to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the DRIC bridge project, she said.

Taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the costs, Raitt said.Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to cover all U.S. customs staffing costs for the new bridge.

“This arrangement is good for Canada and for Canadians,” Raitt said. “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.”

Canada’s top political leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have listed the DRIC bridge project as the nation’s No. 1 infrastructure priority and promised it will open to traffic by 2020.

The new international bridge will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach and Delray.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman in an email statement Wednesday indicated there is a commitment from Washington to spend about $100 million in the first year of the customs plaza operations for equipment, staffing and setup costs in Detroit, plus up to $50 million for staff in each of the following years.

“This arrangement results from several months of productive discussions among the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. General Services Administration, State of Michigan, Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and Transport Canada,” said Marsha Catron.

She said although the U.S. government is not paying any construction costs, it is very supportive of the DRIC bridge project. Catron cited numerous U.S. federal approvals to date including issuance of a President’s permit from the Obama administration.

“The United States will continue to support (DRIC) as it is built and following its completion,” Catron said.

“The United States and Canada are vital economic partners and steadfast friends. Canada is the largest trading partner of both the United States and Michigan. Many U.S. and Michigan jobs depend on the vitality of U.S.-Canada trade.”

The Windsor-Detroit corridor is the largest commercial crossing in North America.

In 2014, annual Canada-U.S. trade in goods was approximately $658 billion with over one-quarter of that trade travelling through the Windsor-Detroit corridor.

“The arrangement announced today ensures we can continue to build momentum on this much-needed trade and transportation link,” Catron said.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — a driving force to get the DRIC bridge approved and constructed — applauded the agreement.

“I’m appreciative of the work of our partners in Congress and the Canadian government to ensure the (bridge) — important to both of our countries — continues to move forward,” Snyder said.

Finding a resolution on the U.S. customs plaza had been one of the last unresolved hurdles slowing construction of the DRIC bridge, said Sen. Gary Peters (D—Detroit) another leading advocate of the project.

“As a longtime advocate for the (bridge), I am pleased the United States and Canada have reached an agreement on construction of a new customs plaza removing a significant obstacle that has delayed this critical infrastructure project from moving forward,” he said.

Peters in his role as a member of the Senate’s Homeland Security committee will work with the Obama administration to “ensure the U.S. fulfills our commitment to fully staff and operate this border crossing,” he said.

The project’s next steps include ramping up property acquisition in Detroit to make room for the new bridge plaza and a feeder road in Delray that will link to I-75 freeway.

Nearly all required property on the Canadian side is already in the hands of the federal government, with land clearing in Brighton Beach just recently completed.

The WDBA is in the midst of hiring blitz to staff its support office in Windsor with about three dozen employees whose first task will be to assemble a request for proposal to find a contractor and project partner to build the bridge.

A new border highway in Windsor to link with the bridge — the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway — is expected to be fully open to traffic by the end of this year.

“The new DRIC bridge is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border,” Raitt said. “It will also bring new jobs, opportunities and continued prosperity to communities in both countries.”

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

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