Moroun campaign donations raise eyebrows in Detroit bridge vote

By Gary Heinlein

Lansing— The family whose patriarch owns the Ambassador Bridge has spent more than $1 million since 2009 in its legislative fight against a new span between Detroit and Canada.

That fight continues: Just last week, the GOP-led Senate approved a ban against state purchases of land for the bridge.

The Detroit News, using figures compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a political watchdog group, found the family of Manuel “Matty” Moroun made political donations totaling more than $105,000 in the last five years to 18 of the 26 GOP senators who voted in favor of the New International Trade Crossing spending prohibition.

All told, Moroun and his family have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the bridge, sought by Gov. Rick Snyder and the U.S. and Canadian governments, through a legislative blockadeand an unsuccessful 2012 statewide ballot measure. The $1 million in legislative giving includes contributions to House members and a wide variety of political committees — with the lion’s share going to Republicans and committees that support them.

The donations appear to have met legal limits and requirements.

“They are putting the interests of a billionaire campaign donor ahead of Michigan’s economy and the thousands of jobs that the bridge would bring,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Robert McCann. “I’m not sure I can think of a sadder commentary on the state of our Legislature under Republican control.”

Sen. Jack Brandenburg makes no apologies for his vote. The first-term Harrison Township senator and his Liberty Political Action Committee have received at least $10,000 from the Morouns.

“I will more than gladly let them donate to my re-election,” Brandenburg said. “I was on their side the first time I heard of (the bridge plan). I don’t think we need to spend state money on this bridge.”

Republican Snyder argues building the second span south of the Ambassador Bridge will further bolster commerce on America’s busiest international trade corridor and create more jobs for Michigan.

In response, the Ambassador Bridge owner has sought permission to build his own second span next to the existing bridge — a proposal that Canadian officials oppose.

Unable to win legislative approval, Snyder is pushing forward through an inter-local agreement he signed with the U.S. and Canadian governments. Land purchases for a customs plaza in Detroit are supposed to start this summer.

Irked GOP leaders inserted the land purchase ban into the $3.8 billion transportation budget. Under the provision the Republican majority approved with one Democratic vote, even land-buying reimbursed by Canada is prohibited.

The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel are operating below capacity and proponents’ projections for steadily growing cross-border traffic seem unrealistic, said Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, who adds he has questioned the second bridge since it was first proposed under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

The head of the Senate’s transportation appropriations subcommittee said he has received far more campaign money from business leaders who back the new bridge than the Morouns’ combined $8,000 in campaign contributions to him and his leadership fund.

“I really rail at the idea that Matty Moroun’s contribution makes a difference,” added Pappageorge, who said he agreed to the provision written by Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw.

Kahn, long an opponent of the public bridge, has received $1,000 in direct campaign money from the Morouns, but two political funds connected to him have gotten $21,500 through the years.

But Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, said the latest effort to stifle the second bridge “is one last gasp on the part of those who are heavily influenced by the Morouns.”

“You can draw a pretty clear line between who got money and who has an objection (to the bridge),” Anderson said, noting $120 billion a year in international commerce passes across the Detroit River — most of it over Moroun’s bridge.

The transportation budget bill ultimately passed 27-11 with Democratic Sen. Tupac Hunter of Detroit joining the Senate’s GOP members in favor of it. The remaining 11 Democrats voted against it — primarily, Anderson said, because of the bridge spending ban.

How much of a problem the land-buying ban creates for Snyder is uncertain. The House’s transportation budget, also approved last week, broadly bars state spending on the bridge but doesn’t specifically target land-buying.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said legal advisers are reviewing the budget situation, but the governor hopes lawmakers strike it from the final bill.

Political observer Jeff Williams said Senate Republican opposition appears to stem more from political philosophy than Moroun money.

“I don’t by any means think (Matty Moroun) is buying votes,” said Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants in Lansing. “But he is encouraging beliefs the Senate majority already has.

“This is an issue that has no middle ground,” he added. “… They are saying repeatedly to two governors (Jennifer Granholm and Snyder): ‘We do not believe this (new) bridge is needed but if it is, it should be private.’”

Heaviest giving to Senate Republicans was in 2011 — when legislation to allow the bridge was defeated in a Senate committee headed by Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake — and in 2012.

A leadership committee headed by Kowall has received at least $15,000 from the Morouns. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network also reported Kowall and his wife, Rep. Eileen Kowall, received $6,144 and $3,144, respectively, in non-monetary contributions in 2010 from the North Oakland Political Action Committee, another Moroun donation recipient.

“I don’t know the Moroun family all that well, and I’m not opposed to the bridge,” Kowall said. “What I’m opposed to is any state funds going toward it.”

Moroun spent at least $45 million on a failed 2012 ballot proposal that would have prohibited the bridge without statewide voter approval.

In late September that year, he gave $100,000 to the state Republican Party.

Spokesman Mickey Blashfield, government affairs director for Moroun’s Central Transport International Inc., said the Morouns are exercising their rights as citizens.

“They’re no different than a hockey stadium developer or anyone else,” Blashfield said. “We’re participating in the political process the way we learned in civics class.”

The Morouns’ giving, he added, “is absolutely transparent because you can look it up. We don’t have a shadowy 501(c)(4) that has paid for people in Detroit or anything like that.”

The reference is a shot at Snyder’s anonymous-donor Nerd Fund, since replaced by a fund whose contributors are more transparent. The Nerd Fund had covered some living expenses for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

Michigan Campaign Finance Network Director Rich Robinson, who systematically tracks candidate and issue spending, described Moroun’s giving as a way of reinforcing his support.

“I’ve heard an explanation: ‘You can’t give me money to do something I wouldn’t otherwise do,’ and (from the donor’s point of view): ‘You know what I like, and I’m not going to give you any more unless you support me.’ ”

Originally posted in the Detroit News

DRIC Bridge Worries Overblown

By Chris Vander Doelen

A spate of grim news reports about the new bridge between Windsor and Detroit have suggested that new hurdles might prevent the crossing from ever being built.

Don’t believe these stories, especially the ones in the U.S. media. They are no more accurate than the thousands of previous false and misleading scare stories about the DRIC bridge, Canada’s most important infrastructure project.

Somebody has to keep saying this: the new bridge to Detroit is going to be built no matter what. It might be delayed or made more expensive by some of the roadblocks its few stubborn opponents try to throw up at the last minute. But that’s about it.

What this deluge of negative news stories really means is this, an amused MP Jeff Watson (Essex) told me this week: “Land acquisition is about to start,” and the project’s opponents are starting to panic big time.

“The voices are getting more shrill as we get closer to the project proceeding,” Watson said by phone as he hurried to a meeting at the PMO. “There’s no substance to any of this. It’s much ado about nothing.”

It could be a few weeks, and it could be a few months. But one day we’ll wake up and learn that the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority has announced it has purchased some of the 1,000 individual properties it must assemble on the U.S. side of the river to make room for the bridge landfall and a huge truck and traffic plaza.

The land they need on the Canadian side was all bought years ago in the Windsor industrial neighbourhood known as Brighton Beach. The only real holdup to the purchases is hiring a CEO for the WDBA.

Once land acquisition starts in the Delray neighbourhood of Detroit, that will be the second-to-last point of no return for the opponents of the bridge. The anti-bridge people are basically Michigan’s Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, and their friends.

Some of those opponents are just hirees paid by the Ambassador Bridge to disrupt and delay the competing project. Court documents introduced in Michigan lawsuits involving the existing bridge have cited some of the protestors as business expenses for the Ambassador Bridge companies.

The final point of no return for these opponents, of course, will be the start of construction – although I’m sure the Morouns will continue to have delays and other tricks up their sleeve to try to stop it even then.

They have help on this side of the border, too. Last month NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West) unnecessarily added to the negative outlook on the new bridge by fanning the flames of doubt.

Masse announced to the media that he has “grave concerns” that Canada might end up footing the entire bill for the bridge – not just the $550 million for the bridge which is the U.S. share, but also paying for the plaza on the U.S. side.

Washington has been balking at paying for the $250-million plaza (as well as its share of other border infrastructure projects). There is credible evidence the U.S. federal government might not pay, or will try to delay paying as long as possible – possibly until the bridge’s planned opening date of 2020.

Well, so what if they do that? And so what if Canada has to pick up the tab in the short term? Canada is already paying for 15/16ths of the entire project, as Consul General Roy Norton pointed out in February.

Canada can pay for the whole kit and caboodle and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to taxpayers on either side of the border. So Masse should stop trying to scare people.

Canada can easily just add the cost of the U.S. plaza onto the massive total bill. Americans accept debt more easily than Canadians. Who cares if it takes them a few more years to pay off their share of the debt with their share of the tolls? If it’s paid off in 2050 or 2055 it makes not a bit of difference to anyone.

And since the bridge isn’t even scheduled to open until 2020, “we’ve got a couple of more years to worry about it,” as Watson says.

The anti-DRIC bridge attacks won’t end. But if you’re a supporter – and nearly everybody in Windsor and Essex County counts themselves in that camp – you can stop worrying about what they mean.

The same argument can be made for the NDP exploiting problems with bad girders on the Herb Gray Parkway project as an election tactic.

But more on the new highway to the new bridge on another day.

Originally posted in the Windsor Star

Editorial: Bridge fight has gone on too long

Gov. Rick Snyder should not still be herding cats to get the new bridge built across the Detroit River. After fighting with the Legislature for two years, Snyder, in 2012, managed to work around lawmakers to forge an agreement with the Canadian government to build the Detroit River International Crossing.

Most of the opposition came from his own party. Republican lawmakers, well lubricated by campaign donations from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, fell back on the specious argument that a bridge should not be built with public money.

Of course, nearly every bridge in the country, including in Michigan, has been publicly built. Maintaining avenues of commerce is a core responsibility of government.

Still, Moroun financed an extravagant marketing campaign to convince the public he is willing to build the bridge with his own money. But Moroun never had, and still doesn’t have any intention to operate two bridges. His plan was to build a replacement span for the Ambassador Bridge.

But he hasn’t given up the fight to block the second span, as witnessed by the destructive action this week by Republican senators to insert language in a transportation bill that prevents the state from buying any land for the bridge.

Michigan will not spend any of its own money on land purchases. But the Department of Transportation will have to condemn the needed property, and will have to be the actual purchaser of the land on behalf of the Canadians and private interests, who will front the funds.

The obstructionism by the Senate is unjustified, and comes at a time when the bridge already is trying to clear key hurdles.

The project needs $250 million from the federal government for the customs plaza — the only major expense that will be incurred by U.S. taxpayers. Canada has agreed to pay Michigan’s share of the $2.1 billion construction cost up front, and will be reimbursed with toll revenues.

Canada considers the bridge so important that it is also considering paying for the customs plaza if the Obama administration doesn’t approve the funding.

This battle should have been over long ago. The project is a good deal for Michigan, and for the United States. We’re getting a bridge at basically no cost to taxpayers.

That span should make Detroit the premier crossing for trade with Canada. The spin-off benefits are enormous, including the opportunity for logistics development and the attraction of manufacturers who need to be close to the Canadian market.

Lawmakers, particularly on the GOP side, have done Moroun’s bidding for too long.

Work is progressing to the point where land purchases could be made this year. Canada is going to extraordinary lengths to keep the project moving.

Its commitment should not be met with more gamesmanship on the U.S. side of the river.

When the transportation bill hits the House, lawmakers should strip out the land purchasing ban and get this project moving.

Originally posted in the Detroit News

Homeland Security chief to visit Michigan to discuss border security

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Gary Peters said today U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit Michigan in the near future to discuss security along the Canadian border — and the prospects for a new customs plaza at a proposed Detroit River bridge.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Johnson accepted his invitation to visit Michigan to discuss “the importance of constructing proposed customs plazas at high-volume trade crossings like the Detroit-Windsor border.”

Peters sponsored legislation to devote funding to high-volume border crossings like the one at Detroit. The Canadian government has promised to pay for the majority of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor but supporters say the federal government’s refusal to commit to paying to build a new customs plaza on the American side has been a hold up for the project.

The Free Press has reported that a new customs plaza for Detroit — costing as much as $250 million — would have to leap in front of other projects around the U.S. in order to get built. Johnson’s support could be key to making that happen.

Peters said Johnson accepted his invitiation but has not yet said when he might visit Michigan.

“I look forward to welcoming Secretary Johnson to our great state so that we can have a productive discussion about constructing and expanding customs plazas at critical sites like the New International Trade Crossing,” Peters said. “Canada remains one of our most important trading partners, and projects like these will expand our international cooperation and commerce and create thousands of jobs here in Michigan.”

Peters’ legislation could also help funding for a customs plaza expansion needed at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, he said. So far, the Republican-controlled House has yet to schedule a hearing on Peters’ bill, though that legislation could also run afoul of executive branch agencies, like Johnson’s, which want to decide which projects deserve funding first.

The proposed New International Trade Crossing calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor. The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction and land acquisition of the $2.1-billion project to be repaid by tolls.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press

 

MP: Future Hinges On DRIC

By Trevor Thompson

Chatham-Kent-Essex MP Dave Van Kesteren thinks the new border crossing in Windsor is key to the economic future of the riding.

Van Kesteren says with the bridge comes a shift in what southwestern Ontario produces. “I would like to see some expansion in the greenhouse industry. It’s done very well in Leamington,” says Van Kesteren. “Chatham-Kent has more water, more electricity and more natural gas. They’re a little further south, but not so much that we can’t compete in that area.”

Van Kesteren says trade will change when the bridge is completed, easing access to the huge U.S. market.

Originally posted in Blackburn News

Why is Obama administration blocking Detroit River bridge?

By Michael Barone

Why isn’t the Obama administration willing to finance the customs plaza for the new international bridge over the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario? That’s a question raised by this article in the Wall Street Journal.

As the Journal notes, the government of Canada has agreed to pay, as part of a public-private partnership, about $3.65 billion for building the bridge, including a $550 million link with Interstate 75 in Detroit. The new bridge would provide an alternative for the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, which was opened in 1929. Yet the Obama administration isn’t ponying up $250 million to build a customs plaza.

The terms and conditions under which bridges are built across the U.S.-Canada border, under a 1970s law, are negotiated by state governors with the federal government of Canada. This deal was negotiated by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, and favorable terms were obtained in part because this crossing accounts for one-quarter of U.S.-Canada commerce. GM and Chrysler auto supply chains cross the border routinely; this was encouraged by the 1965 auto parts free trade agreement between the U.S. and Canada, the predecessor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Should the 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge suddenly become unavailable, Canada’s economy would take a sharp hit — hence the Canadian’s willingness to raise or spend most of the money to build a new bridge.

Why is the Obama administration withholding the $250 million for the customs plaza? One possible reason: to propitiate Matty Maroun, the Michigan billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge and profits handsomely from tolls and concessions. He has financed Michigan ballot propositions designed to stop funding the new bridge, to which he remains strongly opposed. Or perhaps the Obama administration is indulging in a fit of pique against the government of Canada, which keeps pressing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been pending now for five years (longer than the time from Pearl Harbor to the surrender of Germany in 1945). Or maybe the administration is just letting this project fall through the cracks through sheer incompetence or inertia.

President Obama likes to talk about funding new infrastructure projects. But here, on a project almost all of whose funding will be provided or arranged by the government of Canada, the Obama administration isn’t providing the relatively small amount for the customs plaza. Democratic and Republican members of the Michigan delegation shouldn’t be the only people asking why.

Originally posted in the Washington Examiner

Canada’s transportation minister calls on Washington to fund DRIC plaza

By Dave Battagello

Canada’s transportation minister Lisa Raitt called on the Obama administration Friday to step in and provide $250 million needed for a customs plaza in Detroit so construction of the planned downriver Windsor-Detroit bridge can begin.

“Canada has committed to paying its fair share,” she said. “Clearly the United States government is responsible for paying for its own port of entry and customs plaza.

“Canada will continue to urge the U.S. government to fund its port of entry.”

Raitt was in Washington this past week where she met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Canada has committed to paying the state of Michigan’s share for the planned Detroit River International Crossing project — estimated at $550 million. Ottawa has also already budgeted more than $630 million for the construction of the new bridge.

Property acquisition is expected to start within weeks in the southwest Detroit industrial community of Delray, where the DRIC bridge will be located.

But unless funds are committed this year by Washington for the U.S. customs plaza in Detroit, the start of DRIC bridge construction will likely be delayed and its projected 2020 completion date will be pushed back.

A story Friday in the Wall Street Journal questioned whether any money will be slated for the plaza, suggesting there are limited dollars for border infrastructure in this year’s federal budget.

“The president’s budget proposal includes $420 million that could be spent on customs plazas, but the General Services Administration listed only border stations in California and New York, not the proposed bridge in Michigan,” the story said.

It concluded that GSA continues to work on the issue, while the U.S. transportation department also continues to “work with other agencies to move the project forward.”

U.S. Representative Gary Peters (D-Detroit) brought forward a motion this month calling on funding for the plaza. This week, he called on Republican House leaders to schedule a hearing on his legislation.

Peters is pushing for a hearing in the House Committee on Homeland Security which usually meets weekly.

“The Detroit-Windsor border is one of the busiest and most important trade crossings in North America,” he said. “Business leaders, labour organizations and leaders across our state are coming together in support of this project because we all know that a new bridge here will create thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan, transform Michigan into a global transportation hub and grow our economy.

“We need to continue to work together in a bipartisan way to make this project a reality and I look forward to an informative and productive hearing on this critical bill.”

Over eight million American jobs and over two million Canadian jobs depend on trade and investment between the two countries, Raitt said.

“Free and open trade generates jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity,” she said. “A new bridge is needed for growing trade and traffic at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing. This project will create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border.”

Originally posted in the Windsor Star

 

Rep. Peters pushes for hearing to authorize customs plaza for new bridge

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Gary Peters is pressing Republican House leaders to schedule a hearing on legislation that would authorize funding for a new customs plaza in Detroit, a key hurdle to getting a new Detroit River crossing built.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said today that businesses and civic leaders across Michigan have continued to add their support for his proposal and that it warrants a hearing before the Homeland Security Committee. Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan are among the supporters.

The bill also has been endorsed in letters of support by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. As recently as today, Peters asked U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, to schedule a hearing on it as chairwoman of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

Business leaders, labor organizations and leaders across our state are coming together in support of this project because we all know that a new bridge here will create thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan, transform Michigan into a global transportation hub and grow our economy,” Peters said.

Miller’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. Peters’ office said he’s trying to pull together as much bipartisan support for the proposal as possible to get the New International Trade Crossing project off the ground.

On Monday, a coalition that included the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Michigan Farm Bureau and others wrote House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi detailing their support for Peters’ legislation.

In that letter, they said that approval of federal funds for a $250-million customs plaza “is the last step required to build the most impactful economic development infrastructure project our state has seen in decades.”

The Canadian government has promised to pick up all of the initial cost of building the $2-billion bridge across the Detroit River but expects the U.S. government to pay for the new custom plaza needed on the U.S. side of the river.

However, as the Free Press has reported, neither the General Services Administration nor the Department of Homeland Security has budgeted money for such a project. In order to get those funds through Congress, the project may have to jump in front of others across the U.S.

Peters’ legislation would prioritize funding for new construction at customs plazas “that have the highest trade volume as measured by the value of shipments.” Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics records show Detroit’s crossing is No. 2 in the U.S., behind the one in Laredo, Texas.

While Peters’ bill has been cosponsored by other Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation, no Republican members have signed on. If any did, it could potentially make it easier for committee leaders to schedule a hearing in the Republican-led House.

Miller, however, has remained noncommittal on the new Detroit bridge, saying she first wants to see what the Obama administration is willing to do to address long-standing capacity problems at the customs plaza at the Blue Water Bridge in her district.

Peters noted that organizations have been lobbying the administration for help as well. A coalition of business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, recently sent President Barack Obama a letter urging funding for the facility.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press 

U.S. Federal Government could hold up bridge project, thousands of jobs, and economic development

By Jim Lynch

Detroit— Canadian officials say President Barack Obama’s budget proposal Tuesday needs to make a funding commitment for the proposed New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor or the $2.1 billion project risks a delay.

The Canadian government is hoping Obama’s spending plan will include the $250 million U.S. officials were expected to contribute or make a solid commitment for the money in the coming years, said Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit. A failure to do so could push completion of the bridge beyond the projected 2020 target date, Norton said.

Canadian officials have agreed to spend more than $630 million over two years to fund the new bridge that both countries consider essential for easing trading and creating regional job growth. If it comes to fruition, a new span will be built roughly two miles downriver from the Ambassador Bridge owned by Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who spent more than $30 million on an unsuccessful 2012 ballot measure to try to derail the project.

“We haven’t gotten any sign from the (Obama) administration that the money will be included in this year’s budget, so I suppose that’s a source of some anxiety,” Norton said. “We are proceeding and demonstrating our goodwill, and we welcome a demonstration of goodwill from the U.S. side — even if it’s only a commitment and not the money itself this year.”

Supporters argue the two bridges would alleviate traffic backups at the Ambassador and increase jobs-creating trade between the two countries. The U.S.-Canadian venture would connect Interstate 75 and I-94 traffic on the Detroit side of the river with Windsor-Essex Parkway traffic in Windsor.

Key project for Detroit

“Anything that holds up the completion of this (bridge) project will hold up the development of tens of thousands of jobs,” said Mark Belzer, associate professor of economics at Wayne State University.

The bridge will turn Detroit into a logistics hub or “inland port” with the spinoff development of major warehousing and distribution facilities from the trade traffic, Belzer said.

“This is the key to putting people back to work in Detroit,” he said, adding: “If the president wants to inhibit economic development, he couldn’t do anything better than holding up the funding for the bridge.”

The $250 million will be used to construct a customs plaza on the U.S. side of the Detroit River.

Gov. Rick Snyder said earlier this month the Obama administration has refused to commit money for property acquisition or rents.

“The U.S. government, which will use this plaza to protect the United States, has said they don’t want to buy land for this plaza or pay rent to use this plaza,” he said.

But a Snyder spokeswoman struck a more optimistic tone this week about the bridge.

“Things are on track and well underway, and (the bridge project) has accomplished some significant milestones,” Sara Wurfel said.

There is “time to work out” the plaza issue, “and we’re going to work nonstop with the administration and congressional partners to help address this last, key remaining issue.”

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is attempting to jump-start the funding issue.

On Feb. 11, he introduced legislation calling for congressional approval of the $250 million to begin work on the plaza.

Peters said he is aware of the frustration expressed by some members of the Canadian Parliament about delays in securing the U.S. financing commitment, but added the situation is moving about as quickly as it can in this political climate.

“Obviously in an intricate project with so many partners … so many moving parts, bringing everyone to the table and getting the ball rolling takes time,” Peters said.

“For projects, even those that have across-the-board support … it’s contentious enough (in D.C.) to get bills through … .”

“In the post-earmark era we live in, this is how things have to be done.”

Challenging timeline

As Canadian officials wait on U.S. funding, they are moving ahead on both sides of the river.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper released his budget plan that included a proposed $470 million for the project to go along with a previously committed $160 million.

“With that we will, in the next few months, begin purchasing land on the Detroit side because it’s the responsibility of the Canadian government in the deal to provide the land to the U.S. government for the purpose of constructing its plaza,” Norton said.

“We also have to purchase land for the I-75 interchanges.”

But Norton said the challenge facing Canadian transportation officials is the timeline.

Late this year, they are expected to begin taking bids for the bridge construction itself.

It involves requiring interested private companies to pledge upward of $1 billion for the work — money the winning firm would later be repaid from toll revenues.

Without the U.S. commitment in hand, Canada could be on the hook for the $1 billion, Norton said.

“In that situation, there would likely be delays,” he said.

“We would likely move back the current timetable, which had bids being requested late this year and evaluated in early 2015, and construction beginning in early 2016.

“If there is a protracted delay with the U.S. funding, at a certain point the timetable shifts and the project doesn’t get completed as hoped in 2020. We could be looking at 2021 or later.”

Originally posted in the Detroit News

Moroun says he still wants to build a new bridge in the same location with the same old problems

Ambassador Bridge owner says it has environmental OK from Canada for new span

By Chad Livengood

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s company says it has won a favorable Canadian environmental assessment to build a six-lane bridge alongside his 85-year-old span.

Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. announced Thursday it had secured the crucial environmental clearance needed to build “a new twin span” across the Detroit River.

The company still needs a navigable waters permit from U.S. and Canadian authorities before it can begin construction on a $400 million bridge, company president Dan Stamper said Thursday.

Moroun has long vowed to build a second Detroit-to-Windsor crossing, but has been at odds with the Canadians for years as they have worked to build a publicly owned bridge downriver that would compete with the Ambassador for lucrative truck traffic at the international crossing.

However, Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general to Michigan, took issue with the way the DIBC characterized its Canadian environmental assessment as approval to operate two bridges at the border.

“There’s been no environmental approval for a twin span,” Norton told The Detroit News. “They sought environmental approval for a replacement span.”

Stamper said the company’s intentions have been clear for years, spelled out in documentation sent to the Canadian government.

“We’ve been saying all the way along that we want to build a new twin span tied into our existing plazas, shut down the old bridge and have it renovated for redundancy,” Stamper told The News. “We now have confirmation on both sides of the border that our environmental clearance is not going to be a problem.”

Moroun’s company insisted it’s going forward with its new bridge just days after the Canadian government said it would spend $470 million over the next two years buying land and designing its planned six-lane New International Trade Crossing bridge from south Windsor to southwest Detroit.

One hurdle in the Canadians’ plans is they need the U.S. Congress to appropriate about $200 million to build a customs plaza on the Michigan side of the NITC.

The Canadians plan to spend $2.1 billion on the project when ramps and highway connections are included.

Stamper said the DIBC could build a bridge for far less because the company has existing highway interchanges, ramps and plazas on both sides of the border.

“I know there’s a lot of folks who say if you don’t do the NITC you don’t get a new bridge — and that’s just not true,” Stamper said. “This isn’t a hollow promise.”

Norton said the bridge company has to apply for other permits before it could begin construction and would have to comply with Canada’s laws governing bridges and tunnels.

“It’s all moot until they can get over to their insistence that they’re not subject to the bridges and tunnels act,” Norton said.

Norton said the Canadian environmental approval of Moroun’s plans shows his country isn’t trying to put the billionaire out of business.

“Anybody thinks that we’re anti-Ambassador Bridge and anti-Moroun, here’s the evidence that that’s not the case,” Norton said.

Originally posted in the Detroit News