Canada’s new consul general is determined to build a new Detroit River bridge

I had a conversation yesterday with Douglas George, the Canadian government’s new consul general in Detroit.

For Canada, this area is an economic region important enough to merit a mini-embassy. Ottawa has a vast suite of offices in the Renaissance Center, and a large staff, some busy with immigration matters, and the rest primarily with economic and trade questions.

One indication of how important Canada sees Detroit is that Consul George was most recently their ambassador to Kuwait, and before that was a major trade negotiator who at various times headed both their government’s tariff and intellectual property divisions.

Here, he is responsible for trade and other issues involving a five-state area economically vital to Canada.

Detroit is, without any doubt, the most important border crossing between our two nations, and businesses on both sides of the border, especially Canada, have been consumed by the need for a second bridge capable of handling major freight.

Every week, well over a billion dollars in heavy automotive and other manufacturing components pass over the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge. There is no other economically and geographically feasible way of moving this stuff.

Nor is the current bridge in a sensible location, especially for Canada. Trucks coming from Detroit have to endure 16 red lights before connecting with a major highway.

For years, any new crossing was stymied by Matty Moroun, the billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge.

But now both governments have agreed to build one, now known as the New International Trade Crossing. They aren’t quite home free yet. Washington has yet to agree to fund the customs plaza needed for what will be a major outpost between two nations.

And the consul told me Michigan has not yet finished buying and assembling all the parcels of land needed for the bridge’s footprint on the American side. Canada needs this bridge so much that it has agreed to foot all the upfront costs.

Michigan, in turn, will pay them back years from now out of the state’s share of the tolls. But legally, our state has to buy the land, which is in Delray, a rundown neighborhood a couple of miles south of the current bridge.

However, there are hangups. Much of the land is owned by Detroit, and some council members are insisting on a defined package of community benefits.

Clearly, bridges aren’t built in a day. Douglas George is philosophical about this, and says he thinks the new bridge could still be open for business by the target date of 2020.

His father was an attorney in Sarnia, right across the river from Port Huron, and spent something like a quarter-century on a commission striving to get a new bridge built there. If you are a diplomat, it helps to take the long view.

For George, this post is almost a homecoming. Growing up, he came to Detroit every chance he got to see concerts.

The city’s decline saddened him, but he told me yesterday he was happily amazed by how fast things seemed to be turning around.

He hopes that before long, a new generation of Canadian kids will be streaming in to the revitalized city, some of them over a new bridge.

Originally Posted by: Michigan Radio

‘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

Announcement Wednesday on new authority to oversee Detroit-Windsor bridge

Leonard N. Fleming and David Sheparson
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canada’s minister of transport are expected Wednesday to announce the formation of a six-member authority to oversee the construction of a new public bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Snyder’s office said he will attend a 10:30 a.m. news conference about the New International Trade Crossing at the Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor with Canada’s Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who has been involved in discussions with Canada and U.S. officials about a new bridge, said Tuesday the new board will hold its first meeting Wednesday and said the bridge is making progress.

“This is about jobs. We can’t move goods. We can’t compete internationally without infrastructure,” Stabenow said in an interview in her Capitol Hill office.

Snyder has reportedly selected the three U.S. members and it is not clear who is choosing the three Canadians. The bridge will be owned by a Canadian “crown corporation” placing Canadians in charge of the day-to-day operation of the bridge, but oversight and ownership will remain joint between the two countries.

Stabenow, who has met and talked repeatedly to Raitt, praised Canada’s role in getting the new bridge

“We’re lucky to a willing partner that understands how important this is,” Stabenow said.

The bridge, which is to be two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge, isn’t scheduled to be completed until at least 2020. It still doesn’t have $250 million from the federal government to build a Detroit customs plaza, and the Obama administration has yet to try to budget money for it.

Stabenow said there are discussions about what a plaza would look like and possible costs. The board will look at options to pay for the plaza, she said.

“I would expect in the next few months we will have it worked out” as to how the new customs plaza will be financed, Stabenow added.

Douglas George, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, said he couldn’t speak about the specifics of the news conference but said his country and Michigan are “proceeding with the necessary steps to oversee the construction and running of the bridge.”

“I think the underlying message is that this is an infrastructure project that will be a benefit to both sides of the border,” George said. “The Canadian government has made it clear what the process is. We’re moving to the next step.”

The Economic Alliance of Michigan, a nonprofit that advocates for companies and unions, said Tuesday it is expecting the governor and Canadian transport minister to announce the formation of a bridge authority and an international authority.

Both bodies could help with land acquisition and other construction matters that are dictated by the crossing agreement signed in June 2012 by Snyder and Canada’s transport minister.

“It would be great if they were to announce the authorities tomorrow,” Bret Jackson, the president of the Economic Alliance of Michigan, said in a Tuesday statement. “These are the people who are going to make the decisions as to who gets hired, what the construction contracts look like. We hope this is an opportunity to use local workers and businesses to supply goods and services.”

Originally posted by The Detroit News

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

Moroun fails at running a bridge with 21st century technology

Customers complain about bridge’s new tolling system

TruckNews.com

WINDSOR, Ont. — The Ambassador Bridge’s new electronic A-Pass toll system in its early rollout has been met with some criticism from customers being billed incorrectly.

The system, which uses an overhead truss to capture RFID windshield tags on trucks moving onto the Ambassador Bridge from US interstates on their way to Canada, complements a similar system put in place two years ago for inbound US trucks.

The truss not only detects RFID tags but has cameras to capture truck licence plates, USDOT numbers, and even names and logos painted alongside cabs and trailers.

But not all customers have been happy with the new system.

Rose Monteforte, accounting administrator for flatbed steel and machinery hauler Frontier Transportation Services in Beamsville, Ont. detailed a list of billing errors.

“They would invoice us and we’d get the invoice and it wouldn’t be our freight number, it wouldn’t be our truck, so we’d have to call and request pictures or backup and 99% of the time they were not our invoices,” she said.

Frontier has been getting paper invoices and was being charged on a credit card, which a minority of the companies use, according to bridge officials, who are trying to encourage customers to sign up for permanent accounts.

“I’ll get an invoice in the mail that they crossed and sometimes it’s not our truck, it’s not our licence plates, it’s nowhere near who we are, but they just take it off your credit card,” Monteforte said.

If using a credit card, users must agree to put up $500 along with a $25 administration fee to cover the bridge’s own transaction costs. With each crossing money is deducted and when the balance hits $50 another $500 plus $25 is added.

Monteforte also complained about the difficulty of reaching Ambassador Bridge staff to complain about errors.

“I’ve left messages, nobody calls me back,” she said but added eventually invoices are corrected. “I’ve never had a problem getting it taken off of our account.” 

Independent London-based owner/operator Ralph Allen called the system “an ordeal.”

He signed up for an account through his credit card and was billed 17 times “all at once” and 14 of those “were not mine” with some charges for companies as far away as Illinois.

“So it took about five weeks to get this straightened out, you can’t get them on the phone,” he said. “Actually e-mail is the only way you can get a hold of them.”

Allen was so put off he now refuses to use the Ambassador Bridge, opting instead for the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron.

Danny Kang, operations manager of Ranger Truck Lines in Brampton, Ont., which hauls mixed freight and whose trucks cross the Ambassador as many as 30 times a week, said his company was also a victim of false billings and said larger firms are especially vulnerable because their accounts are larger and more detailed.

“We had to get some corrected but you know when there’s so many (trucks) going through it’s really hard to catch every single one,” he said.

Ambassador Bridge officials admit there were teething problems after the system opened this spring.

“There were problems at the beginning,” said Stan Korosec, the bridge’s director of security and government relations. “I fully admit to that but I think we’re getting better now.”

The same, he said, might explain delays in the company responding to complaints. “We had a lot of issues in the beginning that (staff) had to work through so they were probably swamped,” he said.

Korosec said the bridge processes more than 10,000 transactions a day so some errors will occur. 

But bridge officials said the vast majority of problems are related to the fact drivers have not signed up for permanent accounts where billing is sent weekly by e-mail, a more efficient and transparent method.

Bridge chief financial officer Peter Farah called that system “in my mind 100% foolproof.” 

He said where most errors occur is when users don’t have RFID tags and where photos of their licence plates or company names and USDOT numbers are instead used for billing.

In these cases bridge staff have to individually track the users down, sometimes by looking up company internet sites or even through phone books, finding addresses and billing accordingly. That’s where mistakes can occur because information may be outdated.

“I’m not saying we’re 100% perfect when it comes to the manual – all I’m saying it leaves it open for potential errors and we double-check all of our work so we’re quite confident we’re sending the proper invoice,” Farah said.

One reason some truckers, especially smaller operators, might not sign up for a permanent account is because of the cost of the initial “security deposit.”

Farah said the deposit is based on the vehicle’s average crossings per month with a minimum charge of $1,000 and if customers are delinquent the bridge can draw from it. “But again it’s their money and they get it back when they leave,” he said.

Originally posted by TruckNews.com

State chambers urge swift action to resolve funding for new Detroit-Windsor bridge customs facility

State Chambers of Commerce from across the U.S. including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, have all signed a letter to the President and Congress, urging federal funding for the U.S. Customs Plaza for the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

These states represent more than 40 percent of the U.S. population and all have signed the letter regarding the importance of the bridge project, the economic impact it will have on businesses and their employees in their respective states, and the importance of reliable transportation infrastructure between the U.S. and Canada at the Detroit-Windsor border.

Click here to read the letter.

Podcast: Bridge to Canada takes a back seat to politics in Lansing

By Stateside Staff

What’s up with the building of the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor?

It appears that the bridge is taking a back seat to politics in Lansing.

As the Detroit News editorial team wrote, “Gov. Rick Snyder should not still be herding cats to get the new bridge build across the Detroit river.”

Much of the opposition to the new bridge continues from Republican lawmakers, even after it was assumed that a new bridge was set to go.

So, now what?

Republican state senators have put in language in a transportation bill that would stop the state from purchasing land for the new bridge.

John Pappageorge is a Republican state senator from Troy, and he joined us on Stateside.

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.

Originally posted by Michigan Radio.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 420 other followers