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

 

U.S.-Canada Bridge Funding at Risk

By Alistair MacDonald and Matthew Dolan

In a potential blow to a project that would speed traffic over one of the world’s busiest trade routes, the Obama administration is holding back financial support for a customs plaza that is key to the future of a proposed international bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Canada has already pledged to provide or guarantee private funding for most of the project’s expected $3.65 billion cost, including $550 million for a link between the bridge and U.S. Interstate 75. The Obama administration approved construction of the bridge last April, and Ottawa expected Washington to contribute $250 million to build the plaza, without which the bridge wouldn’t be viable.

The bridge has support of Michigan’s Republican governor and its two Democratic senators, among others in the state’s congressional delegation. But U.S. officials say that there are limited infrastructure dollars and competing projects and that private money can step in on this bridge.

“We are increasingly concerned that the administration, by way of inaction, will stand in the way of this national infrastructure project,” said Sandy Baruah, president and chief executive of the Detroit Regional Chamber, a business group.

Canada continues to work under the assumption that the U.S. will fund the customs plaza and has heard nothing from the White House to suggest otherwise, said Roy Norton, a Canadian diplomat who until earlier this month was consul general in Detroit.

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration have told a group of seven Michigan congressional members and the Canadian government that their agencies don’t have resources available to build the plaza, according to a February letter by those members.

More recently, several administration officials have told Canadian counterparts that Canadian—or private—money should replace the $250 million that Washington was set to spend on the customs plaza, according to people familiar with the matter. The Obama administration argues that those private funds can be recouped through toll revenue, according to a White House budget official. Canada, though, is struggling to accept that U.S. funding may not come, said another person.

Mr. Norton said asking private investors for more money could put them off investing, given that Canada has already talked to them about the $1 billion the current plan calls for them to invest. Canada is talking to the U.S. about ways to spread its $250 million over a number of years, he said.

“Clearly the United States government is responsible for paying for its own Port of Entry and customs plaza,” said a spokeswoman for Lisa Raitt, Canada’s Minister of Transport.

The potential knockback comes at a time when relations between the U.S. and its biggest trading partner, Canada, are already being tested by the yearslong approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline supported by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

More than $130 billion of trade flowed through Detroit into Canada in 2012, the second largest cross-border flow after Laredo, Texas, and Mexico. A new crossing at the Windsor-Detroit border has long been a top priority for Canadian policy makers despite a legal challenge from the owner of the competing Ambassador Bridge.

Canadian exporters complain the current congested span costs the economy billions of dollars in delivery delays and increased compliance burdens.

Lack of U.S. funding for customs plazas has stymied similar projects along its borders. The president’s current budget 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. A GSA spokesman said Wednesday the agency is working on the issue.

A Transportation Department spokeswoman said money is still being spent on new infrastructure and the department continues to “work with other agencies to move the project forward.”

Michigan officials have ramped up pressure on the White House in recent months.

“We risk further hampering international trade if border capacity is not increased to meet projected growth,” the congressional members wrote in the February letter. Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat who represents parts of Detroit and its suburbs, introduced a bill that would fund the plaza.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at alistair.macdonald@wsj.com and Matthew Dolan at matthew.dolan@wsj.com

Originally posted in the Wall Street Journal

Groups across U.S. call on Obama to fund Detroit River bridge project

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

A group of 40 construction, business and labor associations from across the border have issued a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him to intervene and resolve the $250 million funding requirement for a customs plaza for the planned Detroit River international bridge.

“The undersigned organizations urge you to swiftly resolve questions surrounding funding for the U.S. Federal Plaza associated with the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario to allow the project to commence,” said the letter.

The groups include the Detroit Regional Chamber, Steel Manufacturers Association, Laborers International Association of North America, American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan and National Association of Manufacturers.

The letter sent Tuesday to The White House notes how the bridge project has been in the planning process for over a decade and calls on the president to “finish the process by definitively resolving the questions surrounding funding” for the customs plaza on the Detroit side.

“Canada has agreed to pay for almost all the $2 billion project; however the United States  has not yet committed to its relatively modest share – $250 million for the Federal Plaza,” the letter said.

The joint letter also touts the economic benefits the bridge project will generate through both construction jobs and permanent jobs related to the Canada-U.S. cross-border movement of goods once completed.

“The long-lasting impact of the project will be felt beyond Michigan, as the entire Midwest relies on reliable transportation infrastructure at the Detroit-Windsor crossing to get goods to market,” the letter said.

Completion of the bridge project is scheduled for 2020, but its supporters fear Washington’s failure to fund the U.S. customs plaza may delay the project.

Concerns have been elevated since the president failed to include funds for the plaza in his proposed U.S. federal budget released a couple of weeks ago.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Editorial: Michigan must keep pushing for new bridge

Obama’s budget, lawsuit latest hurdles

Having failed to stop Gov. Rick Snyder from pursuing plans for the New International Trade Crossing with battles in Michigan, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun has now turned his efforts to Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, the nation’s capital apparently is proving more fertile ground. Michigan’s members of Congress — from both parties — need to rise up and see to the state’s needs by insisting on federal support for the project.

Moroun, many will recall, succeeded in keeping the Michigan Legislature from approving the New International Trade Crossing, the proposed new span linking Canada and Michigan.

The new project is so desirable to the Canadians that they’ve pledged to loan Michigan the money needed for its share of construction costs and will take payment from proceeds of tolls. Snyder, undeterred when the Legislature refused to support his plan, went around it and kept the project moving with his executive powers, getting federal transportation officials on board.

The Moroun family, owners of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which operates the Ambassador Bridge, then funded a ballot proposal that would have amended the state charter to make building of a bridge with any government support unlikely. Michigan voters resoundingly defeated that.

Now Moroun fights in Washington, and is seeing some success. Most recently, President Barack Obama’s latest budget proposal failed to include funds for the U.S. Customs plaza that is needed as part of the bridge project. And late last week, Moroun asked a federal judge to block the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing a permit that would be needed before construction of a new bridge, arguing that his company’s franchise agreement prohibits any competing span.

The problem there is that the Canadians have turned down Moroun’s plan to put a second span adjacent to his existing bridge. So if the U.S. wants to improvement in crossing delays and national security, NITC is needed. Canadian officials say that one-quarter of all trade between the two nations passes through Detroit and Windsor, the busiest crossing between the nations. Economic development officials project the new bridge could help add 66,000 additional jobs to the state. It’s in the best interests of all but Moroun to have a new bridge. Michigan’s congressional delegation must tackle this challenge.

Originally posted by the Lansing State Journal

Customs plaza for new Detroit bridge hits a roadblock on federal funding

By Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press Washington Staff

WASHINGTON — What Buffalo needed in 2011 to move ahead with a decade-long plan to twin the Peace Bridge into Canada was a financial commitment for $250 million from the U.S. government to pay for a bigger, better customs plaza on the New York side.

It never came.

In Port Huron, a customs plaza expansion project to reduce backups at the Blue Water Bridge began in 2002. More than 100 homes and commercial properties were demolished to make way. But as of last year, the federal government said it didn’t have the $145 million needed to finish the work — and officials there continue to wait.

In Lewiston and Alexandria Bay, N.Y.; in Dunseith, N.D., and in Brownsville, Texas, customs plaza projects at border crossings have been stalled for years due to lack of federal funding. Budget cutbacks, changing priorities and an overwhelming need at high-traffic Mexican crossings have shifted political attention, overwhelmed annual appropriations and sapped congressional will.

Those fiscal realities are becoming clear to supporters of the proposed New International Trade Crossing in Detroit. While they remain publicly optimistic about securing U.S. funding for a new $250-million customs plaza — a commitment Gov. Rick Snyder identified as key to moving forward with the project — their chances of doing so in the short term are murky at best. To get funding, the NITC will have to jump ahead of others that have been in line a lot longer than Detroit.

“It becomes a battle for who has more clout to go after what limited funds there are from the federal government,” said Z. Kris Wisniewski, with the Eastern Border Transportation Coalition, a group that works on U.S-Canada border issues.

Which may be another concern for supporters of the NITC. On the Democratic side, Michigan’s clout is waning somewhat, with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn — two of the state’s most powerful boosters — leaving at the end of the year. So far, it has fallen to U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat, to propose legislation funding the customs plaza, though it’s not likely going far in a Republican-controlled House.

New heads of Homeland Security and Transportation could add to the confusion. And a new U.S. ambassador to Canada has not yet been confirmed.

Republicans in the Michigan delegation, meanwhile, have been silent on the funding so far. Except, that is, for U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican, whose district includes the Blue Water Bridge and who has been trying to get funding for it for years.

“Here’s the thing,” she said. “I have never taken a very hopeful position about the NITC because I represent the Blue Water Bridge. We have no money for a plaza. … The Canadians have built their plaza. They keep looking at us like, ‘What? Come on!’ ”

Limited funds available

It’s not that the federal government doesn’t fund Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. Last week, the General Services Administration (GSA) revealed as part of President Barack Obama’s budget request a list of three border stations — two along the Mexican border in California and a third long-standing project at Alexandria Bay in New York — which could split $420 million.

Michigan officials, meanwhile, seemed satisfied that CBP, part of the Homeland Security Department, asked for $486 million for unspecified construction and facility maintenance, though much of that goes to smaller projects if Congress agrees. Most of the larger stations, including Detroit’s, are owned or leased by the GSA.

Dan Tangherlini, head of the GSA, told the Free Press last week that his agency and the Departments of State and Transportation are working to assuage the concerns of Canadian officials who have promised to pay the lion’s share of the $2-billion bridge, even without an outright commitment.

But to eventually get funding, officials must confront a network of border stations and customs plazas with vast needs.

In three of the last four years, there has been no funding at all for GSA’s customs plazas. CBP refused to release a list of priority projects it compiles each year with GSA, but the roster is known to be in the dozens. Wisniewski’s group said that along the northern border with Canada — America’s biggest trading partner — at least nine crossings are initial priorities, where traffic delays can cost millions in lost production.

Detroit’s project — with ground not broken and a new bridge years in the future — isn’t believed to be on the list, a situation Ron Rienas, general manager at the Buffalo and Ft. Erie Public Bridge Authority, can identify with.

Over 11 years, he said, Peace Bridge officials wrestled to get federal clearances for their project, the vast majority of which would be paid for by the authority. But when it became clear in 2011 that no federal funds would be coming in the near future, the authority adopted a more modest proposal.

Last month, it unveiled a program allowing U.S. customs officers in Canada to pre-inspect trucks entering the U.S., and it is getting by with a less robust plaza expansion itself.

“The bottom line is that the northern border projects, the large ones — Port Huron, Buffalo, Lewiston, Alexandria Bay — are all in the same boat,” Rienas said.

“There’s no point beating our heads against the wall.”

A matter of fairness

A commitment to the NITC plaza may seem a minuscule point in a project worth billions. But it’s not.

The Canadian government is moving ahead with plans to purchase land needed for the bridge, which is perhaps the No. 1 infrastructure project in the pipeline as far as that nation’s priorities. In Michigan, the project enjoys widespread support among elected officials and businesspeople who expect it to spark development and put thousands of people to work.

It also will serve as an important trade link between the two countries, especially for the region’s dominant automobile industry, which sends parts back and forth across the border as vehicles are assembled.

For many in Canada and the U.S., the NITC is seen as a way to bypass the existing Ambassador Bridge and bottlenecks on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. But finding a company that would design, build and run the new bridge — and pay back the Canadian investment — gets potentially more difficult when there is uncertainty about who is on the hook for the customs plaza.

“The major step that would be taken later this year or early next would be to summon bids from consortia that would finance, build and maintain the actual span. Their investment will be recouped by toll revenues,” said Roy Norton, Canada’s counsel general in Detroit. “If by early ’15 there hasn’t been that signal (that the U.S. will pay for the customs plaza), it could cause delay.”

And delay means lost revenue for the vendor to begin recouping its investment.

Gov. Snyder has called it a matter of simple fairness that the federal government pay for the customs plaza. No one at CBP responded to questions about whether they view it the same way.

The case for Detroit

Detroit is often referred to as the busiest trade crossing in North America, but it’s not. Not anymore.

According the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2009, it fell below the crossing at Laredo, Texas, in terms of the value of shipments across the border. As of 2012, it remained No. 2.

Generally speaking, that may help explain the billions that have been spent improving customs plazas and crossings along the southern border, where there are dozens of priority projects: At San Ysidro near San Diego — the busiest border crossing in the U.S. with 20 million vehicle passengers a year — $323 million has been committed to a huge expansion, and another $217 has been requested.

This year, Congress funded San Ysidro and another project, for $62 million, in Laredo.

But businesspeople along the southern border say they’ve run into the same problem keeping up with demand for new facilities and, maybe more important, staffing. Monica Weisberg-Stewart, a shopkeeper in McAllen, Texas, who works with the Texas Border Coalition, said the group was finally able to convince Congress to allow five pilot projects for which municipalities or businesses will provide funds for staff and infrastructure.

All five are along the southern border, which raises the politically thorny issue of having a newly announced project leapfrog others already in the pipeline.

“It all deals with money and the lack thereof,” said Weisberg-Stewart. “There’s a long line, and people who were supposed to be funded before had their money stalled. You’d have other states extremely upset (if another project got that funding).”

Detroit, the thinking goes, is different: a huge new bridge, with the Canadian government picking up most of the tab, securing one of the most vital trade crossings in the world.

Norton, Canada’s representative in Detroit, is leaving for a similar post in Chicago soon but says he will keep an eye on the NITC. He said there is “plenty of time down the road” to get funding. What he’s looking for now is something more of a promise than a guarantee.

“To be sure, money’s tight. It’s tight in Canada, too,” he said. “But this is the most important border crossing” with America’s “best customer.”

“An offline commitment that they take responsibility for the customs plaza would be enough for us,” he said. “We’re prepared to take the government of the United States of America at its word.”

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Moroun sues to stop the NITC and 10,000 Michigan jobs. When is enough, enough?

Lawyers for Ambassador Bridge owner seek to block rival bridge permit

Written by
Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun asked for a preliminary injunction today to block the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing a permit for a proposed Detroit River span.

Moroun’s lawyers filed the request in U.S. District Court in Washington, saying that it recently came to their attention that the Coast Guard may be intending to issue a navigation permit soon for the New International Trade Crossing.

The lawyers have maintained throughout their years-long legal battle over the proposed bridge that both the U.S. and Canadian governments granted the owners of the Ambassador Bridge an exclusive franchise that can be overridden only by acts of each country’s legislative bodies.

“The basis for the preliminary injunction sought in this motion is simple: The Coast Guard is violating plaintiffs’ franchise rights and constitutional rights, and is causing plaintiffs irreparable harm right now,” the lawyers wrote U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington. “As plaintiffs have shown elsewhere … the construction of (the new bridge) will make it impossible for plaintiffs to build their proposed twin span.”

Moroun has been trying to get permission to build a second span for the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge for some years, but the Canadian government, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and many local corporate leaders have thrown their support behind the NITC.

A hearing on the motion is expected in early April.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Beckmann: Obama builds Michigan a bridge to nowhere

The Detroit News
Frank Beckmann

In the classic old movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” a group of prisoner-of-war British engineers is forced by Japanese captors during World War II to build a passage over the waterway so the Japanese can strategically move military supplies.

The Brits eventually sabotage the bridge with explosives and near the film’s end, British senior officer Lt. Col. L. Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness), is fatally wounded but as he stumbles toward his death, he falls on the detonator, destroying the bridge, after reciting the memorable line, “What have I done?”

The scene comes to mind as we receive word that President Barack Obama failed to include in this week’s federal budget request the $250 million necessary to build a U.S. customs plaza to allow Canadian-funded construction for “The Bridge on the River Detroit,” aka the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

Ground can’t be broken on Gov. Rick Snyder’s pet project without that federal aid and Snyder has returned from several bridge-related visits to Washington believing federal support was a foregone conclusion for the NITC, which has bipartisan support because of the job growth and increased economic activity the bridge promises to create.

But Obama’s $3.9 trillion budget proposal included no mention of the necessary funding for the NITC customs plaza, leaving the Detroit bridge project in limbo while even the Canadians grow impatient to spend their $2.1 billion to build the span.

Obama found the dollars to fund $115 million in federal government construction projects to build the IRS a new computer center in Detroit — all the better to limit tea party deductions with — and to refurbish the U.S. courthouse here.

He also wants to spend over $300 million to hire an additional 2,000 customs agents, who Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York says will ease backups on his state’s Peace Bridge to Canada.

Add in $90 million to continue studying rare isotope beams at Michigan State University and millions more to continue studying alternative-fuel vehicles that Americans don’t want to buy, and you’ve got enough money to pay for the customs plaza and break ground on the NITC.

Don’t get me wrong; all those items in the budget might have merit, however none of them, individually or collectively, carry the promise of jobs and economic growth that come with “The Bridge on the River Detroit.”

On the surface, omission of the bridge-related funding in Obama’s budget seems like a surprise, but this is an election year so, 1. Don’t be surprised, and 2. Don’t be concerned.

The NITC funding omission reeks of politics, especially with the immediate statement after the budget proposal was released that Michigan Congressman Gary Peters believes this “was a grave oversight, but we can work together to make this customs plaza a reality.”

How convenient.

Peters happens to be running for the U.S. Senate and polls show him trailing Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land.

The congressman also faces the daunting prospect of defending his all-in support for Obamacare where he repeated the president’s untrue promise that Americans who like their health care plans can keep them.

Peters has also introduced legislation to fund the customs plaza project.

So Obama, who says retaining Democratic control of the Senate is his chief aim, conveniently leaves out of his budget what amounts to a pittance of spending in the overall scheme of things, and leaves the work of getting the project on track to his Michigan Senate candidate, Gary Peters, who can claim the NITC as his own success story if the funding comes later — say in October, before the elections.

While we’ll never find a smoking gun to prove collusion between Peters and Obama on such a plot, we’re reminded that there are no coincidences in politics.

And if money is later forthcoming for “The Bridge on the River Detroit,” the NITC will be known as the project saved by Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters, not by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

That would leave the GOP to recite the final line from a character in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” — “Madness! … Madness!”

Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760).

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Obama administration’s budget package includes $482 million for new infrastructure for U.S. ports of entry

Obama fails to include money for DRIC bridge in proposed U.S. budget

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Canada’s Consul General Roy Norton believes the new Windsor-Detroit bridge remains on target for a 2020 opening, despite disappointing news that U.S. President Barack Obama has no money earmarked for a customs plaza in his proposed budget.

“Ideally you wanted to see the president designate something to this border crossing, but he didn’t do that,” said Norton, a major backer of the Detroit River International Crossing project. Supporters were hoping $250 million for a U.S. customs plaza would be mentioned in the White House budget under the Department of Homeland Security.

Norton pointed out how Obama’s proposed $4-trillion spending package unveiled Tuesday does include $482 million of new infrastructure money for all U.S. ports of entry. He said he is hopeful the DRIC project will be in play as Congress moves forward on actual budget decision making which has to be completed before October 1.

“There is money in the budget so Congress can play with that number – even increase it if they want. They can designate some to the (DRIC). You do not need the full amount in one year – it only has to be there by the time the bridge opens.

“I’m certainly not discouraged. Some of those funds could be used for DRIC. Now you will see six months of back-and-forth and jockeying.”

Norton expects property acquisition to start within weeks and the project put out for bid to the private sector before the end of this year.

“So far, that’s the timetable and nothing has happened to knock us off that,” he said.

Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada, said Canada will continue on with the process.

“We are hopeful that the U.S. government will ultimately fund the Port of Entry and meet its obligations in this binational partnership to build a new crossing at one of North America’s most important gateways,” he said.

Canada is essentially paying full costs for the bridge and feeder roads under for the DRIC project – estimated to be over $2 billion – with expectations Washington will fund the U.S. customs plaza in Detroit.

The budget still requires political approval in Washington sometime before this fall.

Canada’s Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt is scheduled to travel to Washington for a conference on March 25 when she is also expected to meet with her counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. The DRIC bridge is anticipated to be prominent among discussions, federal officials said.

Congress still remains in position to find funds for the DRIC customs plaza in Detroit before budgets are finalized, said local MP Jeff Watson (C – Essex).

“While it would have been a good sign, not having this in the budget does not mean a lot to me,” he said. “There are plenty of other mechanisms for Congress to fund this project.

“What you need to see is for someone to champion this in both the House and Senate sides because you need measures passed in both. With the stage this project is at there is still time for Congress to make decisions, so I’m not overly concerned. I think at this point the next set of discussions has to include members of Congress.”

Meanwhile, there was disappointment expressed by political leaders across the border that DRIC bridge funds were not budgeted by the Obama administration.

“I am disappointed the president’s budget has failed to fund one of the most critical infrastructure projects for Michigan and the U.S. economy, a new customs plaza at the Detroit – Windsor border,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D – Detroit).

“The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the busiest and the most important in North America and this infrastructure project is a critical priority for our economy and export capability.”

The decision comes just days after a joint letter was issued by Michigan’s top federal politicians to Obama – including Peters – urging him to not only supply funding for the customs plaza, but also appoint a “senior” White House leader to ensure the downriver Windsor-Detroit bridge soon gets built.

The two-page letter from the Michigan contingent was also signed by U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, plus Congress representatives John Dingell, John Conyers and Sander Levin. They described the DRIC bridge as being “vital to our nation’s security and economic future.”

Despite the budget snub, Peters called on the Obama administration to work with Congress, plus government leaders in Michigan and Canada to move the bridge project forward.

“The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight, but we can continue to work together to make this customs plaza a reality,” he said. “I look forward to working with Governor (Rick) Snyder and members of the Michigan delegation to prioritize the (DRIC bridge).”

Having some new money on the table for U.S. customs infrastructure is a good sign, said a spokesman for Snyder.

“Gov. Snyder is pleased with the funding proposal,” said Ken Silfven. “We’ll continue working with Congress and the White House to secure the necessary funding for construction and improvements along the northern border, in both Detroit and Port Huron.

“Investing in customs plaza infrastructure will boost trade volume and efficiency, so the recommended funding is a positive development and we look forward to further dialogue with our federal and Canadian partners.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star