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.

Detroit-Windsor bridge debate rages on

By Metro Times staff

Eight years ago in Metro Times: How’s this for familiar territory: MT reports that Delray residents are hopeful that Canadian and U.S. officials will OK a span, much like Matty Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge, connecting Windsor and Detroit via an anchorage in Delray. But Moroun was looking to build a second bridge of his own with the support of then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The story was that a second bridge was going to be built, no matter what — but residents wanted that bridge to be MDOT-controlled so they could rely on an agency responsive to community concerns. To this day, that second bridge is still being debated. Gov. Rick Snyder is backing a Detroit-Windsor bridge in collaboration with Canada dubbed the New International Trade Crossing, while Moroun continues to press for a second span of his own.

Originally posted by the Metro Times

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

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

Canada could foot the bill for U.S. customs plaza

The Globe and Mail

Steven Chase

Canada is open to funding or hosting a U.S. customs plaza, a sticking point in efforts to construct a vital second bridge between Windsor and Detroit, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says.

The Detroit International Trade Crossing is a top infrastructure priority for Ottawa, which is trying to broaden Canada’s most vital trade conduit with the United States.

Ms. Raitt said Canada’s strongly preferred option is that the United States fund its own custom plaza.

“But this is a vitally important project for us and I would encourage us to have open dialogue with the United States on any of these options, quite frankly, to make it go forward,” she told a Canadian American Border Trade Alliance conference in Ottawa Monday.

Canada has put up nearly all the public money necessary for the project and the U.S. federal government appears to be balking at paying the cost of a $250-million U.S. customs structure on the American side. U.S. President Barack Obama’s $3.9-trillion 2015 budget sent to Congress in March failed to allocate funds for it.

Ms. Raitt said the future of this plaza is a hot topic between both countries right now. “Officials are having discussions, politicians are having discussions, the ambassador to the U.S. from Canada is having discussions, all on this area. This is a very important topic for us,” she said.

The bridge will be financed and built by a private contractor – yet to be selected – but Canada is shouldering the majority of upfront costs to build related infrastructure, such as extension roads approaching the bridge. This reflects the fact the deal was arranged over the wishes of the Michigan legislature. Legislative supporters of the existing Detroit-Windsor crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, repeatedly opposed the project and took action to ensure the government of Michigan could not spend money on the project or collect tolls.

Canada will be repaid for covering much of the U.S. share of infrastructure through toll revenues.

Ms. Raitt said she believes it would be a first if the United States left it to Canada to fund the American customs structure.

“This has never happened before – in terms of the United States not paying for their own U.S. customs plaza,” she said Monday. “We’ve made that point very strongly at all of our levels of engagement, all of our levels of engagement – the importance of having the U.S. come to the table.”

The new bridge, currently known as the Detroit River International Crossing or the New International Trade Crossing, will offer an alternative route for trucks at Canada’s busiest commercial border thoroughfare – one that carries one-quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the United States each year.

About $120-billion (U.S.) worth of goods cross the border at the Detroit-Windsor crossing annually, carried mainly by the 2.7 million trucks that cross the existing Ambassador Bridge every year. Truck crossings are expected to more than double by 2035.

A Canadian government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Canada’s willingness to discuss covering the cost of a U.S. customs plaza – or host it – could in fact galvanize Michigan to lobby Washington to pony up the cash or miss out on local economic benefits and jobs of building the structure.

Canada and Ontario have jointly committed $1.4-billion to building a road that will connect Highway 401 to the new bridge. The Herb Gray parkway is expected to be finished this year.

Ms. Raitt said the federal government is “redoubling our efforts to open up our lines of communication” with Washington on the customs plaza.

Originally posted by The Globe and Mail

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