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

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

The Moroun misinformation campaign continues

In Matt Moroun’s latest editorial, he claims that “…the Ambassador Bridge was built and has been maintained without ever taking taxpayer assistance.”

FACT: $230 million taxpayer dollars were used on the Gateway Project that serves the congested Ambassador Bridge and the Federal Government paid to build and continues to pay to maintain the customs plaza at the bridge.

Matt Moroun Editorial:

In the latest news about the New International Trade Crossing government bridge proposal, taxpayers have learned that the proposal requires $250 million for an inspection plaza, as well as the Michigan Transportation Department’s resources for condemning land.

Unfortunately, the Detroit News editorial “Bridge fight has gone on too long” has, not so subtly, chosen to blame these government bridge shortcomings on the private sector and the Ambassador Bridge.

Our company should not be blamed for these fatal flaws. Unlike the government bridge, the Ambassador Bridge was built and has been maintained without ever taking taxpayer assistance. Our position that the government bridge is wrong-minded has not changed. It can’t even pay for itself.

Everyone has heard Gov. Rick Snyder say that his bridge does not need taxpayer money or resources. Now that it does, that is not our fault.

Also, it is not the fault of the Legislature, which has consistently restricted expenditures of money and resources for the government bridge for many years. In fact, until now, Snyder has said that he didn’t even need the Legislature in order to build the government bridge. However, this hasn’t stopped some in the media from insinuating that if a legislator does not want to spend money and resources on the NITC that it must be because of campaign contributions rather than fiscal responsibility — or even reliance on the governor’s word.

The “flip-flop” on taxpayer dollars and risk should be the story.

Matt Moroun, vice chairman,

Ambassador Bridge

Originally posted in the  Detroit News

 

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

Michigan needs the NITC

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters

Last week, I was honored to host Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at a roundtable in Detroit to discuss a new future for Michigan. Local leaders from business, labor and agriculture groups joined local, state, federal and Canadian officials in sharing an economic vision for Michigan. The vision is for a New International Trade Crossing (NITC) at the Detroit-Windsor Border and a revitalized customs plaza in Port Huron, as well as connecting Toronto and Chicago with new cargo and high-speed rail through Detroit. This investment and plan for Michigan’s future will make our state an international trade and logistics hub leading to thousands of new jobs.

The proposed NITC calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, enhancing a vital trade corridor by linking I-75 and I-94 in Michigan to Highway 401 in Ontario. This project will play a critical role in creating jobs throughout the Midwest and increasing U.S. exports. However, funding for a new customs plaza to service the bridge has not been secured.

Detroit is strategically located between Chicago and Toronto on an international border. Cities positioned along major trade routes have thrived and benefited by serving as a center for logistics, innovation and exports throughout history. A customs plaza at the New International Trade Crossing is the right thing to do for our economy, our state and our middle class, and that’s exactly what Secretary Johnson heard from a cross section and bipartisan delegation of our state’s economic leaders.

Secretary Johnson’s visit was important because the Department of Homeland Security is the federal agency responsible for customs plazas, and visiting Michigan and meeting our leaders helped illustrate for him how important these facilities are not just for security but for growing our economy through faster and more efficient trade and commerce. At the meeting, the Secretary noted that one of his responsibilities is “to promote lawful trade and travel.”

That is important, because Michigan’s economic future depends on one of our most important trading partners: Canada. Canada and the U.S. are the world’s largest trading partners with $710 billion in goods and services, in 2012. In Michigan, trade with Canada is directly linked to middle class jobs and the success of our state’s most important industries like auto manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and biofuels. Michigan exports $25.9 billion to Canada annually and 218,000 Michigan jobs depend on trade with Canada. Michigan sells more goods to Canada than to the state’s next 12 largest foreign markets combined.

All of this should point us to one clear focus: doing everything we can to facilitate and increase trade at the northern border. This project, as part of our overall economic plan, will boost trade, create good-paying, middle class jobs, strengthen our border security and put Michigan on a path to being an international transportation and logistics hub. We already have the strategic location and talented workforce. Now, we just need to work together to construct these important infrastructure projects.

It’s important that we act quickly, because communities near these projects are already facing the negative impacts of delayed action instead of reaping the positive economic benefits. It’s why I have taken the lead by proposing Congressional action to prioritize funding for trade crossings with the highest trade volume by value of shipments, including exports and imports. The Detroit–Windsor crossing and Port Huron crossing rank number two and four, respectively, in trade volume for land ports of entry in the United States.

I am committed to these projects because I know how important they are to our state and economy. We can make our northern border a national priority by working in a bipartisan way. Gov. Rick Snyder, members of the Michigan delegation and business and labor leaders across our state have all come out in favor of this project and my legislation.

I am very proud of the impressive presentation our economic leaders gave to Secretary Johnson last week, but I continue to be frustrated with President Obama’s lack of further commitment on this important project for Michigan. We discussed this very issue last month during his visit to our state. I will continue to showcase the incredible work force and trade capacity of our state and look forward to Michigan securing the necessary funding to build this bridge, but also to securing a stronger economic foundation for Michigan’s future.

Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Twp., represents Michigan’s 14th District. He is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Canada and is running for U.S. Senate.

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