Hurdle cleared in effort to build Gordie Howe bridge

Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press

The Michigan Department of Transportation has cleared a hurdle as it moves to acquire property for construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s companies have granted permission, after initially refusing, for MDOT to access property the Morouns control in southwest Detroit so the agency can survey and conduct other work.

MDOT had sought a court order to allow the agency access to property, which the Ambassador Bridge owner uses for a trucking terminal on West Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The agency is acquiring property in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood for the new Canada-financed bridge between Detroit and Windsor and filed suit Wednesday in Wayne County Circuit Court, saying it needs access “immediately” to avoid delays in construction, which is projected to start in 2017.

But Michael Samhat, president of Moroun’s Crown Enterprises, explained that he had granted the permission in writing the day after MDOT’s attorney set a 24-hour deadline, but that a lawsuit was filed anyway. After reaching out to MDOT the next day, he said the suit was withdrawn.

“Our intent was not to fight or resist their entrance to the property. We understand it’s part of the process,” Samhat said. But “we need to have some details.”

Samhat referenced an aerial picture that MDOT provided of the Central Transport operation showing curving red lines through the property, presumably representing what MDOT believes it might need to acquire.

“It’s obvious to us it’s not them taking a sliver,” Samhat said, noting that if that area is eventually acquired “it would greatly impair the operation.”

As reported by the Free Press in July, MDOT needs to control up to 800 parcels in the southwest Detroit neighborhood to provide room for the approaches to the bridge and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza. The report said that “legal wrangling over the price of individual parcels could go on for years after residents and businesses are relocated and even after the Gordie Howe International Bridge is scheduled to open in 2020.”

The exchange between Samhat and MDOT played out in a series of back-and-forth letters since the beginning of October. Moroun’s companies own more than 20 parcels that MDOT wants to access, but only one appeared to be at issue.

In a letter Oct. 12, Samhat suggested, in denying MDOT’s access request, that it was looking out for its business and employees.

“We are sensitive about the disruption and employee concern that your inspection will cause with this parcel. This site is utilized by Central Transport and it is one of the larger employers in this Detroit neighborhood,” according to the letter, which also notes that it’s “premature to start the process toward condemnation when important decisions concerning the ability of the project to go forward are currently before the federal court in Washington, D.C.”

That letter followed a decision by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who dismissed “virtually all of the remaining legal counts in the Morouns’ five-year-old lawsuit against federal and state officials” in their fight over the new bridge. Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. had claimed an exclusive franchise to operate a bridge between Detroit and Canada without competition.

MDOT’s attorney, Mark Zausmer, said in his letter seeking access to the Moroun property that the agency needs to survey, take measurements and photographs, appraise the property and conduct noninvasive environmental inspection activities.

The MDOT lawsuit noted that Samhat was requesting “an assurance that their ‘business and employees will not be damaged in this condemnation process.’ ”

It might not be a surprise that MDOT turned to the courts to address its access request. Moroun has aggressively fought construction of the Gordie Howe bridge, which would be downstream of the Ambassador, at the same time he has been fighting, despite significant opposition in Canada, to build a second span for the Ambassador.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Editor’s note: Second span to Windsor needed

Nolan Finley, The Detroit News

Hopefully, Michigan’s congressional delegation was paying attention Tuesday to what was not happening on the Ambassador Bridge.

Traffic was not moving over the lone bridge across the Detroit River to Canada because a vehicle fire shut down the span.

The delay was short-lived, but created a traffic back-up that inconvenienced motorists and cost truckers and the factories they supply money. Imagine if the accident had been more serious and the bridge had to be closed for days instead of hours.

Back-up capacity is one reason Metro Detroit needs a second bridge across the Detroit River. And yet some Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation aren’t on board.

Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township wants money first for an expansion project at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, which is in her district. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester says he supports Miller, but he also has benefited from campaign donations from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Maroun, who opposes the second span. Outstate GOP Reps. Tim Walberg and John Moolenaar have yet to endorse the new bridge.

Relying on one bridge in an era in which global trade is so vital to the local economy is reckless. Miller and Bishop should join the rest of the state delegation in setting aside parochial interests and work for the good of the entire state.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Politics and Prejudices: Treating Canada like, uh, spit

By Jack Lessenberry

Lower Americans, which is what we really are, geographically (and often otherwise) tend to disrespect Canada, our most important friend, ally, and trading partner.

Not only haven’t we expressed gratitude for their picking up all Michigan’s expenses for the badly needed new bridge over the Detroit River — our government wouldn’t even pay for its own customs plaza.

Canada sighed and rolled its eyes, or would have if an entire nation could. This is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for well over a century: Sometimes on purpose; more often, out of our usual boorish insensitivity and absent-mindedness.

Back in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson once grabbed Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson by his lapels and screamed at him, “Don’t you come into my living room and piss on my rug!”

Poor old Mike Pearson hadn’t in fact ignored the toilet; all he had done is make a speech calling for a bombing halt in Vietnam. LBJ also usually called Pearson by the wrong first name, and sometimes confused him with the British prime minister. Other presidents have openly insulted Canadians or attempted to walk all over them.

Congress, if possible, has been worse. After Pierre Trudeau, who was regarded as a world statesman, addressed a joint session in 1977, one member from Milwaukee said he was impressed because “some members of Congress didn’t know a Canadian could speak such good English.”

Back then, Canada felt mainly ignored. Sondra Gotlieb, an accomplished and outspoken novelist, was the wife of Canada’s ambassador to Washington back in the Reagan era. “For some reason, a glaze passes over people’s faces when you say Canada. Maybe we should invade South Dakota, or something,” she mused. Sadly, they never did.

Canada’s problem is that she is like a sensible, usually sweet woman married to a bully. Though Canada is just as large geographically as the United States, it has barely more than a tenth of the population. Canadian politicians have long referred to it as a mouse sharing a bed with an elephant.

Years ago, Canadian columnist Allan Fotheringham said the problem was “the mouse still quivers. He fears sexual assault.” Being crushed on purpose is more like it.

Things do, in fact, seem to be particularly bad right now. Despite our frequent boorishness, Canada and the United States have usually gotten along very well. Our nations really have been close, at least on most issues, and it really was the world’s longest unguarded border, at least until Sept. 11, 2001.

There’ve been exceptions; President Clinton did seem to have a warm relationship with Canada’s leaders, and Canadians will tell you that former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard was the best envoy Washington ever sent.

But those days are gone. Whatever you think of President Obama, relations with Canada have been especially bad in the last few years. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most important newspaper, ran a long story last month saying that U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman has been more or less frozen out by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, in part, evidently because he brought the arrogant attitude of a former investment banker to the diplomatic table.

Mostly, however, there is a chilly atmosphere between Harper and Obama, who have never warmed to each other.

Not even the Canadians would put all the blame for that on Obama; Harper is not notorious for charm. But even his detractors think the United States could show some respect.

Whatever you think of the Keystone XL pipeline project, Canada is fully committed to it. Douglas George, Canada’s current counsel general in Detroit, knows something about energy issues; he is a former ambassador to Kuwait.

He knows something about this nation and this area too; he grew up in Sarnia right across the border from Port Huron, and came with his friends to many a concert in Detroit.

Though environmentalists have legitimate Keystone concerns, George told me “this is something that offers both our nations the chance for energy independence from the Middle East and Venezuela.”

Shortly after that, President Obama flatly declared he would veto a Keystone bill if one reached his desk.

One has the sense that Canada is less offended by Obama’s opposition to Keystone than they are that he didn’t seem to take Canada’s position seriously.

Closer to home, much the same is true for the New International Trade Crossing bridge. The bridge is vital to the economies of both our nations; Canada’s even more than ours.

In a perfect world, representatives of both countries would have sat down a decade ago and thrashed out where and how to build it and how to divide the costs.

But Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun was able to prevent that, by giving Michigan legislators legal bribes known as “campaign contributions.” But Canada stepped up.

They advanced Michigan the money needed, in what amounts to an interest-free $550 million loan that is to be paid back — someday — out of our state’s share of the toll revenue.

Though nobody mentions this, what this really means is that Canada will lose millions on the deal, thanks to inflation.

Canada did think Washington should pay for the customs plaza an international border crossing requires. After all, even poor countries pay for their own diplomatic installations.

But the Obama administration embarrassed itself by not even stepping up to ask Congress for the $250 million or so needed for an immigration and customs facility.

To be fair, even if Obama had, the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress might well have denied it.

Matty Moroun has given money to a number of GOP congressmen, including freshman U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester Hills) who has vowed to stop the new bridge.

So Canada is picking up that expense too. Oh, they expect to be reimbursed from our share of the duties, maybe half a century from now. There’s no real danger relations between our two countries will get too chilly.

Each needs the other too much. Last month, Canada and the U.S. signed a new initiative that should soon eliminate much of the hassle of crossing the border by land, sea, or air.

The relationship is intact. But we’ve shown little class when it comes to the way we’ve treated our most reliable ally and friend. Ten years from now, if the new bridge is indeed up and running, and you have a job, especially in any job that is related to manufacturing, you might think about doing something our government should be doing right now.

Thank a Canadian.

Originally posted by the Detroit Metro Times

New $2.1 Billion Detroit-Windsor Bridge Promises Boon to U.S. Trade

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

Amid the gloom over the partisan deadlock in Washington over an infrastructure program and the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. and Canadian governments have quietly cut a deal on a new $2.1 billion bridge linking Detroit and Ontario designed to eliminate a massive bottleneck in the flow of goods between the two countries.

With more than $650 billion in goods exchanged each year between Canada and the United States, Canada represents this country’s largest trading partner, overshadowing China, Mexico and Japan. Nearly half of all goods that are transported between the two countries by truck each year – or roughly $131 billion worth – currently pass over the Ambassador Bridge or through an adjacent  tunnel.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is swamped by over 8,000 trucks daily. A combination of heightened border security and persistent traffic jams is creating a drag on potential growth in U.S. exports and imports along the Detroit-Windsor border. Some experts say construction of a new bridge would pave the way for a significant increase in trade in coming years.

“Among all the border crossings between Canada and the United States, Detroit is really the most emblematic of the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed,” Joseph Kane, a senior policy specialist on U.S. metropolitan areas, said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a huge scale of value really going across the border, and it’s not just a local issue where it’s just benefiting local workers and business establishments in Michigan itself.”

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge in 2013, but the project has been dogged for years by financial and legal problems and challenges from community residents.

The new bridge is to be constructed about two miles south of the  Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned suspension bridge that currently is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. The project also will include construction of new highway interchanges in downtown Detroit and Windsor to handle more easily the crush of traffic. Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020, although construction hasn’t started yet.

The deal was finally sealed after the Canadian government agreed recently to pick up the $250 million to $300 million cost of a customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security says that a “public-private partnership” will use tolls to reimburse Canada for the plaza’s construction. In return, the U.S. will pay for the workers, operations and maintenance of the plaza in Detroit – with a first year cost of about $100 million.

Much of the $131 billion worth of cargo transported by truck between Detroit and Windsor annually is high-value transportation and electronic equipment that is destined for regions well beyond Detroit and Ontario.  By comparison, the next highest volume border crossing, in Buffalo, N.Y., handles about $151 billion of truck traffic a year, or one third of what is trucked across the Ambassador Bridge, according to data prepared by Brookings.

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Latest deal on Detroit-Canada bridge a huge boost for metro trade

Brookings |

Over the past decade, the New International Trade Crossing (NITC)—a proposed bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario—has been in the works to improve connectivity at one of the world’s busiest border crossings and sites of commerce. Supported by an innovative, binational public-private partnership between the United States and Canada, the $2 billion-plus project will not only relieve pressure on the increasingly congested, 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which handles over 8,000 trucks daily, but also reinforce Michigan’s role as a global trading hub.

Uncertainties over funding and vocal opposition have long stalled the NITC’s progress, but the project just cleared a major hurdle toward completion when Canada agreed to pick up a $250 million tab for the bridge’s customs plaza. In addition to the thousands of local workers and industries that stand to benefit from this latest move, metropolitan areas across the United States and Canada will reap economic rewards for years to come.

Protecting the U.S.-Canadian trading relationship is of vital significance to both countries’ economies and facilitated by key infrastructure investments. With over $650 billion in goods exchanged each year, Canada represents the largest trading partner for the U.S., outranking China, Mexico, and Japan. At the same time, those goods flow to an impressive amount of places on both sides of the border, from Seattle and Houston to Vancouver and Montreal, helping explain why Canada has taken a lead role investing in the NITC.

Detroit is easily the most important of these trading depots, especially when it comes to truck movement. Last year, more than 1.6 million trucks passed through the metro area, which represented the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada and the second-busiest in North America next to Laredo (1.9 million trucks). An upcoming release in our Metro Freight series will reveal a similar result, showing how Detroit funnels approximately $131 billion, or nearly half, of all goods that move by truck between the U.S. and Canada. By comparison, the next highest border crossing, Buffalo, transports about one-third this value by truck ($51 billion), followed by several rural regions.

Source: Brookings analysis of EDR data.
Note: “Rest of” designations refer to nonmetropolitan portions of each state. For instance, the “Rest of Washington” includes all rural regions outside metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Spokane.

In turn, a variety of markets across the U.S. rely on Detroit to profit from Canadian trade. For example, only 4.7 percent of the $131 billion carried on these trucks ($6.2 billion) is produced or consumed locally in Detroit. Instead, the vast majority of this value travels to and from large markets like New York ($4.7 billion), Chicago ($4.4 billion), and Los Angeles ($2.5 billion), including anything from electronics to metals to agricultural products.

As policymakers look to target more freight investments in the future, the NITC clearly assumes national importance. The U.S. already faces an enormous backlog of infrastructure projects along the border, and it’s time for a more coordinated, proactive approach—through a national freight investment program— that can further support trade in particular regions.

Originally posted by Brookings

Editorial: Build the Detroit River bridge

Latest legal setback should end the challenges to new Detroit River crossing

Piece by piece, preparations for the new Detroit River bridge are falling into place. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared a potential major legal hurdle by refusing to hear a lawsuit brought by community activists and the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The challenge came from Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Citizens with Challenges, Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other community groups, along with the Detroit International Bridge Co., owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

The parties claimed the Federal Highway Administration, in approving the Delray neighborhood of southwest Detroit as the site of the new crossing, violated the social and environmental justice provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and other federal laws.

Federal District Court Judge Avern Cohn rejected the lawsuit, and his decision was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, the Supreme Court has put the matter to rest.

It is the latest in a string of legal victories for Gov. Rick Snyder and other backers of the new Detroit River International Crossing.

Last summer, the appellate court also rejected the contention that the federal government had bowed to pressure from Canada in denying a permit for Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun to build a second span adjacent to his current bridge.

And earlier this month, the United States and Canada reached agreement for the Canadians to front the money for building out the customs plaza on the Detroit side of the crossing. As with the entire $2 billion cost of the bridge, which Canada is also putting up, the $300 million for the plaza will be repaid with revenue from tolls.

By now, the inevitability of the new bridge should be evident. Continuing court battles and other blocking moves is pointless.

Moroun, as well as the community groups, should stand down and let the process of building the bridge proceed.

Instead of continuing a futile fight, they should work with the state and federal governments to mitigate the community’s concerns.

There is no reason the crossing should be a negative for the devastated Delray neighborhood. The international trade expected to be generated by the bridge should create opportunities for warehouses and other logistic industry investments, and with them much needed jobs. The focus now should be on training local workers for those jobs, and making sure development unfolds in a manner that benefits the neighborhood.

As for Moroun, he should accept that he’s lost this battle. Further legal maneuvering is pointless. He has a major investment in the Ambassador Bridge, and it is natural that he would want to protect it.

But the government has no compelling interest in damaging Moroun’s business. He should be working with the state to assure there’s enough traffic to sustain both spans. Increasing trade traffic is the objective, after all.

Once construction begins, it will take five years to complete the crossing. There should be no further needless delays. This is a project vital to the region’s economy.

Originally posted by The Detroit News