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

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

Gov. Snyder leaning on federal government to pony up to get new bridge to Canada off the ground

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said he’s still looking for a commitment from the federal government to pay for a new customs plaza in Detroit — one of the few remaining stumbling blocks to getting construction of the proposed New International Trade Crossing underway.

A month ago, Snyder complained before a Free Press editorial board meeting that it was the federal government’s failure to commit to build a new $250-million customs plaza that was helping to hold up the $2.1-billion project that could create thousands of jobs.

The Canadian government is paying up front for everything but that plaza, and Snyder — in the nation’s capital today for a meeting of the National Governors Association — said he still thinks it’s a matter of fairness for the Homeland Security Department, which oversees U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to shoulder that cost.

Snyder said he’s met with the state’s congressional representatives about the issue. But he’s still trying to sit down with Obama administration officials, though he said they are aware of his interest.

With the Obama administration set to release its fiscal 2015 budget in early March, however, the fact that no conversations have occurred could potentially be a bad sign.

“I’m going to continue to talk about this as an issue until it gets resolved,” said Snyder.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press 

Henderson: What happened to our once mighty neighbour?

The Windsor Star

Gord Henderson

When did America lose its mojo? When and how did the Great Republic, historic bastion of freedom and democracy, surrender its pride and self-respect?

I’m as delighted as the next resident that Ottawa came through with a billion dollars worth of lifelines for the Windsor region this week, including big bucks to keep Fiat-Chrysler here and $631 million to support construction of the all-important Detroit River International Crossing.

No sane person would rain on that parade. The torrent of money from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget might well be this region’s salvation. Tuesday, Feb. 11 was, in all likelihood, an epic turning point that saved thousands of jobs and kept this area from dissolving into an economic puddle.

Still, amid all the cork popping, it strikes me as sad and embarrassing to see our once mighty next-door neighbour, last of the former big spenders, sit on its hands while Canada picks up most of the eye-popping tab for the new trade link between our partner nations.

Thoughtful Americans are surely humiliated by the demeaning spectacle of America and Michigan riding free, counting on Canada’s chequebook to get this vital project built while they concern themselves with more urgent issues, like building a grand new home for the Red Wings.

Yes, our federal government’s financial backstopping was instrumental in bringing Michigan public opinion on board at a critical stage in the approval process. Free money from the Great White North. With no risks and no conditions. Who the heck says no to that offer?

And yet here we are, deep into the process, waiting for a foot-dragging and seemingly disinterested Washington to commit $250 million to build a customs plaza in Detroit to service traffic over the new bridge.

Meanwhile, Canada, with fewer people than California and a devalued currency, is spending eight times as much, something like $2 billion, to build the international bridge, acquire properties in Detroit and pay for connecting roads.

We’re doing their job. How did it come to this? How did a nation once labelled the planet’s sole remaining superpower, chest-thumping victor in the Cold War, become a country that can’t or won’t pay its fair share of a new link on one of the world’s busiest trade corridors?

Say what you will about Stephen Harper and company, but this Conservative regime has been shrewd, visionary and remarkably generous in its unwavering commitment to seeing this border project completed.

They have nothing to gain politically in Windsor, a Conservative wasteland, but they see the long-term picture and understand the immense value to Canada of streamlined cross-border commercial traffic.

Why can’t Washington see this? Why hasn’t the Obama administration been a full partner with Canada in getting this done? Why aren’t they splitting costs 50-50?

Surely a country that squandered $800 billion to $4 trillion (depending on which study you believe) on the Iraq War fiasco, including massive infrastructure investments, could find a billion for a bridge to its closest neighbour.

What happened to the America that built the Panama Canal, sent men to the moon and had the resources and foresight to sponsor a ravaged Europe’s reconstruction after the Second World War?

What became of the wartime America that, under threat of invasion from Japan, built the 2,700-km Alaska Highway through swamps and muskeg, over jagged mountains and across raging rivers, in less than eight months? Work began on March 8, 1942 and was finished that October. That was an America that believed in itself.

What would Dwight Eisenhower, two-term president and former Allied supreme commander, think of this dithering over a single bridge across a mile of calm water? This guy presided over a D-Day invasion so complex it included shipping entire harbours from England to Normandy.

In 1956 Eisenhower took time out from his golf craze to authorize construction of the National System of Interstate and Defence Highways. A quarter-century and $131 billion later, the U.S. could boast of the “greatest public works project in history” with a staggering 46,000-plus miles of interstate highways.

And this bunch can’t see their way clear to building a bridge and a short stretch of road connecting to one of those interstates? How sad is that?

This is a different America. Hobbled by $17 trillion in debt and with a Capitol paralyzed by bitter partisan gridlock, it’s a diminished country. Its space shuttles are parked in museums while American astronauts hitch rides to the space station on Russian rockets.

It’s great that Canada, on the cusp of a balanced budget, is in a position to take the lead on DRIC. But it would be nice, given the once all-important lessons of 9-11, if we could get a bit more help from the folks next door.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Gov. Rick Snyder blames ‘broken’ Washington for delays on Canada bridge project

By John Gallagher and Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press Staff Writers

A feisty Gov. Rick Snyder blamed a “broken” Washington, D.C., on Friday for delays in funding of a U.S. customs inspections plaza at the planned New International Trade Crossing bridge project — delays that could hold up construction of the bridge itself if not resolved.

Speaking to the Free Press editorial board, Snyder — who rarely departs from his mantra of “relentless positive action” when speaking to the news media — seemed genuinely put out by the delays.

“The U.S. government has largely taken a position that they don’t think they should pay anything for a facility for the United States government,” he said.

Asked whom the federal officials want to pay for the customs plaza where incoming vehicles would be checked by federal workers, Snyder said, “Apparently, someone other than them.”

The customs inspection plaza on the Detroit side of the NITC project would cost about $250 million, the only portion of the $2.1-billion bridge and highway interchange project that is not being paid for up front by Canada in exchange for being paid back through future tolls. If the U.S. government continues to stall on paying for that piece of the project, it could hold up progress until the issue is resolved.

“Still, there’s some time to find a resolution,” Snyder said, since actual construction work doesn’t have to begin on the plaza for a couple of years, pending land acquisition and design work. “In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to see the rest of the bridge held up over what you might describe as a somewhat difficult-to-understand attitude.”

Officials at the Federal Highway Administration said the customs plaza would be under the auspices of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Calls and e-mails to officials at the Department of Homeland Security were not immediately returned.

Canadian officials, who have agreed to pay for the rest of the project up front because of its importance to U.S.-Canadian trade, have expressed concern for some time over the delays.

In an e-mail to the Free Press on Friday, Roy Norton, Canada’s Consul General to Detroit, voiced his concerns.

“There’s been no significant progress,” Norton said in his e-mail. “Engineering studies are virtually complete; land assembly on the Michigan side will get under way in 2014 (we pay for that). But we can’t call for bidders until there’s a commitment to build the U.S. plaza.”

Snyder put part of the blame on Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who has been lobbying fiercely in Washington D.C. over the past year on the bridge issue. Financial disclosure records show that Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Company spent $180,000 in 2013 on lobbyists in Washington on behalf of Moroun’s interests. In addition, Moroun has made significant campaign contributions to the more conservative Republican members of the Michigan delegation in Congress.

Of the delays in approving funding for the plaza, Snyder said: “It’s really hard to understand, but it’s not totally inconsistent with other behavior out of Washington.”

Canada’s Transport Minister Lisa Raitt attended Snyder’s State of the State speech Thursday night in Lansing, and Canadian officials have continued to press their case with U.S. leaders over the importance of the bridge project.

The planned six-lane NITC would be built between southwest Detroit and Windsor, about 2 miles downriver from the aging Ambassador Bridge. Because Michigan lawmakers — many of whom received campaign contributions from Moroun — have balked at paying for Michigan’s half of the span, Snyder signed an agreement with Canada in June 2012 that calls for Canada to pay up front for the bridge, including Michigan’s share of the expenses, and to be paid back through future tolls.

Moroun has fought tenaciously for years to block the project, which is expected to draw significant traffic and revenue away from his own Ambassador Bridge. Besides campaign cash and lobbying in Lansing and Washington, Moroun’s lawyers have unleashed a flurry of lawsuits challenging aspects of the NITC in Michigan and Washington, and in Canadian courts.

Because the project remains in the early planning stages, there is time to resolve the issues.

But a clearly irked Snyder said Friday: “It’s not necessarily holding up the process. It’s just making it more difficult.”

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press.

Snyder reinforces economic ties with Canada during daylong visit

LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Rick Snyder will travel to Toronto for a daylong visit on Monday where he will speak to the Council of the Great Lakes Region and meet with business executives and government officials of the neighboring province of Ontario.

“Canada is Michigan’s most important trading partner, both in imports and exports, and we share many common economic values and concerns,” Snyder said. “We are working to further strengthen our relationships with the provincial government as well as seeking new business investment in Michigan by Canadian companies. Our improved business climate is a story we are taking everywhere we go and it is opening up new opportunities for Michigan.”

Michigan led all states with more than $25 billion in exports to Canada in 2012. The country accounts for 46 percent of the state’s total worldwide exports.

“We cannot overstate just how important this country is to the economy of our state,” Snyder said. “More than neighbors, we are partners in a very real sense both for geographic and economic reasons.”

The Council of the Great Lakes Region is a new, binational regional organization that enhances regional collaboration and cross-border integration by bringing together stakeholders from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors to advance effective, coordinated, and broadly shared responses to the region’s common challenges. It is incorporated in both Canada and the United States.

Snyder will discuss the use of partnerships between the public and private sectors to address needs through reduced cost, revenue generation and economic development. Improved transportation infrastructure is a focus of regional interest. Last year, Snyder and Canadian officials laid the groundwork for the New International Trade Crossing, a modern, strategically located bridge between Detroit and Windsor that is vital to a strong trade relationship between Michigan and Canada.

Michigan exports to Canada include transportation equipment, machinery, oil and gas, primary metal manufacturing, chemicals and food products. Transportation equipment sales totaled $14.2 billion, or more than 55 percent of all Michigan exports to Canada.

More than 240 Canadian-owned companies employ 22,523 Michiganders in 700-plus locations across the state. The largest include Martinrea International with 1,300 employees here; Ballard Power Systems, 1,100; Grand Trunk Western Railroad, 1,100; Magna Mirrors of America, 1,058; Magna Seating of America, 965; and Guelph Tool Sales, 900.

More than 80 Michigan companies have operations in Canada including Auto-Owners Insurance, Dart Container, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Kellogg, Lear Corp., Steelcase, Stryker and Whirlpool.