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

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

Podcast: Consul General Roy Norton the New International Trade Crossing (Part 2)

Canada’s Consul General, Roy Norton, sat down with Windsor Morning to talk about the New International Trade Crossing and the importance of a new border crossing between the U.S. and Canada.

Click here to listen to the second part of his interview.

Podcast: Consul General Roy Norton the New International Trade Crossing (Part 1)

Canada’s Consul General in Detroit is about to leave for a new post, but before he departs, he sat down with Windsor Morning to talk about the New International Trade Crossing, Matty Maroun and why he’ll be paying close attention to Barack Obama’s budget.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

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.

Land acquisition next step in building bridge from Detroit to Canada

By David Muller | mlive.com

DETROIT, MI The next step in building a second, international bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario will be for the state to begin acquiring land, though that process is not likely to begin until 2014 at the earliest.

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder’s office said that for the New International Trade Crossing* to move forward, a Memorandum of Understanding for how the land acquisition process will proceed still needs to be worked out with Canada.

The bridge is estimated to cost $2.15 billion as of 2009, and the Canadian government – keen on easing traffic flow in Windsor – has committed $550 million to cover any of Michigan’s cost on the project.

The project is tentatively scheduled to be complete in seven years. The bridge will connect Interstate 75 in Detroit with Canada’s Highway 401 in Windsor.

The federal government issued a presidential permit in April, which appeared to be one of the final hurdles in moving the project forward.

Two lawsuits had been filed in federal court seeking to block the project, though with the issuance of the presidential permit it appears the project can move forward in spite of them.

The bridge’s landing in Detroit will be in the Delray neighborhood, with its main tower or pylon located be between the LaFarge Cement facility and the McCoig Aggregate dock. The toll and customs plaza for the bridge is expected to cover about 170 acres. It will have a direct connection to I-75 near Military Street.

*The bridge is known as the NITC is Michigan, but it has been called the DRIC in Canada. A final moniker has yet to be selected.

The New International Trade Crossing: A means to boost Detroit-and-area employment at a critical time

By Roy Norton

(this article mostly derives from remarks to the International Union of Operating Engineers, at Gaylord, MI, Oct. 24, 2012, and to the Southwest Detroit Business Association, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers, June 13, 2013)

I’ve had the good fortune to represent Canada in Michigan since 2010. During these three exceptional years, no Michigan-Canada issue has been more important than reaching agreement to build the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

In January 2011, your governor dedicated five minutes of his first state-of-the-state speech to talking about Michigan’s connections with Canada. The speech was remarkable; I’m pretty sure that no other U.S. governor has ever used such a high-profile occasion to remind his audience of how interconnected a jurisdiction – in this case, Michigan – is with Canada.

It’s about jobs …

The governor took that opportunity to endorse construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. He knows – as do workers and job creators across this state – that the majority of Michigan-Canada trade depends on one 84-year-old bridge to get to market. 44% of everything Michigan sells to the world is bought in Canada – more than by your state’s next 14-largest markets combined.

218,000 jobs in your state depend on trade with Canada – literally, on stuff moving to and from Canada, reliably and efficiently. Today, most of those goods cross the Ambassador Bridge.

We must not forget – this is about more than Michigan and Canada. Legislatures in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, even Alabama, have passed Resolutions calling for the NITC to proceed. Lawmakers in those states, and in others, know how vulnerable their trade with Canada is to the risk that one very old bridge, for which there’s no real redundancy, could at some point become horribly inefficient. Or even fail – whether due to old age, a catastrophic accident, or terrorism.

Last November, Michigan’s voters proved they well-understand these fundamental realities. The 60/40 rejection of Proposition 6 didn’t happen by accident. Across Michigan, farmers, union laborers, manufacturers, voters understood that Michigan’s prosperity – and prospects – hung in the balance.

With that outcome, Michiganders effectively endorsed a transportation infrastructure project, the total investment in which, on both sides of the border, will approach $4 billion. Building it will create tens of thousands of construction and materials-supply jobs in our two countries during the 4-year construction period. Could there be a better time, in Detroit’s history, for such a major job-creating project to get underway?

The NITC will assure the security of the jobs of millions of workers employed in manufacturing and logistics in both countries. Certainty around the existence of reliable cross-border transportation infrastructure will make this region – both sides of the border – attractive to on-going investment that will result in many more jobs. Rarely has a single piece of infrastructure been more important.

In the medium-term, there will be many permanent jobs associated with operation of the crossing, and in businesses – existing and new – linked to border operations.

and communities …

The NITC, like all major infrastructure projects, will alter the local landscape. While the preliminary impact area has been identified, the exact boundaries could still change. Property owners in the impacted area will be notified officially when plans are finalized. Until that time, binding predictions of specific future land uses simply cannot be made. But governments have made clear their commitment: measures for necessary relocation will be fair and equitable.

The NITC will be jointly owned by the Government of Canada and the State of Michigan. As owners, Canada and Michigan are ultimately responsible for ensuring that appropriate steps are taken to enable the host communities in the Detroit and Windsor areas to benefit from the NITC project and to mitigate its negative impacts.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the bridge. The Authority will be required to undertake public outreach activities to ensure the host community is engaged throughout the procurement, construction and operations phases of the project. Such outreach activities will include, but may not be limited to:

  • Development of a public website where all project-related information, reports & materials can be found, and public feedback can be solicited;
  • Holding annual public meetings in both Detroit and Windsor to provide a forum for two-way dialogue that allows for public questions and comments;
  • Issuing information bulletins (newsletters, reports, e-mails etc.) to provide information on the NITC to the interested public;
  • Issuing an annual report to communicate its activities to stakeholders; and,
  • Formal periodic consultations with community stakeholders.

Canada and Michigan plan to pursue a public-private partnership (P3) for the new crossing. This arrangement would see the public sector enter into a contract with a private sector consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the bridge under a long-term concession. At the end of the term, the consortium would transfer the bridge to the public sector. The underlying goal of all P3s is to combine the best capabilities of both public and private sectors for mutual benefit.

Through this contract, Canada and Michigan will ensure that the private sector satisfies the public interest through rigorous, built-in performance standards. The operator will be required to meet all applicable laws and regulations. In addition, the P3 contract will require that the operator establish and maintain mechanisms to understand and address community concerns.

In order to promote NITC community benefits in the context of an innovative P3 arrangement, evaluation criteria to benefit local communities will be included in the Request for Qualification (RFQ).

With respect to community benefits and community involvement, consortia will be asked to include the following as part of their proposals:

  • A plan as to how the community would be involved in the project’s operations during the construction and operations periods;
  • What types of community outreach the consortium would be undertaking to minimize detrimental impacts from vibration, noise, traffic routing, congestion relief, local road repair and rehabilitation, and so on; and,
  • A plan as to how the consortium would work with local community groups, institutions of higher learning, unions and others to maximize opportunities for local employment (e.g., training, apprenticeship programs and the like).

Bidders will be asked how they would reach out to the community, be a good neighbor, employ locally and so forth. The operator will be held to the highest performance standards to ensure that legitimate concerns of the communities are acknowledged and addressed.

We are confident project economics will dictate that local labor, supplies and suppliers be used to the maximum extent possible. Canada and Michigan will strongly encourage and reward the use of local resources, local supplies, and local job training initiatives (including apprenticeship programs) through the procurement process.

U.S. workers in the U.S.A. …

In case there’s doubt, work on the Michigan side can only be done by folks eligible to work in the USA. Canadians can’t come over and take those jobs. Just as Americans can’t come and take the jobs on the Canadian side.

It’s been estimated, in study after study, that more than 10,000 full time jobs – in the construction sector alone – will be created from this project, just in Michigan. Those will be good paying jobs.
And the spinoffs from the project will create another 13,000-or-more jobs. No single project in Michigan in the foreseeable future will generate nearly as much employment as this will.

Michigan has also negotiated an amazing arrangement with the U.S. Federal Highway Administration whereby the $550M that Canada will pay for the Interchange to I-75 – money that never flows into Michigan’s books – will be counted by US DoT as Michigan’s share in the four-to-one match program.

Meaning Canada’s $550 million will secure an additional $2.2 billion in federal funds for road and bridge construction anywhere in Michigan. No cost to the state – but a great benefit to Michigan workers! The Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, in a 2012 study, projected that an additional 6,000 jobs will be created as a result. These funds will begin to flow after NITC construction has begun.

That agreement means this project becomes conditioned to federal matching requirements. One of those is the applicability of ‘Davis Bacon’ – meaning that ‘prevailing wages’ must be paid.

Here’s another gain for American labor and American business. Even though there’s zero U.S. (or MI) money in either the bridge span or the interchange, Canada agreed that those components will be constructed according to a new rule: Buy Canada/Buy US. We don’t know which companies will win contracts to provide steel and other content for the bridge. But we do know, as a result of this rule, that content will come from one or the other (or more likely both) of our two countries. Not from Brazil. Not from China. Not from anywhere else.

The Moroun ad campaign in support of Prop 6 left the impression the NITC would be made of Chinese steel. Like everything else in those ads, that wasn’t true. The U.S. Steelworkers Union enthusiastically endorsed the Buy U.S.-Buy Canada Agreement. They would not have supported this if there was even a chance the bridge would be made of anything other than U.S.-Canadian steel.

Going forward …

Several major necessary milestones have already been realized: the June 2012 Michigan/Canada Agreement; the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 6; the U.S. Presidential Permit this April 12.

Two milestones, and some irritants, remain. After defeat of their Proposition 6, the Morouns’ spokesman defiantly declared they would take their campaign “to the courts” and to “Washington, D.C.” The fact that the Presidential Permit was issued in the face of a Moroun lawsuit contesting the U.S. government’s authority to do so suggests the desperate actions of the Ambassador Bridge owners are now considered frivolous and totally without merit.

One lawsuit has already been dismissed (in July, by Ingham County Judge Joyce Draganchuk). Suits will probably continue; launching court actions is what these people do. But their lawsuits and stunts can no longer kill this project.

Concerning the two remaining milestones, the U.S. Coast Guard Permit should be a formality; after all, there will be no NITC footings in the water, and it will achieve the height clearances necessary for Detroit River shipping.

Funding for the U.S. Customs Plaza will have to be identified and committed before bids from private sector companies can be invited. We know that money is tight. Everywhere. But we also know the U.S. is a reliable partner – one that can be counted on to discharge its responsibilities. As already noted, the total cost for this project – including all of the road work on both sides of the border – approaches $4 billion. The Governments of Canada and Ontario are committed to pay for – or guarantee – approximately 95% of that sum. The state of Michigan bears no cost and no liability. Per the Crossing Agreement, the customs plaza on the U.S. side – at an approximate cost of $250 million – is clearly a U.S. federal government responsibility. Meeting in Minneapolis in July, the Council of State Government’s Midwestern Legislative Conference (representing eleven states) called on Washington to act quickly to fund the customs plaza, so that the project can get underway.

When our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City in May, he described Detroit-Windsor as the “largest single trade corridor in the world.” Meaning, it’s important to the U.S. and to Canada that we get things right at Detroit-Windsor.

That this project could soon proceed is testament to the resolve and the drive of many. Resolve and drive will still be required in the months ahead.

Between us, Americans and Canadians, Michiganders and Ontarians, are poised to achieve something really big. Something really important to the future of this entire region. Through the extraordinary partnership that we’ve built – together – we will grow our shared economy. We will create jobs – and new hope – for people across this region, on both sides of the border. including for the good people of Detroit. Those couldn’t come at a more important time.

Dr. Roy Norton has represented Canada in the U.S. mid-west since September 2010. He’s been especially active in building support for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor – but has also been heavily engaged in promoting increased two-way trade and investment, managing border-related and Great Lakes issues, and in building greater awareness of the extent of economic integration (including in the energy sector) between the U.S. and Canada. His two previous foreign assignments for the Government of Canada have been at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Originally posted by Dome Magazine

Preparations begin for DRIC bridge

Dave Battagello, The The Windsor Star

It might seem things have fallen silent since a presidential permit was granted in April by the Obama administration to build the new $1-billion Detroit River bridge, but preparation work is underway on Windsor’s west end for the crossing. A fence has recently been erected in Brighton Beach to mark off the new federally owned property which will be home of the Canadian plaza for the Detroit River International Crossing that will sit about two kilometres downriver from the Ambassador Bridge.

Transport Canada – which is overseeing the process – has also launched environmental measures required within the lands that will serve as the launching point for the new bridge, said Mark Butler, spokesman for the federal agency. “Transport Canada has completed several environmental mitigation measures,” he said. “They include the relocation of at-risk species and plants off of the plaza site, breeding bird surveys and vegetative surveys.

“A separate snake barrier has also already been erected to contain any potential at-risk snakes, including the Eastern Fox Snake and the Butler Garter Snake. They will be contained to the property for relocation to protected areas.” The federal agency is also working closely with other departments, including the Canada Border Services Agency, on the design of the Canadian plaza, Butler said.

On the Canadian side, Transport Canada is also in the midst of completing negotiations with one residential property owner and five industrial property owners for the remaining lands required for the Canadian plaza site.

All other property leading up to the bridge in Windsor has already been acquired under the joint Ontario-Canada government efforts to finish construction of the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway – the new 11-kilometre border highway that will connect Highway 401 to the DRIC bridge.

On the U.S. side, design work for the plaza and customs inspection area to be located in the industrial community of Delray is also well underway, Butler said.

“Transport Canada has been working with our U.S. and Michigan partners with a focus on the Michigan port of entry that includes design work and discussions on property acquisition,” he said.

Government officials from both sides of the border overseeing the bridge project indicated construction should begin in either late 2015 or early 2016. It is expected to take four years to complete, likely putting the first vehicle on the new bridge in 2020.

Until construction gets started a new international bridge authority of six officials – three each from Canada and the U.S. – must be appointed. They are to establish a publicprivate partnership corporation, similar to the parkway project, that will be responsible over decades for funding, building, managing and maintaining the new bridge.

A request for qualifications process will be undertaken by the authority to find a private sector partner. That is expected to take at least a year depending on how many bids are received and must be studied.

The DRIC bridge is viewed by government leaders as a needed replacement for the current 83-year-old bridge, which annually carries 25 per cent of Canada-U.S. trade which last year overall reached nearly $750 billion.

Truck drivers from both sides of the border have remained frustrated for years by delays and inefficiencies on the aging four-lane bridge which is difficult to reach in Windsor because of more than a dozen stoplights between Highway 401 and the bridge.

The trucking industry and its drivers are attempting to be patient as preparation and construction of the DRIC bridge slowly gets underway, said Stephen Laskowski, vice-president of the Ontario Trucking Association.

“The private and public sectors will always define quick differently,” he said. “That said, the trucking sector is very aware and appreciative that both Ottawa and Queen’s Park continue to make the construction of the new bridge a very high priority.”

The Canadian government has agreed to pay up to $550 million for Michigan’s share of the DRIC project – largely for property acquisition and feeder roads connecting the bridge to I-75 freeway in Detroit. The government will also pay for the Canadian plaza which is projected to cost $387 million, while the private sector partner will be asked to help pay for the $1-billion bridge itself with costs to be recovered through tolls.

Michigan Leaders Praise Granting of Presidential Permit

New International Trade Crossing Moves Forward

Washington, DC. – The U.S. Department of State issued a Presidential Permit for the construction of the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) today. The project could break ground some time in 2014 and is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs and secure international commerce with Canada, Michigan’s largest trading partner, for decades to come.

“This is great news for Michigan,” said L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive. “We need this critical piece of infrastructure to support trade with Canada, which provides more than 230,000 jobs in Michigan, including 41,000 jobs in Oakland County.”

The new Detroit-Windsor bridge is supported by more than 175 business, labor, and community leaders and organizations representing more than 10,000 businesses and hundreds of thousands of Michigan employees.

“This is great news for Michigan and North America. To ensure our companies can compete, they need the infrastructure to connect them to the marketplace,” said Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “The New International Trade Crossing is a key platform for improving the flow of trade, and it will play a vital role in creating and supporting economic growth, including right here in West Michigan.”

The Detroit-Windsor border is crucial to Michigan’s economic success. In 2011, trade between Michigan and Canada totaled $70.2 billion – more than 11 percent of the total U.S./Canada trade. Additionally, more than 8,000 trucks per day cross the Detroit-Windsor border. According to the Public Border Operators Association (PBOA), truck traffic is projected to increase 128 percent over the next 30 years.

“The success and growth of Michigan’s auto industry is directly tied to exporting and importing products with Canada,” said Tim Daman, President and CEO, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The Detroit-Windsor corridor is arguably the most important international crossing for trade in the world and is in desperate need of an upgrade. The new crossing will provide secure world-class trade and transportation infrastructure, providing the long needed direct freeway-to-freeway connection to the busiest corridor between the U.S. and Canada.”

The project has received all of the necessary environmental clearances in the U.S. and Canada. The project now awaits the final approval for the U.S. Coast Guard permit as well as land acquisition.

“The New International Trade Crossing expands our markets with our largest trading partner and will position Michigan as a global trade hub for decades to come,” said Paul Tait, Executive Director, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). ”This bridge will make freight movement more efficient and give our border critical backup to expand our region’s standing in the market.”

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‘This is all about jobs for today and tomorrow’; Snyder lauds federal government’s approval of key NITC permit

Originally posted by Governor Rick Snyder

DETROIT – Gov. Rick Snyder today welcomed federal issuance of a key permit needed to proceed with the New International Trade Crossing, a project expected to create 12,000 jobs and enhance Michigan’s economic future.

Michigan applied for the Presidential Permit on June 21, 2012, days after Snyder signed the historic NITC crossing agreement with Canadian officials. Effectiveness of the agreement was subject to approval by the U.S. State Department. The department conducted an extended public comment period before approving the permit, which now makes the Michigan-Canada agreement operative. While other steps remain before NITC construction begins, they hinged on Michigan’s ability to secure a Presidential Permit.

“This is all about jobs for today and tomorrow,” Snyder said. “This is a major construction project that is expected to create 12,000 direct jobs and as many as 31,000 indirect jobs. Getting Michigan-made products to more markets faster will enhance our economic competitiveness in the future and help our state create more jobs.

“This project is important for the future of Michigan, the United States and Canada. I appreciate the U.S. State Department’s thorough review as well as the continued support of our Canadian partners. This new trade crossing will make Michigan stronger in many ways.”

The U.S. State Department determined that the NITC will “serve the national interest” for several reasons, including its job-creation benefits, advancement of America’s foreign policy interests, promotion of cross-border trade and commerce, and added capacity to accommodate expected border traffic growth.

The NITC will be built at no cost to Michigan taxpayers and will provide a modern, strategically located bridge between Detroit and Windsor. It is supported by a broad coalition that includes business and labor. The project is vital to enhancing the $70 billion-a-year trade relationship between Michigan and Canada. It will generate thousands of short- and long-term jobs on both sides of the border, open trade markets, strengthen economic security and ease traffic congestion.

“Michigan is moving forward and the future is bright,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said. “We’re positioning the Detroit community and our entire state to thrive in the global economy. The NITC will open doors for entrepreneurs, farmers and manufacturers in every corner of our state. There’s still much work to be done but approval of the Presidential Permit is a significant step along Michigan’s path to prosperity. We look forward to working with the Delray community as this project progresses.”

The U.S. State Department issues Presidential Permits for the construction, connection, operation or maintenance of certain facilities at U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. Permits are required for land crossings, bridges, pipelines, tunnels and tramways.

With the Presidential Permit in hand, next steps include naming members to the International Authority, planning for the relocation of utilities,  initiating the process for land acquisition and applying for a U.S. Coast Guard permit. The entire project will take about seven years and includes the building of interchange ramps and an inspection plaza. Construction of the actual bridge span is expected to begin in about two years.

The Federal Highway Administration granted Michigan’s request for  a Buy America waiver in December 2012, allowing for the use of American and Canadian steel in the bridge.

The NITC will be a public bridge operated by a private concessionaire. Its benefits include:

  • The creation of about 12,000 direct and as many as 31,000 indirect jobs related to construction.
  • Allowing Michigan to use Canada’s generous contribution of up to $550 million as eligible matching funds for U.S. federal aid to support the state’s highway projects.
  • A new direct connection between I-75 in Michigan and Highway 401 in Canada that eases traffic congestion at the border and allows trucks to bypass residential communities. The existing bridge at the Detroit-Windsor crossing is the No. 1 traffic bottleneck in the entire Pan-American Freeway system.
  • Reducing costs to job providers, particularly the auto industry. Estimates show that border regulations and delays now add significant costs to vehicle production.
  • Minimizing the likelihood of an economic disaster for Michigan or Windsor should one of the other border crossings sustain lengthy shutdowns.
  • Additional border-crossing capacity to meet the long-term demands of our growing economies.
  • New investment being attracted to Michigan by this modern infrastructure.

The Michigan-Canada agreement allows for the creation of an International Authority to oversee the letting of bids to privately design, develop, finance, construct and operate the NITC. The Authority will be comprised of three members appointed by Canada and three members appointed by Michigan.

Construction cost of the bridge itself – not including other project components such as land acquisition and the I-75 interchange construction, which Canada will pay for directly – is estimated at $950 million. The cost will be paid by a private concessionaire and will be repaid by Canada through tolls.

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