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

Moroun loses another court decision in attempt to block the NITC

Foes of new bridge won’t be heard by U.S. Supreme Court

David Shepardson
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not review a June decision by a appeals court that upheld the Federal Highway Administration’s decision to select the Delray neighborhood of Detroit as the preferred location for a new international bridge crossing to Canada.

Without comment, the Supreme Court let stand the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ affirmation of a 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn dismissing a lawsuit by the 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., which owns the privately held Ambassador Bridge and wants to build one next to it.

The court’s decision comes five days after Canada and the United States reached a deal in which Canada will put up the hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a U.S. Customs plaza at the new Windsor-Detroit bridge and be repaid through tolls. The bridge could open as early as 2020.

Sara Wurfel, press secretary to Gov. Rick Snyder, praised the ruling last year: “The decision affirms the exhaustive work and public transparency that went into the siting decisions. This is the latest round of great news regarding the NITC.”

A panel of the appeals court wrote that the federal agency used a “a lengthy, reasoned process based on an objective analysis subject to public scrutiny throughout.” The panel also rejected the contention the United States yielded to Canada’s opposition to adding a second span to the Ambassador Bridge, writing the United States did not “rubber stamp” the decision.

Mickey Blashfield, director of governmental relations for the Ambassador Bridge, last year criticized the appeals court ruling. He did not have an immediate response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

The highway administration “refused to consider the Ambassador Bridge Twin Span even though it was the highest ranked alternative in most of the environmental tests the (agency) was required to apply. The (agency) supposedly based its decision on the unsupported claim that Canada objected to the environmental impacts the Twin Span would have in Canada, despite no evidence of any such impact,” Blashfield said.

Opponents argued the highway agency’s review and 2009 approval violated the National Environmental Protection Act, Administrative Procedures Act, principles of environmental justice and other federal laws.

The ruling is the latest setback to foes of a bridge crossing known as the New International Trade Crossing, which is to be two miles from the Ambassador Bridge.

In June, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a required permit for a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada — clearing another key hurdle in the high-profile project. A federal judge in Washington, also in June, rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun for his proposed six-lane span alongside the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun’s bridge company has been fighting efforts by the state of Michigan and the Canadian government to build the bridge it insists will harm the Ambassador’s business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Thank goodness for the Canadians

Canada has agreed to cover all construction costs of the U.S. customs plaza, and with the deal removed the last political hurdle Wednesday for the planned $2.1-billion Detroit River bridge.

The Canadian government has agreed to pay the $250 million cost for the inspection plaza in Detroit under a deal agreed to by both countries.

It had been hoped the Obama administration and Washington would pay for construction of its own customs plaza, but that will not happen under the newly signed agreement.

Canada along with a private sector partner soon to be selected by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority — which is overseeing the project’s completion — will now be paying the Detroit River International Crossing project’s full construction costs.

The public-private partnership is expected to recoup construction costs in the years ahead through tolls and other potential revenue generators such as duty-free goods and gas.

“I am pleased to confirm that following significant discussions with the United States and Michigan, Canada has now signed an arrangement to ensure the new publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit can proceed without further delay,” said Lisa Raitt, Canada’s transport minister on Wednesday.

The U.S. inspection plaza will be procured as part of the public-private partnership assigned to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the DRIC bridge project, she said.

Taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the costs, Raitt said.Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to cover all U.S. customs staffing costs for the new bridge.

“This arrangement is good for Canada and for Canadians,” Raitt said. “It also allows Canada and Michigan to move the project forward immediately to its next steps which include further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side of the border.”

Canada’s top political leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have listed the DRIC bridge project as the nation’s No. 1 infrastructure priority and promised it will open to traffic by 2020.

The new international bridge will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach and Delray.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman in an email statement Wednesday indicated there is a commitment from Washington to spend about $100 million in the first year of the customs plaza operations for equipment, staffing and setup costs in Detroit, plus up to $50 million for staff in each of the following years.

“This arrangement results from several months of productive discussions among the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. General Services Administration, State of Michigan, Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and Transport Canada,” said Marsha Catron.

She said although the U.S. government is not paying any construction costs, it is very supportive of the DRIC bridge project. Catron cited numerous U.S. federal approvals to date including issuance of a President’s permit from the Obama administration.

“The United States will continue to support (DRIC) as it is built and following its completion,” Catron said.

“The United States and Canada are vital economic partners and steadfast friends. Canada is the largest trading partner of both the United States and Michigan. Many U.S. and Michigan jobs depend on the vitality of U.S.-Canada trade.”

The Windsor-Detroit corridor is the largest commercial crossing in North America.

In 2014, annual Canada-U.S. trade in goods was approximately $658 billion with over one-quarter of that trade travelling through the Windsor-Detroit corridor.

“The arrangement announced today ensures we can continue to build momentum on this much-needed trade and transportation link,” Catron said.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — a driving force to get the DRIC bridge approved and constructed — applauded the agreement.

“I’m appreciative of the work of our partners in Congress and the Canadian government to ensure the (bridge) — important to both of our countries — continues to move forward,” Snyder said.

Finding a resolution on the U.S. customs plaza had been one of the last unresolved hurdles slowing construction of the DRIC bridge, said Sen. Gary Peters (D—Detroit) another leading advocate of the project.

“As a longtime advocate for the (bridge), I am pleased the United States and Canada have reached an agreement on construction of a new customs plaza removing a significant obstacle that has delayed this critical infrastructure project from moving forward,” he said.

Peters in his role as a member of the Senate’s Homeland Security committee will work with the Obama administration to “ensure the U.S. fulfills our commitment to fully staff and operate this border crossing,” he said.

The project’s next steps include ramping up property acquisition in Detroit to make room for the new bridge plaza and a feeder road in Delray that will link to I-75 freeway.

Nearly all required property on the Canadian side is already in the hands of the federal government, with land clearing in Brighton Beach just recently completed.

The WDBA is in the midst of hiring blitz to staff its support office in Windsor with about three dozen employees whose first task will be to assemble a request for proposal to find a contractor and project partner to build the bridge.

A new border highway in Windsor to link with the bridge — the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway — is expected to be fully open to traffic by the end of this year.

“The new DRIC bridge is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border,” Raitt said. “It will also bring new jobs, opportunities and continued prosperity to communities in both countries.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Canada to pay for bridge customs plaza, U.S. to operate

Gary Heinlein, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Canada will pay for the construction of a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. government finances its operations, under a deal announced Wednesday.

A Canadian public-private partnership overseeing the bridge project will pay for building the customs plazas on both sides of the border and that the United States would staff, operate and maintain the Detroit customs plaza.

“This arrangement is good for Canada and for Canadians. It ensures that all the elements of the project will ultimately be delivered through a public-private partnership,” said Transport Minister Lisa Raitt at the announcement in Ottawa, Ontario. “It also allows Canada and Michigan to move the project forward immediately to its next steps which include further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side of the border.”

Raitt said the proposed span “is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border.” It’s one of Canada’s top infrastructure projects, she added.

The agreement appears to remove the largest lingering hurdle for the $2.1-billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River. The publicly financed bridge is scheduled to be built two miles south of the privately owned and operated Ambassador Bridge.

The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the building of the Detroit customs plaza through toll revenue. The Obama administration has made a commitment to staff and to equip the plaza at an estimated cost of $100 million the first year and $50 million annually afterward.

The Obama administration previously said it was difficult to commit an estimated $250 million in the federal budget for building the Detroit plaza because of a congressional prohibition against earmarked money for certain projects.

The Detroit News first reported this month that an agreement was close after several months of talks. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told The Detroit News this month that a deal between the two countries on funding the customs plaza was close.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in an interview Wednesday that Congress will need to approve the funding for the new customs plaza, but won’t have to act until closer to the bridge’s completion, scheduled for 2020. She said she didn’t think it would be a problem.

“The bridge has to be built first,” Stabenow said. “We all want to get this done as soon as possible.”

Canada wanted assurances that the United States would staff the customs plaza if it built the facility.

The key was getting a commitment from the Obama administration to fund the operations and equip the plaza. Stabenow praised the Canadian government for “working creatively with us to solve this last roadblock.”

“The final stage (of the talks) was just to make sure that everybody was clear that the United States would, of course, pay for the staffing and operations,” she said.

She praised the bridge as key to national security and Michigan’s economic future.

“This is really is the final critical step to be able to get this done,” Stabenow said.

She said the precise cost of the estimated $250 million to $300 million customs plaza could change before the final design is completed.

Officials from both countries explored other options but with the Obama administration refusing to propose funding and the Republican-led House refusing to add funds for years, there was little choice, supporters said.

While touring a high-tech plant in Lansing on Wednesday U.S. Sen. Gary Peters mildly criticized the Obama administration’s reluctance to fund more of the U.S. share of the project, but welcomed the deal.

“I certainly would have preferred to have the federal government being there. … putting up funds for the customs plaza but I think the important thing right now is that it’s moving forward,” Peters said.

“The key right now is to have … a commitment from the federal government to make sure that plaza’s fully-staffed as is necessary to operate it and continue to expand trade between Canada and the United States,” added the Bloomfield Township Democrat, calling the bridge “an incredibly important infrastructure project” for the state and federal governments.

Gov. Rick Snyder released a statement saying he’s “appreciative of the work of our partners in Congress and in the Canadian government to ensure that the New International Trade Crossing — important to both of our countries — continues to move forward.” He pledged to keep pushing the federal government for funds for the customs plazas there and at the Blue Water bridge in Port Huron.

As designed, the bridge would provide direct access between I-75/I-94 in Michigan and Ontario Highway 401 through a parkway in Windsor. Formal talks between to two countries toward construction of the bridge began a decade ago, and a feasibility study was completed in 2008.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor carries more than one-quarter of all merchandise trade between the two countries, currently by way of the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The two countries estimate goods and services worth an amount approaching $2 billion flow between the U.S. and Canada daily.

The process to build a bridge began in 2001, and a 2004 joint U.S.-Canada study concluded that additional border-crossing capacity was needed for reasons including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns. The State Department approved a permit for the new bridge in 2013.

Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a required permit for a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada — clearing another key hurdle in the high-profile project.

In addition, a federal judge in Washington in 2014 rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who wanted to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Editorial: Fund the bridge

The Detroit News

From the way the Obama administration treats Canada, you might think our northern neighbor was hostile, rather than our closest friend and ally. The Canadians want two things from the United States in terms of joint infrastructure projects: The Keystone XL pipeline and the Detroit River International Crossing, the new bridge that will connect Detroit and Windsor.

The former is famously held hostage to President Barack Obama’s political agenda, and the latter was curiously missing from the administration’s $4 trillion budget released Monday.

While we disagree with the president’s stubborn stance on Keystone, at least it can be explained as an appeasement to the Democratic Party’s environmental base.

Not providing the $250 million to $300 million needed to get construction of the Detroit River span underway is harder to understand.

The money would go to build the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Plaza to service the new bridge. It represents the only up-front funding for the project from the United States.

Canada considers the bridge so essential to North American trade that it is putting up the rest of the $1.5 billion cost; Michigan will repay it’s share by forfeiting toll fees. It’s a great deal for the state, and for the country.

That charity shouldn’t be necessary. Obama has said federally funded infrastructure projects are a priority and would create jobs for middle-class workers.

And yet on both the Keystone project and the Detroit River crossing, the administration is stalling.

The binational authority formed to build the bridge is proceeding the best it can.

Last week, it awarded a $17 million contract for engineering work. And the Canadians have been building the Windsor-Essex Parkway to handle bridge traffic.

But the customs plaza is integral to the project, and must be funded before actual bridge construction begins.

Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation say they are still hopeful a supplemental appropriation will provide funding for the plaza. Senior members of the delegation should use their clout to move it up the priority list.

Washington has scaled back on bridge and highway spending because of shortfalls in the national trust fund that helps pay for such work.

But the rest of the budget is packed full of non-essential spending. Finding the money for a special appropriation to get the Detroit River span underway shouldn’t be impossible.

Construction of the bridge is expected to create 10,000 to 15,000 jobs over the five-year build-out. Many of those construction workers will be hired from Michigan. That’s an enormous economic boost for the state.

Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, with $1.7 billion worth of goods crossing the border every day. A large portion of that commerce goes back and forth over the Detroit River, and the new span will enhance Michigan’s share.

This is a real project and one that soon will be shovel ready. The Obama administration should do its part to get construction underway.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Purchase of first U.S. properties for new border bridge close

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Detroit’s city council is being asked to approve the sale of 301 properties needed for a new border crossing bridge to Windsor.

They will be the first properties acquired on the U.S. side if Detroit council approves the request by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, as expected within the next 10 days.

The properties are largely vacant, “tax-reverted” parcels with a total price tag of $1.4 million.

The state of Michigan would be the new owner of the properties, which the Canadian government would buy from it for the $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing project. Ottawa has budgeted $631 million over the next two years for the project, including the land purchases.

Canada has committed to paying Michigan’s share of the project cost, up to $550 million, to buy land and build a feeder road linking the bridge plaza in Detroit to the I-75 freeway.

The government expects to recoup its investment through tolls.

The Windsor-Detroit Detroit Bridge Authority was established last month to get the project moving. It has already staged a handful of meetings and has plans to establish an office in Windsor and begin hiring about three dozen staff in the coming weeks.

“The WDBA continues to work with our Michigan colleagues to advance this important project,” said authority CEO Michael Cautillo said Thursday. “All involved are encouraged that the issue will be considered by Detroit’s council.”

The DRIC bridge, scheduled to open in 2020, will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach in Windsor and Delray in Detroit.

Nearly all property required on the Canadian side for the project has been acquired by Transport Canada.

In total, there are roughly 1,000 residential and commercial properties that need to be expropriated and purchased for the bridge, plaza and feeder roads in Delray.

It is anticipated the overall cost for those properties will be about $300 million — roughly the same amount spent in Windsor to buy land for the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway.

The parkway – the new border feeder highway that will link with the DRIC bridge – is expected to be completed late next year.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Editorial: Another step forward on a new bridge

There is progress on the New International Trade Crossing. That bodes well for all of Michigan, the U.S. and Canada, as a more efficient crossing will benefit business on both sides of the border.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced a new authority to oversee construction of the bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will be international. Snyder named three members at a news conference this week.

The Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, have fought relentlessly to block the bridge project, but their efforts — including an attempt to pass a 2012 ballot proposal that would have hampered the bridge project — have failed.

While there remains a question of federal funding to construct a customs plaza in Detroit, Snyder and Raitt said that would not stand in the way of efforts to begin construction of the bridge, called by Snyder the New International Trade Crossing.

One hurdle still ahead: U.S. government officials have not yet committed funds for a customs plaza needed as part of the project. Michigan’s congressional delegation should keep that need top-of-mind — and Michigan voters should question candidates about it this fall.

The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the nation’s busiest. Automakers and other manufacturers, as well as major business groups, former governors from both political parties and numerous others support the new bridge. Canadian officials want a better route than the existing bridge provides for traffic on their side of the crossing. Business wants better efficiency. And many note that private ownership of a major international bridge is a risk to national security.

Snyder has kept this project moving. Now the Congressional delegation must do its part.

An LSJ editorial