Hurdle cleared in effort to build Gordie Howe bridge

Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press

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

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

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

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 After reaching out to MDOT the next day, he said the suit was withdrawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Editor’s note: Second span to Windsor needed

Nolan Finley, The Detroit News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted by The Detroit News

U.S., Canada strike deal to speed border checks

Melissa Nann Burke, Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Travel by roadway, rail and water between Michigan and Canada could become easier under a deal signed Monday by U.S. and Canadian officials.

The impact on crossings in the Great Lakes state is likely years away, though the effects could be felt sooner in other states if the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament approve it.

The proposed change could mean shifting some American customs inspections to the Canadian sides of the border crossings at Detroit and Port Huron, and allowing U.S. customs agents to carry weapons while stationed inside the Canadian border.

The deal — years in the making as part of the Beyond the Border Initiative — sets out a legal framework allowing law enforcement agents into each other’s countries to conduct customs, immigration and agricultural inspections inside the border. It is a process already in operation at eight Canadian airports, including Toronto.

“This agreement will help facilitate the legitimate trade and travel that keeps our economy thriving as we maintain utmost vigilance to the security of our borders,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. “We remain committed to our deep partnership with Canada, a true ally, neighbor and friend of the United States.”

A new process for advance government screening of business shipments and individuals could relieve congestion and shave off time while traveling between the two countries, officials say.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney said the “historic” agreement builds on decades of successful pre-clearance operations in Canadian airports. About 4.5 million passengers traveling through Toronto airport now go through the pre-clearance process before traveling to the United States, Blaney said.

The administration of Gov. Rick Snyder welcomed the development with Michigan’s largest trading partner.

“It is extremely helpful for goods to move quickly across the border in a way that still protects residents in both countries,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Monday, but noted the administration still needs to review the agreement.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor is the busiest along the U.S.-Canada border, carrying more than 20 percent of all merchandise trade between the nations through the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Detroit is also a popular crossing for travelers, last year ranking the third-busiest U.S.-Canada crossing for passenger vehicles with more than 4 million, behind Niagara Falls, New York, and Blaine, Washington, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Port Huron was the fourth-busiest crossing with more than 1.9 million passenger vehicles in 2014.

The agreement could cut valuable seconds and even minutes off getting across the border.

“It means the same number of officers at the border can process more trucks, and those officers can spend more time on those trucks who do require more attention,” said Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit. “Both our countries are very interested in ensuring there’s still a very high level of security.”

Maryscott Greenwood, an adviser to the Canadian American Business Council, said she expects arrangements for the Detroit-Windsor crossing would move quickly after the agreement receives legislative approval because of how busy and important it is.

“We’ve talked about pre-clearance at Detroit-Windsor for years because of how congested it is on the Detroit side, and how relatively less congested it is on the Windsor side,” Greenwood said.

“There’s always a complicated dance that you do in Detroit-Windsor with the various stakeholders, so that will remain to be seen,” she added, referring to the private ownership of the Ambassador Bridge.

The re-clearance operations would require approval by both Canada and the United States. Johnson said there will be “some negotiation” that goes into each border-crossing site, and “this agreement even spells that out.” The deal will be implemented at select sites “where it makes sense,” he said.

The trucking industry applauded the agreement as a step toward easing costs and increasing predictability at the border, although David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, doesn’t see Detroit-Windsor as a top candidate for a pre-clearance site.

Buffalo-Fort Erie is a more likely site, in part because there’s no space for a modern customs plaza on the Buffalo side, and officials want to relocate inspections to the Fort Erie side, said Bradley, whose group represents more than 4,500 Canadian trucking companies.

“In Detroit-Windsor, you really don’t have that same sort of issue, and you certainly won’t with the new bridge,” Bradley said. “They’ll have a modern customs facility on both sides and the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t have the same land constraints that you have in Fort Erie and Buffalo.”

Last month, officials said Canada would pay to build a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. finances its operations. The $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River is to be built two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge by 2020.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, supports the new agreement but called on the Obama administration to finish the long-delayed project to expand the customs plaza and ease congestion at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, estimated at $165 million.

“In the interim, it should employ every means possible to facilitate the flow of commerce and trade with one of our greatest neighbors and allies, Canada, including using this new authority to ease congestion, starting with the Blue Water Bridge,” said Miller, who chairs of the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also welcomed the agreement.

“Thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan depend on our trade and travel partnership with Canada,” Peters said Monday. “Today’s announcement will strengthen that relationship and bring new economic opportunities to both countries.”

How Michigan compares

Two Michigan ports lead the nation when ranked by the total value of goods traded with Canada.

1. Detroit, $133 billion

2. Port Huron, $86.1 billion

3. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y., $85.1 billion

4. Pembina, N.D., $27.9 billion

5. Champlain-Rouses Point, N.Y., $23.2 billion

Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Originally posted by The Detroit News

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

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the entire article from

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

Brookings |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted by Brookings

New Detroit bridge owes existence to Canada

There is one thing to be said about the Detroit River International Crossing: Canada wants it; it wants it badly.

The new bridge between Detroit and Windsor has been a tough sell on this side of the border. Michigan taxpayers never were enthused about it, so Gov. Rick Snyder worked out a deal with Canadian leaders that funds the bridge’s construction with an estimated 2.1 billion Canadian dollars.

When the Obama administration didn’t include money for the bridge’s U.S. customs plaza, the Canadians again stepped up. The Canadian government has agreed to pay the $250 million cost for the inspection plaza on the span’s Detroit side.

If Canada’s financing of the U.S.-Canadian bridge appears unusual, it is. But supporters cite the span’s importance to U.S.-Canadian trade — and Canada wants that trade enhanced.

“A new Windsor-Detroit crossing remains one of Canada’s top infrastructure priorities for Canada,” Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement on the plaza construction agreement.

Canada will recoup its investment in toll revenue when the bridge opens. So Canadian politicians are assuring their constituents that the project won’t require new taxes. Everybody wins.

Still, it is worth noting what can happen when Ottawa is on board even when Washington is not.

Port Huron’s Blue Water Bridge plaza was scheduled for substantial expansion some years ago, but the federal dollars dried up. That didn’t happen before a large swath of the city lost its homes and business to the expansion’s footprint.

Apparently, Canada never was as interested in augmenting trade between Port Huron and Sarnia as it is in the commerce between Detroit and Windsor.

In any case, Port Huron and St. Clair County still are recovering from the scrapped plaza expansion’s effects. As remarkable as the effort to build a new Detroit-Windsor bridge and its U.S. plaza might be, there is little appetite here for revisiting the Blue Water Bridge plaza project.

The lesson is when Washington is broke, Ottawa might be willing to take on the financing — but that depends upon the project. The Blue Water Bridge undoubtedly is a vital instrument of U.S.-Canadian trade. Expanding its U.S. Customs Plaza proved to be less vital.

On that point, Washington and Ottawa seem to agree.

Originally posted by The Times Herald

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