‘Major announcement’ to be made about new Windsor-Detroit bridge

A “major announcement” will be made Wednesday in Windsor regarding the New International Trade Crossing.

A source tells CTV Windsor that Canada’s Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will announce the bodies that will oversee the NITC project. A bridge authority and an international authority will be responsible for things like land acquisitions and procurement going forward.

The announcement will be made at the Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor at 10:30 a.m.

On Monday, Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr delayed the proposed transfer of 301 properties to the Michigan Land Bank in exchange for $1.4 million from the Canadian Government.The city of Detroit is currently under bankruptcy protection.

The $2 billion NITC is expected to open in 2020.

Originally posted by CTV Windsor

Detroit considering sale of 301 properties for construction of new bridge to Canada

By Khalil AlHajal | MLive.com

DETROIT, MI — City Council has set a Monday special session to discuss the proposed sale of land for construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River to Windsor, reports the Associated Press.

Land acquisition remains one of the few hurdles left standing in the way of building the long-awaited North American International Trade Crossing.

Canada plans to cover most of the cost of building the $2.1 billion bridge. Toll money from the U.S. side would then go toward repayment.

U.S. State Department approval was granted last year and the final Coast Guard permit came last month.

Council on Monday will consider selling 301 city-owned properties needed for the project to the Michigan Land Bank for $1.4 million, according to the A.P.

Officials in Ottawa and in Michigan are also awaiting a $250 million promise from Washington to build a customs plaza on the U.S. side.

The bridge would be a second commuter span between Detroit and Windsor.

Officials hope to open the bridge in 2020.

The owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge has opposed construction of a publicly owned second span.

Originally posted by MLive

Podcast: Bridge to Canada takes a back seat to politics in Lansing

By Stateside Staff

What’s up with the building of the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor?

It appears that the bridge is taking a back seat to politics in Lansing.

As the Detroit News editorial team wrote, “Gov. Rick Snyder should not still be herding cats to get the new bridge build across the Detroit river.”

Much of the opposition to the new bridge continues from Republican lawmakers, even after it was assumed that a new bridge was set to go.

So, now what?

Republican state senators have put in language in a transportation bill that would stop the state from purchasing land for the new bridge.

John Pappageorge is a Republican state senator from Troy, and he joined us on Stateside.

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.

Originally posted by Michigan Radio.

Federal officials work to fund customs plaza for new Detroit River bridge

By Eric D. Lawrence

Federal officials are working on securing funds for a customs plaza to support the planned New International Trade Crossing, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said today.

“One of my responsibilities as secretary of Homeland Security is … to promote lawful trade and travel,” Johnson said. “We are actively looking for ways to fund a potential customs plaza along with the construction of the bridge. Once the bridge is built obviously you need a customs plaza to support it.”

Johnson, who was surrounded by local, state, federal and Canadian officials and other stakeholders, spoke during a news conference following a roundtable discussion about the U.S. northern border. The discussion follows the introduction of legislation by U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., that seeks to prioritize funding for federal customs plazas at trade crossings.

When asked if plaza funding could happen happen this year, Johnson said that “it’s something we’re actively working on.”

The bridge, which is being paid for by Canada, is widely supported by business and government interests in Southeast Michigan and across the border but has faced opposition by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

Johnson, who is touring sites in Detroit and Port Huron today, told a crowd at the Detroit Regional Chamber office that Canadian authorities have done their part to make the new crossing a reality.

“It is up to us in the federal government to do our part as well,” Johnson said.

“The Northern Border and trade crossings in the state of Michigan have the potential to make our region a transportation and logistics hub in the Midwest if we make the necessary infrastructure investments now,” Peters said. “We should be allocating resources where the economic utilization will be greatest, where the investment will create jobs, increase exports and grow our middle class. Secretary Johnson visiting Michigan is an important step.”

The issue of the customs plaza has been a sore spot for those in the Port Huron area, which has been in line for customs plaza funding for years.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow acknowledged that in the case of Port Huron, “frankly, they had the rug pulled out from under them.”

But she reiterated the importance of the crossing in Detroit.

“This (new) bridge is critical … for security, for jobs, for economic development,” Stabenow said. “We have a commitment from our Canadian partners … We have to do our part on our side of the bridge to make sure that when it’s time to do the plaza that the funding is there.”

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press

Did state’s Detroit EM team use its clout to stymie Moroun bridge?

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — An Ambassador Bridge official said Thursday that a member of Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s team told him last fall that the state had made it clear it did not want the city selling rights to the bridge company that could allow it to build a twin span to replace the 85-year-old bridge.

If true, the declaration made by Detroit International Bridge Co. President Dan Stamper in federal court in Washington could raise questions about whether anyone in state government used the city’s financial crisis — and the state’s intervention — as a pretext to keep a second span from being built.

State officials did not immediately return a request for comment. Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed Orr last year as emergency manager, has been a wholehearted supporter of a rival span to be built over the Detroit River to Windsor that Ambassador Bridge officials are trying to block.

Stamper’s declaration was submitted to U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who concluded a hearing requested by bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun to stop the Coast Guard from issuing a permit to let the rival New International Trade Crossing, or NITC, move forward.

She did not rule on the request for an injunction but is expected to do so in the days or weeks to come. On Wednesday, she had chided Moroun’s son, Matthew Moroun, the company’s vice chairman, for not spending enough to simply buy the rights needed for a twin span from the City of Detroit.

The written declaration submitted Thursday wasn’t immediately available, but the Ambassador Bridge’s lawyer, Hamish Hume, described it to Collyer as Stamper’s version of an Oct. 22 conversation he had with Gary Brown, a former City Council member and chief operating officer for Detroit under Orr.

Stamper said Brown told him that politics aside, an easement over Riverside Park next to the Detroit River could be sold to the bridge company but that “Lansing” — presumably meaning some person, branch or agency in state government — “had instructed the city not to sell the easement,” Hume said.

The city’s refusal to sell the Moroun family an easement to “air rights” over Riverside Park has been a key reason the Coast Guard hasn’t issued a permit for a second span rising over the park that Ambassador Bridge officials say they want to build to replace their aging one.

Bridge company lawyers argue state and federal agencies are not playing fair with their proposal, in favor of the rival NITC, which is to be paid for by Canada. As the Free Press reported, Matthew Moroun said Wednesday if the NITC gets its permit before his company does, it is “the end of the race.”

Hume said Stamper provided the declaration in response to Collyer’s questions to Matthew Moroun on Wednesday, and said lawyers hadn’t brought it up before because they didn’t want the court “to conclude we won’t get the easement” despite opposition in the city to sell it to the bridge company.

“We will get the easement. But we have to work through the politics of Detroit,” Hume said. He added that, in another declaration, Matthew Moroun told Collyer he had sent an offer of $5 million for the air rights to the city Thursday.

Asked about Stamper’s declaration, Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling, said he had “no information about (the) veracity of Mr. Stamper’s comments” and said only that Orr and his staff “have been focused on restructuring the city.”

Brian Collins, of the U.S. Justice Department, argued that the bridge company’s failure to get a permit has no relation to whether the NITC gets one and that, in any case, it would be premature to issue an injunction since no NITC permit has been issued. He added, however, that the Coast Guard’s requirement that private bridge owners have easements in hand before providing a permit is appropriate.

But the question of whether someone at the state could have contacted Orr’s office or the city and advised against selling the easement could be an important one, said Collyer, especially in a case like this one, where the state is party to a deal to build a rival bridge with Canada picking up the tab.

“Is that acting as a sovereign (state government),” she asked, “or is that acting as a competitor?”

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press

Homeland Security chief to visit Michigan to discuss border security

By Todd Spangler

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Gary Peters said today U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will visit Michigan in the near future to discuss security along the Canadian border — and the prospects for a new customs plaza at a proposed Detroit River bridge.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Johnson accepted his invitation to visit Michigan to discuss “the importance of constructing proposed customs plazas at high-volume trade crossings like the Detroit-Windsor border.”

Peters sponsored legislation to devote funding to high-volume border crossings like the one at Detroit. The Canadian government has promised to pay for the majority of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor but supporters say the federal government’s refusal to commit to paying to build a new customs plaza on the American side has been a hold up for the project.

The Free Press has reported that a new customs plaza for Detroit — costing as much as $250 million — would have to leap in front of other projects around the U.S. in order to get built. Johnson’s support could be key to making that happen.

Peters said Johnson accepted his invitiation but has not yet said when he might visit Michigan.

“I look forward to welcoming Secretary Johnson to our great state so that we can have a productive discussion about constructing and expanding customs plazas at critical sites like the New International Trade Crossing,” Peters said. “Canada remains one of our most important trading partners, and projects like these will expand our international cooperation and commerce and create thousands of jobs here in Michigan.”

Peters’ legislation could also help funding for a customs plaza expansion needed at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, he said. So far, the Republican-controlled House has yet to schedule a hearing on Peters’ bill, though that legislation could also run afoul of executive branch agencies, like Johnson’s, which want to decide which projects deserve funding first.

The proposed New International Trade Crossing calls for a six-lane bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor. The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction and land acquisition of the $2.1-billion project to be repaid by tolls.

Originally posted in the Detroit Free Press

 

Groups across U.S. call on Obama to fund Detroit River bridge project

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

A group of 40 construction, business and labor associations from across the border have issued a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him to intervene and resolve the $250 million funding requirement for a customs plaza for the planned Detroit River international bridge.

“The undersigned organizations urge you to swiftly resolve questions surrounding funding for the U.S. Federal Plaza associated with the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario to allow the project to commence,” said the letter.

The groups include the Detroit Regional Chamber, Steel Manufacturers Association, Laborers International Association of North America, American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan and National Association of Manufacturers.

The letter sent Tuesday to The White House notes how the bridge project has been in the planning process for over a decade and calls on the president to “finish the process by definitively resolving the questions surrounding funding” for the customs plaza on the Detroit side.

“Canada has agreed to pay for almost all the $2 billion project; however the United States  has not yet committed to its relatively modest share – $250 million for the Federal Plaza,” the letter said.

The joint letter also touts the economic benefits the bridge project will generate through both construction jobs and permanent jobs related to the Canada-U.S. cross-border movement of goods once completed.

“The long-lasting impact of the project will be felt beyond Michigan, as the entire Midwest relies on reliable transportation infrastructure at the Detroit-Windsor crossing to get goods to market,” the letter said.

Completion of the bridge project is scheduled for 2020, but its supporters fear Washington’s failure to fund the U.S. customs plaza may delay the project.

Concerns have been elevated since the president failed to include funds for the plaza in his proposed U.S. federal budget released a couple of weeks ago.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Editorial: Michigan must keep pushing for new bridge

Obama’s budget, lawsuit latest hurdles

Having failed to stop Gov. Rick Snyder from pursuing plans for the New International Trade Crossing with battles in Michigan, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun has now turned his efforts to Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, the nation’s capital apparently is proving more fertile ground. Michigan’s members of Congress — from both parties — need to rise up and see to the state’s needs by insisting on federal support for the project.

Moroun, many will recall, succeeded in keeping the Michigan Legislature from approving the New International Trade Crossing, the proposed new span linking Canada and Michigan.

The new project is so desirable to the Canadians that they’ve pledged to loan Michigan the money needed for its share of construction costs and will take payment from proceeds of tolls. Snyder, undeterred when the Legislature refused to support his plan, went around it and kept the project moving with his executive powers, getting federal transportation officials on board.

The Moroun family, owners of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which operates the Ambassador Bridge, then funded a ballot proposal that would have amended the state charter to make building of a bridge with any government support unlikely. Michigan voters resoundingly defeated that.

Now Moroun fights in Washington, and is seeing some success. Most recently, President Barack Obama’s latest budget proposal failed to include funds for the U.S. Customs plaza that is needed as part of the bridge project. And late last week, Moroun asked a federal judge to block the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing a permit that would be needed before construction of a new bridge, arguing that his company’s franchise agreement prohibits any competing span.

The problem there is that the Canadians have turned down Moroun’s plan to put a second span adjacent to his existing bridge. So if the U.S. wants to improvement in crossing delays and national security, NITC is needed. Canadian officials say that one-quarter of all trade between the two nations passes through Detroit and Windsor, the busiest crossing between the nations. Economic development officials project the new bridge could help add 66,000 additional jobs to the state. It’s in the best interests of all but Moroun to have a new bridge. Michigan’s congressional delegation must tackle this challenge.

Originally posted by the Lansing State Journal

Customs plaza for new Detroit bridge hits a roadblock on federal funding

By Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press Washington Staff

WASHINGTON — What Buffalo needed in 2011 to move ahead with a decade-long plan to twin the Peace Bridge into Canada was a financial commitment for $250 million from the U.S. government to pay for a bigger, better customs plaza on the New York side.

It never came.

In Port Huron, a customs plaza expansion project to reduce backups at the Blue Water Bridge began in 2002. More than 100 homes and commercial properties were demolished to make way. But as of last year, the federal government said it didn’t have the $145 million needed to finish the work — and officials there continue to wait.

In Lewiston and Alexandria Bay, N.Y.; in Dunseith, N.D., and in Brownsville, Texas, customs plaza projects at border crossings have been stalled for years due to lack of federal funding. Budget cutbacks, changing priorities and an overwhelming need at high-traffic Mexican crossings have shifted political attention, overwhelmed annual appropriations and sapped congressional will.

Those fiscal realities are becoming clear to supporters of the proposed New International Trade Crossing in Detroit. While they remain publicly optimistic about securing U.S. funding for a new $250-million customs plaza — a commitment Gov. Rick Snyder identified as key to moving forward with the project — their chances of doing so in the short term are murky at best. To get funding, the NITC will have to jump ahead of others that have been in line a lot longer than Detroit.

“It becomes a battle for who has more clout to go after what limited funds there are from the federal government,” said Z. Kris Wisniewski, with the Eastern Border Transportation Coalition, a group that works on U.S-Canada border issues.

Which may be another concern for supporters of the NITC. On the Democratic side, Michigan’s clout is waning somewhat, with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn — two of the state’s most powerful boosters — leaving at the end of the year. So far, it has fallen to U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat, to propose legislation funding the customs plaza, though it’s not likely going far in a Republican-controlled House.

New heads of Homeland Security and Transportation could add to the confusion. And a new U.S. ambassador to Canada has not yet been confirmed.

Republicans in the Michigan delegation, meanwhile, have been silent on the funding so far. Except, that is, for U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican, whose district includes the Blue Water Bridge and who has been trying to get funding for it for years.

“Here’s the thing,” she said. “I have never taken a very hopeful position about the NITC because I represent the Blue Water Bridge. We have no money for a plaza. … The Canadians have built their plaza. They keep looking at us like, ‘What? Come on!’ ”

Limited funds available

It’s not that the federal government doesn’t fund Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. Last week, the General Services Administration (GSA) revealed as part of President Barack Obama’s budget request a list of three border stations — two along the Mexican border in California and a third long-standing project at Alexandria Bay in New York — which could split $420 million.

Michigan officials, meanwhile, seemed satisfied that CBP, part of the Homeland Security Department, asked for $486 million for unspecified construction and facility maintenance, though much of that goes to smaller projects if Congress agrees. Most of the larger stations, including Detroit’s, are owned or leased by the GSA.

Dan Tangherlini, head of the GSA, told the Free Press last week that his agency and the Departments of State and Transportation are working to assuage the concerns of Canadian officials who have promised to pay the lion’s share of the $2-billion bridge, even without an outright commitment.

But to eventually get funding, officials must confront a network of border stations and customs plazas with vast needs.

In three of the last four years, there has been no funding at all for GSA’s customs plazas. CBP refused to release a list of priority projects it compiles each year with GSA, but the roster is known to be in the dozens. Wisniewski’s group said that along the northern border with Canada — America’s biggest trading partner — at least nine crossings are initial priorities, where traffic delays can cost millions in lost production.

Detroit’s project — with ground not broken and a new bridge years in the future — isn’t believed to be on the list, a situation Ron Rienas, general manager at the Buffalo and Ft. Erie Public Bridge Authority, can identify with.

Over 11 years, he said, Peace Bridge officials wrestled to get federal clearances for their project, the vast majority of which would be paid for by the authority. But when it became clear in 2011 that no federal funds would be coming in the near future, the authority adopted a more modest proposal.

Last month, it unveiled a program allowing U.S. customs officers in Canada to pre-inspect trucks entering the U.S., and it is getting by with a less robust plaza expansion itself.

“The bottom line is that the northern border projects, the large ones — Port Huron, Buffalo, Lewiston, Alexandria Bay — are all in the same boat,” Rienas said.

“There’s no point beating our heads against the wall.”

A matter of fairness

A commitment to the NITC plaza may seem a minuscule point in a project worth billions. But it’s not.

The Canadian government is moving ahead with plans to purchase land needed for the bridge, which is perhaps the No. 1 infrastructure project in the pipeline as far as that nation’s priorities. In Michigan, the project enjoys widespread support among elected officials and businesspeople who expect it to spark development and put thousands of people to work.

It also will serve as an important trade link between the two countries, especially for the region’s dominant automobile industry, which sends parts back and forth across the border as vehicles are assembled.

For many in Canada and the U.S., the NITC is seen as a way to bypass the existing Ambassador Bridge and bottlenecks on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. But finding a company that would design, build and run the new bridge — and pay back the Canadian investment — gets potentially more difficult when there is uncertainty about who is on the hook for the customs plaza.

“The major step that would be taken later this year or early next would be to summon bids from consortia that would finance, build and maintain the actual span. Their investment will be recouped by toll revenues,” said Roy Norton, Canada’s counsel general in Detroit. “If by early ’15 there hasn’t been that signal (that the U.S. will pay for the customs plaza), it could cause delay.”

And delay means lost revenue for the vendor to begin recouping its investment.

Gov. Snyder has called it a matter of simple fairness that the federal government pay for the customs plaza. No one at CBP responded to questions about whether they view it the same way.

The case for Detroit

Detroit is often referred to as the busiest trade crossing in North America, but it’s not. Not anymore.

According the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2009, it fell below the crossing at Laredo, Texas, in terms of the value of shipments across the border. As of 2012, it remained No. 2.

Generally speaking, that may help explain the billions that have been spent improving customs plazas and crossings along the southern border, where there are dozens of priority projects: At San Ysidro near San Diego — the busiest border crossing in the U.S. with 20 million vehicle passengers a year — $323 million has been committed to a huge expansion, and another $217 has been requested.

This year, Congress funded San Ysidro and another project, for $62 million, in Laredo.

But businesspeople along the southern border say they’ve run into the same problem keeping up with demand for new facilities and, maybe more important, staffing. Monica Weisberg-Stewart, a shopkeeper in McAllen, Texas, who works with the Texas Border Coalition, said the group was finally able to convince Congress to allow five pilot projects for which municipalities or businesses will provide funds for staff and infrastructure.

All five are along the southern border, which raises the politically thorny issue of having a newly announced project leapfrog others already in the pipeline.

“It all deals with money and the lack thereof,” said Weisberg-Stewart. “There’s a long line, and people who were supposed to be funded before had their money stalled. You’d have other states extremely upset (if another project got that funding).”

Detroit, the thinking goes, is different: a huge new bridge, with the Canadian government picking up most of the tab, securing one of the most vital trade crossings in the world.

Norton, Canada’s representative in Detroit, is leaving for a similar post in Chicago soon but says he will keep an eye on the NITC. He said there is “plenty of time down the road” to get funding. What he’s looking for now is something more of a promise than a guarantee.

“To be sure, money’s tight. It’s tight in Canada, too,” he said. “But this is the most important border crossing” with America’s “best customer.”

“An offline commitment that they take responsibility for the customs plaza would be enough for us,” he said. “We’re prepared to take the government of the United States of America at its word.”

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

Beckmann: Obama builds Michigan a bridge to nowhere

The Detroit News
Frank Beckmann

In the classic old movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” a group of prisoner-of-war British engineers is forced by Japanese captors during World War II to build a passage over the waterway so the Japanese can strategically move military supplies.

The Brits eventually sabotage the bridge with explosives and near the film’s end, British senior officer Lt. Col. L. Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness), is fatally wounded but as he stumbles toward his death, he falls on the detonator, destroying the bridge, after reciting the memorable line, “What have I done?”

The scene comes to mind as we receive word that President Barack Obama failed to include in this week’s federal budget request the $250 million necessary to build a U.S. customs plaza to allow Canadian-funded construction for “The Bridge on the River Detroit,” aka the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

Ground can’t be broken on Gov. Rick Snyder’s pet project without that federal aid and Snyder has returned from several bridge-related visits to Washington believing federal support was a foregone conclusion for the NITC, which has bipartisan support because of the job growth and increased economic activity the bridge promises to create.

But Obama’s $3.9 trillion budget proposal included no mention of the necessary funding for the NITC customs plaza, leaving the Detroit bridge project in limbo while even the Canadians grow impatient to spend their $2.1 billion to build the span.

Obama found the dollars to fund $115 million in federal government construction projects to build the IRS a new computer center in Detroit — all the better to limit tea party deductions with — and to refurbish the U.S. courthouse here.

He also wants to spend over $300 million to hire an additional 2,000 customs agents, who Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York says will ease backups on his state’s Peace Bridge to Canada.

Add in $90 million to continue studying rare isotope beams at Michigan State University and millions more to continue studying alternative-fuel vehicles that Americans don’t want to buy, and you’ve got enough money to pay for the customs plaza and break ground on the NITC.

Don’t get me wrong; all those items in the budget might have merit, however none of them, individually or collectively, carry the promise of jobs and economic growth that come with “The Bridge on the River Detroit.”

On the surface, omission of the bridge-related funding in Obama’s budget seems like a surprise, but this is an election year so, 1. Don’t be surprised, and 2. Don’t be concerned.

The NITC funding omission reeks of politics, especially with the immediate statement after the budget proposal was released that Michigan Congressman Gary Peters believes this “was a grave oversight, but we can work together to make this customs plaza a reality.”

How convenient.

Peters happens to be running for the U.S. Senate and polls show him trailing Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land.

The congressman also faces the daunting prospect of defending his all-in support for Obamacare where he repeated the president’s untrue promise that Americans who like their health care plans can keep them.

Peters has also introduced legislation to fund the customs plaza project.

So Obama, who says retaining Democratic control of the Senate is his chief aim, conveniently leaves out of his budget what amounts to a pittance of spending in the overall scheme of things, and leaves the work of getting the project on track to his Michigan Senate candidate, Gary Peters, who can claim the NITC as his own success story if the funding comes later — say in October, before the elections.

While we’ll never find a smoking gun to prove collusion between Peters and Obama on such a plot, we’re reminded that there are no coincidences in politics.

And if money is later forthcoming for “The Bridge on the River Detroit,” the NITC will be known as the project saved by Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters, not by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

That would leave the GOP to recite the final line from a character in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” — “Madness! … Madness!”

Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760).

Originally posted by The Detroit News

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