Detroit council backs public bridge project

Judge holds contempt hearing for Ambassador Bridge owners

Tom Greenwood/ The Detroit News

The Detroit City Council signaled its support Thursday for a publicly owned bridge to Canada after hearing from supporters of the project, including state and Canadian officials.

Council voted unanimously to draft a resolution in favor of the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

The council heard presentations from Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley; Canadian Consul General Roy Norton; state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit; and members of the Delray Community Benefits Coalition. All spoke in favor of the project.

Calley said the new bridge would provide new jobs for Michigan, expedite the passage of goods between Canada and the United States and ensure that southeast Michigan would remain the busiest international crossing in North America.

“Currently the Ambassador Bridge is the worst bottleneck in the Pan American trade system,” Calley said. “Trucks can travel from Montreal to Mexico and never see a red light, but there are 17 traffic lights leading from the Ambassador Bridge to Highway 401 in Windsor.”

Calley said the new bridge would provide freeway-to-freeway access for trucks, would pump millions into the state’s infrastructure and would serve as a backup to the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge in case of terrorism, weather or natural disaster.

Officials from the Detroit International Bridge Co.were also invited to speak to the City Council, but did not appear.

The cost of the proposed public span is pegged at $3.6 billion, but that includes connecting roads and customs plazas on both sides of the river. The bridge itself is estimated to cost just under $1 billion.

Norton confirmed to the council that Canada would stand by its offer of up to $550 million to cover Michigan’s share of the new bridge and that it would assume all risks in the project.

“The NITC is my government’s No. 1 infrastructure project,” Norton said.

“Michigan taxpayers will not be at risk: Canada will assume the entire risk, all of it. If we’re wrong, we’re on the hook, and we are not in the habit of making dumb economic decisions.”

Asked about plans to twin the Ambassador Bridge, Norton said there is no chance its owner could build another span.

“After years of asking, they finally got their environmental input study to us,” Norton said.

“It took five years for the NITC to get approval. The Windsor City Council fully supports the NITC and is against a twinning of the Ambassador Bridge, plus there is no room to expand the Ambassador Bridge plaza on the Canadian side.”

While officials from the Detroit International Bridge Co. didn’t speak before the council, they did appear in the courtroom of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards to face possible contempt charges for lack of progress on the company’s part of the $230 million Gateway Project.

Edwards said he had doubts that the bridge company could complete its portion of the project by his Jan. 10, 2012, deadline, and that the company that bonded the project might have to take over.

Edwards told an attorney for Safeco, the insurance company that bonded the bridge company’s portion of work, that he was giving the company two weeks to come up with a plan to finish the project.

Edwards’ ruling came despite assurances from company attorney Reginald Turner that it would meet the deadline and had started to comply with the court’s order to remove toll booths, car and truck fueling stations, and build a ramp connecting the bridge plaza to nearby freeways.

Tony Kratofil, Metro region engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said Edwards’ plan “shows the judge is serious about getting the work done, and that’s what we want to see,” he said.

A continuation of the hearing is set for Aug. 25.