Lt. Governor Brian Calley states case for the NITC bridge at Detroit City Council

By Jeff T. Wattrick |

Lt. Governor Brian Calley called the Detroit-Windsor border crossing the “worst bottleneck in the entire Pan American freeway system” Thursday afternoon during a presentation to the Detroit City Council about the planned New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge.

“You could go from Montreal to Mexico City without hitting a stop light,” said Calley. “But you can’t go from I-75 to the 401 in Canada without hitting 18 or 19 stoplights. This is the worst bottleneck in the entire system. A freeway-to-freeway connection is absolutely essential for efficient trade.”

Governor Rick Snyder briefly joined the meeting by phone, telling Council that the NITC project is an opportunity for the state to build a partnership with city government.

Calley said the new bridge is essential because, while the 2008 economic meltdown decreased trade and truck traffic, trade between the two nations has rebounded and continues to increase. He said truck traffic between the U.S. and Canada is estimated to triple over the next 30 years.

Calley also said one in eight southeast Michigan jobs and one in seven west Michigan jobs are directly connected to trade with Canada, which totaled more than $64 billion in 2010. Canada is the United States’ biggest trading partner.

Calley was joined at Council by Canadian Consular-General Roy Norton and state Rep. Rashida Talib (D-Detroit). Both Norton and Talib spoke in favor of the NITC.

Norton said the new bridge is Canada’s most important infrastructure project because the Detroit-Windsor border is so critical to both nations’ economies. He added that the Ambassador Bridge “bottleneck” creates supply chain delays that increase Chrysler’s costs by roughly $700 per vehicle.

“Two million U.S. jobs depend on everything working right every day at that bridge,” he said.

Their argument yesterday wasn’t all that new to anyone following the border debate. A new bridge not only adds extra lanes of traffic, they say, but freeway-to-freeway access and greater capacity for Customs and other border functions. Norton says the Windsor’s proposed NITC plaza would be ten times the size of the existing Ambassador Bridge plaza.

Both Calley and Norton addressed issues raised by the Matty Moroun-owned Detroit International Bridge Company, which operates the Ambassador Bridge and opposes the NITC.

Norton said the DIBC’s plan to “twin” the Ambassador has not received any necessary approvals to move forward, noting the NITC’s environmental impact study took five years to complete. DIBC has only submitted paperwork to begin that process in the last few months.

Calley also disputed DIBC claims that toll revenue wasn’t sufficient to pay for the NITC bridge’s costs.

“What they say is the Windsor-Essex Freeway improvements of about $1.4 billion, they include that in their computations and act like that would be the responsibility of the bridge to pay for a Canadian freeway project,” he said. “That’s not true.

That would be like us saying, the bridge has to pay for I-75.”

Almost to a one, Councilmembers expressed support for the project but wanted assurances Detroit residents would benefit from the project with opportunities to work on the construction project and bid for contracts.

Calley responded to those concerns by calling the bridge one part of larger commitment by the state to redevelop southwest Detroit. He said the concessionaire’s agreement for bridge’s construction will be negotiated to provide appropriate community benefits.

“I don’t want us moving forward on this project unless it’s acceptable to Rashida [Talib] and the entire [Southwest Detroit] Community Benefits Coalition,” said Calley.

The Community Benefits Coalition is an umbrella organization for southwest Detroit groups advocating to ensure their community is accommodated by the NITC project, including job training for local residents, addressing environmental and quality of life concerns relating to truck traffic, and what they termed a “win-win” process for moving the some 500 Delray residents who would be relocated by the project. Representatives from the Coalition also spoke in support of the NITC yesterday.

City Council is preparing a resolution in support of the NITC bridge, provided the project ensures community concerns are addressed. The previous Council had passed a resolution supporting an earlier plan to build the NITC bridge, then known as the Detroit River International Crossing.