Fact-finding tour tries to bridge divide over 2nd span to Canada

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

A full day of briefings by Michigan and Canadian officials did not quash all the doubts some state lawmakers had about the wisdom of Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

After a visit to proposed bridge sites and meetings in both cities, some lawmakers on a daylong bus tour said they still had questions about the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

“I see the need for the project in the long term. I see the advantage to this location. But I’m concerned about the finances and making sure it’s done properly,” state Rep. Bradford Jacobson, R-Oxford, said as the day wound up.

Several lawmakers said they had to consider what they had heard Monday before making up their minds.

“I’m still in fact-finding mode,” said state Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek.

State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, chairman of the state Senate’s economic development committee and organizer of the day’s bus tour, echoed that. “It’s been a long day,” he said.

Kowall had started the tour by saying that it was all about fact-finding prior to the Legislature beginning debate on the NITC this fall.

The project involves building a bridge between southwest Detroit and Windsor that would connect directly to expressways through ramps on the Detroit side and a new highway on the Windsor side.

Canadian officials have pledged to advance $550 million to pay Michigan’s share of construction costs in a way that would protect Michigan taxpayers from any liability.

The dozen or so lawmakers who made the trip were treated to sharply divergent views of the NITC project and the Ambassador Bridge.

Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co. and son of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, told the legislators and others that “nothing but politics and ideology” was stopping the bridge company from building its own second span to Windsor, and that Snyder’s NITC wasn’t needed.

He called the Ambassador Bridge “a shining symbol of American prosperity” and said that the NITC project was “standing in the way of American capitalism.”

But in Windsor, several Canadian officials countered by saying that the Ambassador Bridge was an aging piece of infrastructure that wasn’t keeping pace with the economic needs of the U.S. and Canada.

“We need a 21st-Century infrastructure crossing,” Jayson Myers, president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters trade association, told the visitors.

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis echoed that, saying that the NITC “allows us to compete with the rest of the world with modern infrastructure.”

During a lunch stop at the Delray Community House, the visitors heard an impassioned plea from state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, to include a legally binding community development agreement in the NITC legislation. Such an agreement could lead to better pollution controls, more sustainable housing development and new jobs and tax base in Delray, one of Detroit’s most distressed districts, where the new bridge would land.

“These accountability measures are key to making this win-win,” Tlaib said. “You don’t want people to go across this bridge, look left, look right, and see blight.”

She added, “We want to reinvent the city of Detroit, and we think this is part of it. … Let’s build it right.”