By Chris Vander Doelen, The Windsor Star
With demolition crews now working around the clock to clear the route for the $1.4-billion Essex-Windsor Parkway, it’s only a matter of time before a new Detroit River bridge is approved.
So say sources at all three levels of government on the Canadian side of the border. Significantly, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder keeps saying it, too.
Snyder said so during a bus tour of the parkway project and new bridge site he hosted for Michigan legislators last week. And he said it again on Sunday during NASCAR’s annual race at Michigan International Speedway, which is a major cross-border event for the region.
By this October, Snyder said prior to the race, the Michigan legislature will create a new state body whose job it will be to oversee the creation of a new crossing.
The location the governor chose for this pronouncement was craftily symbolic. Snyder pointed out that a new crossing would make it easier for even more Canadians to cross the border for events like the Pure Michigan 400 race.
An estimated 17,000 Canadians made the trip for this year’s race. In fact, a Canadian family from Miramichi, N.B., was chosen to award the trophy to race winner Kyle Busch.
The Smiths said they had driven 2,000 kilometres to attend the race – which is exactly what the ailing Michigan economy needs: more tourists.
Maybe even more Canucks would attend the event if there was another bridge and the trip and waiting times weren’t so onerous, Snyder mused aloud for the benefit of the media.
Because that’s what the second bridge is all about: increasing business (and employment opportunities), and making life easier for travellers by giving them another choice.
Yet Canadian supporters of the new crossing suffered more pangs of doubt and confusion last week after the sod-turning for the massive parkway project.
“What if Michigan doesn’t approve it?” some nervous Nellies wailed on The Star’s comment threads of the new bridge. “Then it really will be a road to nowhere!”
Relax, people. That Road to Nowhere meme is just a catchy advertising slogan dreamt up by the Ambassador Bridge and its allies. It’s a last-ditch attempt to preserve the lucrative private monopoly they hold on commercial traffic and sales of duty free fuel and goods.
The control they exert over two national economies is simply unheard of anywhere else in the world, and it’s high time it came to an end.
It’s true that Snyder may be wrong about the timing of his latest plan to approve the crossing – he’s been wrong before. He missed his last announced personal schedule for approving the DRIC bridge by nearly half a year.
But that doesn’t matter, observers tell me. “It’s just a matter of time.”
The important thing to note is that the governor’s support of the project remains unwavering. He remains as convinced as the Canadian side that the region’s economic future depends on more bandwidth at the border.
The constant delays in approval on the U.S. side aren’t anything to worry about, insiders tell me: they’re the normal speed bumps any controversial law faces in their system.
“It’s all process,” one Canadian observer said recently. “And there are 101 ways to do this – this is just the first method Snyder has decided to try. There are other ways he can do it, too.”
Even an eventual defeat of Snyder’s plans isn’t the end of the new bridge, which would also be privately built and run and funded by tolls, just like the existing Ambassador Bridge.
Washington could still step in, if it decides the project is crucial to the national interest and job creation.
That wouldn’t be hard to imagine in an election year.
It’s also instructive to look at how the Ambassador Bridge itself was approved back in the mid-1920s.
Back then, there was no tortuous government approvals process, no state involvement, no federal oversight. A business group proposed building it and the communities of Detroit and Windsor (then Sandwich) simply approved it.
The current mayors of Detroit and Windsor are both strongly in favour of a second crossing separate from the Ambassador Bridge. And sometimes the old ways of doing business are still the best ways.
But in the meantime, sit back and cheer on Snyder as he skilfully navigates “the process” on his side of the border. And remember what the insiders keep saying: it’s just a matter of time.