OUR VIEW — New bridge needed to keep trade with Canada flowing

Holland Sentinel Editorial Board

Holland – At first glance, it seems the debate over a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, is one of those political brawls best left to the folks on the other side of Michigan. Those of us in West Michigan don’t have a stake in this issue, do we? As it turns out we do, and the bridge plan backed by Gov. Rick Snyder is clearly the best option for Michigan.

Canada is the United States’ biggest international trading partner, and that commercial link is especially strong for  Michigan. Given the integrated North American vehicle production system, every Holland area company  that supplies the auto industry ships to Canada. Roughly 40 percent of U.S.-Canadian trade passes through the southeast Michigan-Ontario corridor, and maintaining a smooth, efficient flow of goods across the Canadian border is critical for our economy.

Currently, the biggest share of that traffic crosses the Ambassador Bridge, an 82-year-old span owned by businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family. Gov. Snyder, along with the Ontario and Canadian governments, want to build a new bridge, called the New International Trade Crossing, downriver from the Ambassador. The politically well connected Morouns are fiercely opposed to that plan, instead proposing to build a new bridge of their own parallel to the Ambassador, and have mounted a statewide advertising campaign to stir public opinion against the governor’s plan.

We believe a new bridge is needed for two reasons. The first is redundancy for a crucial trade link in case of a terrorist attack, disaster or major repairs. The second is the anticipated growth in cross-border traffic. While traffic volumes at the Canadian border declined after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, they have been rising and are expected to continue increasing over the next 25 years. As for location, Canadian officials don’t want a new bridge in the same place — the Ambassador Bridge feeds into crowded Windsor neighborhoods, not Ontario’s 401 expressway. Most importantly, Gov. Snyder has negotiated a pretty sweet deal for Michigan. Canada has pledged to cover Michigan’s $550 million share of the project, and federal officials have agreed to count that money as Michigan’s matching fund contribution, allowing the state to get four times as much in federal funds it would not otherwise receive. The $950 million bridge won’t cost Michigan a penny.

The Morouns’ commercials would have you believe the bridge would cost Michigan $100 million, but that’s a high-end estimate of tax revenue from property owners displaced by the project. Their latest ad argues the state should concentrate on improving its existing roads before building a new bridge, erroneously implying that the state is taking money away from local road projects.

The New International Trade Crossing is endorsed by almost every business group in the state, including the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce. However, it faces a tough fight in the Legislature; Gov. Snyder has already postponed a vote on the project once. The Morouns have strong political ties and are major donors to Michigan legislators, making $535,000 in donations during the 2009-10 cycle, according to media reports. We think it would be a shame if the Legislature let one family stand in the way of an important international trade link and passed up about the most generous deal Michigan could ever hope to receive. Holland area legislators should support the New International Trade Crossing and ensure that our commerce with Canada flows quickly and efficiently.