Ohio needs this bridge too

Toledo Blade

BY ROY B. NORTON
CONSUL GENERAL OF CANADA

Michigan lawmakers have many reasons to support an agreement with Canada that would build a new bridge across the Detroit River. None is more compelling than the economic advantages this project will bring to their state.

But this is an Ohio issue too — which presumably is why the state Senate unanimously passed a resolution last year endorsing the New International Trade Crossing.

Canada is the leading trade partner of the United States and Ohio. More than 300,000 Ohio jobs depend on trade with Canada — almost 20,000 of these in Lucas, Wood, and Hancock counties.

Exports from Ohio to Canada increased last year by more than 20 percent over 2009. As it has for many years, Ohio continues to enjoy a significant trade surplus with Canada. Modern border infrastructure linking the Midwest to Canada is essential to moving existing and future trade.

The New International Trade Crossing — a six-lane, state-of-the-art bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario — and other infrastructure enhancements will strengthen Toledo’s efforts to become a transportation and logistics gateway. That’s why the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments strongly supports the project.

As the focus grows in the United States on job creation through export growth, there is great potential for this region to play the lead role in handling and moving goods from around the country to world markets though Canada. Reliable bridge infrastructure at Detroit will give Ohio and Michigan companies needed confidence as they make investment decisions.

Last December, the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron, Mich., closed for two days because of heavy snow. Auto plants in this region closed down. Hourly workers were temporarily laid off. The traffic backup stretched south on I-75 from Detroit into Toledo.

Companies whose business plans depend on moving goods quickly and efficiently to and from Canada employ hundreds of thousands of Americans in the states in which I represent my country. They will stay here, and create more jobs here, if they know for sure that the infrastructure on which they rely is in place.

Parts of Ohio, especially in western and central areas of the state, and certain economic sectors — notably the auto industry — depend greatly on bridge infrastructure at Detroit-Windsor. The same is true of Ontario and Quebec.

That’s why a new Detroit-Windsor bridge has become Canada’s top national infrastructure priority. Canadians care so much about this project that my government has offered to front Michigan’s share of the costs — and to do so in a way in which Canada assumes all liability and Michigan bears none.

It is a deal anyone would love — unless you own the Ambassador Bridge, don’t want competition, and are concerned only about maximizing your profits for as long as you can, without regard to the national-security and economic risks that the lack of adequate bridge infrastructure creates.

The Ambassador Bridge is the only real option for truck traffic at the top of I-75. It is 83 years old and won’t last forever.

The bridge carries one-fourth of all U.S.-Canada trade — 20,000 vehicles and about $350 million U.S. in value every day. Eight million American jobs depend on U.S.-Canada trade. So it can reasonably be said that two million Americans rely for their livelihood on everything working just right, 365 days a year, at an 83-year-old bridge.

Prudent governments don’t allow the livelihoods of millions of their citizens to hang by a thread. They act to ensure, when it comes to critical infrastructure, that there is sufficient redundancy to allow economies to continue to function.

Building the bridge will create more than 10,000 direct jobs and 25,000 spinoff jobs in the United States during the construction period of four to five years. Those are jobs this region could vitally benefit from. And they will come at no cost to Michigan or Ohio taxpayers.

Michigan lawmakers need to hear from businesses and elected officials in Ohio to help them understand that the new bridge is of regional consequence. I encourage the Ohio House of Representatives to support a resolution similar to the one passed by the Senate.

The time is now for all pro-jobs Americans to speak up in support of this continentally important project.

Roy B. Norton is consul general of Canada in Detroit. His region includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky.