Snyder talk Canadian bridge, state transportation at MSU

The State News

By Ian Kullgren

As an initiative to begin building a new bridge between Detroit and Canada stalled in the state senate, Gov. Rick Snyder gave a speech at MSU on Tuesday pushing for approval of the project and calling for more economic cooperation across Michigan’s border.

The governor addressed U.S. and Canadian leaders at the Kellogg Center, outlining plans to increase cooperative trade between the two countries through infrastructure improvements.

Economists from MSU’s Canadian Studies Center have said the plans for a new, publicly-owned bridge across the Detroit River could provide a huge boost to the state’s lagging economy, as Canada remains Michigan’s largest trade partner.

Trade cooperation between the U.S. and Canada currently is under par, said Russell Maclellan, former premier of Nova Scotia. The gap is one that could be bridged with a new trade crossing, he said.

“It’s vital. If we’re going to increase trade in this area we need that bridge,” Maclellan said. “We need that bridge badly.”

Snyder’s speech was part of a U.S.-Canadian transportation summit headed by the Canadian Studies Center, which met on campus from Sunday to Tuesday to discuss new trade initiatives between the countries.

“I don’t think there is any good reason not to support the bridge proposal,” Snyder said, calling for residents to lobby their senators for support. “This is something that clearly is in the best interest of Michigan.”

The initiative remains stalled in the Senate after failing to gather enough votes to make it out of committee last week and might be resurrected on the floor in the next several days if it is approved by a different committee. So far, its necessity has been called into question by many Republican legislators. But has been opposed most vocally by owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the only other bridge connecting Detroit and Canada.

“I’ve repeatedly said that I won’t support this project unless I’m convinced that Michigan taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the costs of this project, including potential cost overruns or shortfalls in toll revenue,” said State Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, in a statement in August after touring the proposed bridge site.

A tax expert told the Senate last week the bridge would not put taxpayer money in danger, and Snyder said he believes taxpayers would not be held responsible under the Michigan constitution.

Following the meeting, Snyder confirmed he planned to meet with Sen. Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, on Tuesday but said it is “not just a bridge meeting.”

During his speech, Snyder gave a brief preview of other possible infrastructure improvements that involve the northern neighbor.

One possibility the governor said he’s looking at would involve upgrading passenger trains to near high-speed status, which might include lines running between East Lansing and Chicago.
“I’d like to talk to the Canadians about partnering on that,” Snyder said.

“Is that something we can take across the border and create a passenger line that would go all the way up through Toronto into Montreal?”

Snyder will make a special address on the state’s infrastructure next week.

“It’s key for us to be able to work with Canada, to really get as many goods as possible on the (North American Free Trade Agreement) corridor and down the I-75 corridor,” said Douglas Smith, chief development officer for the state of Michigan. “(The new bridge initiative is) huge in terms of transportation for us.”