Canadian government, Snyder to discuss ‘next steps’ for public bridge

Detroit News

Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Canadian government is “extremely disappointed” by the Michigan Senate’s defeat of a public bridge bill, but is ready to work on “other options” to get a Detroit-Windsor span approved, an official said Friday.

Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel is expected to meet with Gov. Rick Snyder in Ottawa in two weeks “to discuss next steps” for the New International Trade Crossing, said Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada.

“Canada remains fully committed to building a new publicly owned crossing between Windsor and Detroit and will continue to work with the governments of Michigan and the U.S. to jointly examine other options for delivering the new crossing,” Butler said.

Butler wouldn’t say what those options are, but Snyder said Thursday he remains committed to getting the bridge approved by the Legislature. Snyder’s communications director, Geralyn Lasher, affirmed that pledge Friday after Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville told The Detroit News the bridge issue is dead in the Senate until next year at the earliest.

Richardville sponsored Snyder’s bill to create a bridge authority, but saw it defeated 3-2 Thursday by a GOP-controlled Senate panel.

Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge and opposes the public bridge across the Detroit River, said Thursday he expects the Canadian government will now look more favorably on his company’s proposal to use private money to build a bridge beside the Ambassador.

But Butler gave no indication that’s the case.

The public span “is the only proposal to have received all necessary environmental approvals on both sides of the border,” and a new crossing should be “subject to appropriate public oversight,” he said.

Snyder wants the bridge with direct freeway connections to clear a border bottleneck and assure exporters easy access to the state’s top trade partner. He has said the public bridge would be privately financed, built and run at no cost to state taxpayers because of $550 million fronted by Canada.

Owners of the Ambassador have spent millions on TV ads, lobbying and campaign donations to fight the proposal, saying it’s an unfair government encroachment on their business.

Snyder called for a cooling-off period of up to a few weeks, but Richardville wants a longer hiatus.

“I’m done with it for now,” he said, suggesting Snyder might want to raise the issue “at a future State of the State” address, next year or later.

Lasher said Richardville’s comments underscore the need for a cooling-off period, but Snyder doesn’t see it extending into next year.

“We want to make sure we get moving” so federal road match money from the project can be used on Michigan roads, she said.

Richardville said his caucus has a full agenda of jobs and tax issues through the end of the year, and he has nobody “champing at the bit” to bring forward another bridge bill.

He said Republicans were concerned about whether state tax money would be used and whether the bridge would be self-supporting. Democrats wanted assurances residents of the Delray neighborhood in southwest Detroit that would host the bridge will benefit.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer has accused Richardville of backing out of a deal he struck with her caucus leaders under which Democrats would support the bridge bill in return for community benefits for Delray. Richardville said there was a misunderstanding and he’s partly responsible for miscommunication.