Feds assail Michigan bridge vote

Snyder to discuss next steps in Ottawa

By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star

Canada’s federal government expressed dismay Friday over the rejection to construct the proposed $1-billion government-backed Windsor-Detroit bridge, by a handful of politicians who serve on a committee in the Michigan senate.

“We are extremely disappointed the Michigan Senate Economic Development Committee failed to approve a bill to authorize construction of the new crossing,” said Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada.

Ottawa has offered up to $550 million to pay the state’s share of costs for the Detroit River International Crossing bridge, but that wasn’t enough to overcome intense political lobbying and hefty donations of Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

He now indefinitely retains his dominance of toll revenues and duty free sales at North America’s busiest border crossing.

The committee voted 3-2 against the bridge, with two members abstaining.

Federal transportation minister Denis Lebel has already spoken with Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder and confirmed the bridge project remains a top priority for the state’s leader despite the setback, Butler said.

“The minister will be meeting with Gov. Snyder in Ottawa in the near future to discuss next steps for the project,” Butler said.

“The Government of 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.”

Snyder said following the 3-2 committee vote that he will again try to work with his legislature to approve the bridge after a cooling-off period. He refused to put a timeline on how long that may take.

He has other options to get the bridge approved by asking the federal government to take over or using an executive order, according to his office.

There have also been suggestions Senate Majority Floor Leader Randy Richardville (R – Monroe), who also supports the project, may take control by moving the bill to his own senate government operations committee of which he is chairman.

Despite a competing proposal from Moroun for a twin span to his 82-year-old bridge, the DRIC project remains the only proposal to have received all necessary environmental approvals on both sides of the border, Butler said.

“A secure and efficient Windsor-Detroit trade corridor is vitally important to the economies of Ontario and Michigan – and indeed to all of Canada and the United States,” he said.

Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan (L-Windsor-Tecumseh) remains confident there will be a DRIC bridge and the $1.4-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway – with construction already in full swing – will not be a road to nowhere.

“To me (the vote) shows a few Michigan senators and the Ambassador Bridge folks are afraid to let this go to the floor (for a full vote by the 38-member Senate),” he said. “They may have voted this down, but I sense fear on those who support the position of the Ambassador Bridge.”

He has no plans to jump into the debate in Lansing, unless requested by the federal government, which under DRIC protocol is responsible for getting the bridge approved and built.

“We went into this knowing there would be a lot of twists and ups and downs,” Duncan said.

“Our responsibility is to build the parkway and I remain confident the governor and every lobby group behind this will find a way to get the new bridge built. This bridge and keeping the border moving properly is the right thing to do.”

Mayor Eddie Francis was not overly disheartened Friday by the political rejection of the DRIC bridge in Lansing, saying it’s just a matter of time before the merits of the project prevail.

“I still believe very strongly at end of the day progress will beat out politics,” he said. “This project is too significant in terms of job creation and what it will do for the national economies of both nations. Whenever the vote gets taken and it wins approval, that is the day people will say progress beat out politics. This will get done.

“Whether it’s in the next month, two months or longer, it will get done. It’s too important and there is too much at stake.”