By Karl Henkel
The consul general of Canada says building a second bridge from Michigan to Canada will greatly improve trading abilities with Ohio.
Roy Norton, whose region as consul includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, told The Vindicator on Friday that building an additional span is Canada’s “No. 1 infrastructure priority.”
“The bridge is about a positive investment climate,” Norton said. “The decision to build a bridge will have a profound impact on whether firms will expand or not.”
Norton visited the Mahoning Valley for the first time Friday. It also was the first visit by a Canadian consul general to the area since a Cleveland office closed in 1991.
Norton highlighted the reasons why a new bridge is necessary.
U.S. exports to Canada totaled nearly $250 billion in 2010, making up 14 percent of all U.S. exports.
It was a $44 billion increase from 2009.
Ohio exports more to Canada than any other country. Exports to America’s northerly neighbor totaled $17.2 billion, or 41 percent of the state’s total exports, according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Development.
It’s that expansion, he said, that even during difficult economic times, screams for the need of a new bridge.
“It’s so much near capacity now that traffic was backed up from Interstate 75 to Toledo,” Norton said, referencing the 60-mile stretch between the Motor City and Toledo.
A proposed bridge likely would take five years to build.
Norton said 8 million jobs depend on U.S.-Canada relations, and 2 million of those are tied directly to the Ambassador Bridge, the 7,500-foot-long, 83-year-old bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
It’s owned by Grosse Pointe, Mich., millionaire Manuel Maroun, who has staved off bipartisan agreement from regional legislators to build a second bridge, which he says would negatively impact traffic flow and revenues on his privately owned span.
Norton said he fears if a new bridge isn’t built soon, it could become a hindrance to further economic expansion between Midwestern states and Canada.
“Buffalo [N.Y.] or Fort Erie, Ontario, could attract investment that otherwise would have gone to Michigan or Ohio,” he said.