Span called vital trade artery

Auto industry moves tons of parts through crucial link

TOLEDO BLADE STAFF

DETROIT – The Ambassador Bridge is a vital artery for trucks, and that means it’s a vital artery for trade, and an especially crucial link to the automotive industry.

“Detroit is the busiest crossing with the entire country of Canada, and a lot of the trade that goes through there are automotive parts,” said Kristin Dziczek, who is the director of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit industry think tank based in Ann Arbor.

“There are parts that cross the border two or three times for processing,” she said late Wednesday. “The companies that operate here operate there.

“We’re very intricately linked to our neighbor … ,” she said, referring to Windsor, Ont., which is across the river from downtown Detroit. “The economies are very linked, and the automotive industry is extremely linked. One very busy crossing handles the bulk of the automotive trade.”

At a conference in Toledo last year, Roy Norton, the consul general of Canada in Detroit, said that building a second Detroit River crossing is Canada’s top national infrastructure priority because of the corridor’s importance to U.S.-Canada trade.

Ohio sells more to Canada than the next 14 countries combined, reported the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, which sponsored the conference at the University of Toledo’s Dana Conference Center.

Mr. Norton said that 8 million U.S. jobs depend on the bridge.

“It’s not just a Michigan-Ontario issue,” he told the gathering.

Mr. Norton, whose region includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, urged transportation interests throughout the region to support a new river crossing — as the TMACOG board had done.

Charles “Shorty” Whittington, a past chairman of the American Trucking Associations, also spoke of the crippling blow to trade if infrastructure failed — say, if cracks appeared in the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge and the crossing had to close.

In so doing, though, Mr. Whittington repeated an oft-cited statistic: Those trucks traveling back and forth across the longtime Detroit River crossing carry about a quarter of all trade between the United States and Canada.

Support has been building for a second river crossing.

The UAW is on record in supporting a new border crossing from Windsor to the southwest Detroit neighborhood of Delray, and in December the Ohio Senate unanimously approved a resolution that supports construction of a new international trade crossing with Canada.

The resolution cited Canada as Ohio’s top export market and estimated that 301,100 jobs in Ohio are supported by United States-Canada trade.

Mr. Norton, in an Oct. 16, 2011, column on The Blade’s Pages of Opinion, wrote that almost 20,000 of those jobs are in Lucas, Wood, and Hancock counties.

“Exports from Ohio to Canada increased [in 2010] by more than 20 percent over 2009,” Mr. Norton wrote. “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.”

In a comment to Stateline, a news service of the Pew Center on the States, Mr. Norton said, “By value and volume, it is the most important border crossing anywhere in the world. And it’s 83 years old.

“We think that, prudently, governments should provision for the future to ensure that there will be capacity,” Mr. Norton said.

The Detroit-Windsor border crossing is the busiest in North America, with trade valued at $500 million passing daily across the Ambassador Bridge.

Business support for a new crossing appears to have increased in recent months, according to a survey conducted by the Lansing firm EPIC-MRA and commissioned by Crain’s Detroit Business and a Detroit law firm.

The survey of business owners and managers released last month showed that 60 percent favored Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan for a new crossing, while 28 opposed the plan.

The governor’s plan has had the corporate support of Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Kellogg.

“As we’re on a rebound here, the automotive [companies] are stretching their capacity and are getting to the point where they’re stretching the capacity of that crossing,” said Ms. Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research.