New bridge could spark Michigan revival

Research says 2nd span to Canada will add jobs

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
TOLEDO BLADE STAFF WRITER

An expert on the automotive industry said a new bridge between Detroit and Canada, which is a vital artery for international trade, would also be a spark for the Michigan economy with the new construction and permanent jobs it would ensure.

There is still some uncertainty about the proposed new Detroit-Windsor crossing. And while the detailed findings of the new employment report are not ready to be released, the bridge certainly would be a shot in the state’s arm, said Kim Hill, associate director of research for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

“We did an analysis of the economic contribution to the state of Michigan of constructing a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor and we found there [would be] an uptick to jobs and the general economy,” Mr. Hill said.

Some of the new employment would come from use of federal matching dollars that the state could use for infrastructure projects anywhere.

After the tremendous amount of construction jobs needed to build the bridge, the state would be left with a number of permanent jobs, including toll booth operators and maintenance workers. On top of that, the state can expect ancillary jobs, he said.

“There could be employment from new private investment that could result from a new bridge, such as shipping businesses and logistic companies that may say, ‘It is twice as easy to get across the international crossing,’ so there could be additional business that flows.”

Mr. Hill would not say how many jobs could be created according to his research.

The proposed bridge would be an alternative to the traffic-choked, 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, the busiest border crossing in North America. About $500 million worth of trade passes daily across the bridge. Plans for the new bridge have been opposed by Michigan billionaire Manuel Moroun, who owns the private Ambassador Bridge.

Mr. Hill said his research does not account for a decrease in traffic on the Ambassador Bridge.

“We are not supposing that anything adverse will happen to the other bridge because that wasn’t the scope of this project,” he said.

The report also will not address the impact on Toledo or Ohio.

Eric Mayne, editor of news operations for WardsAuto, said the congestion problem on the Ambassador Bridge is a measurable problem.

“I live in Windsor, so I am on the bridge every day fender-to-fender with those car carriers and [a new bridge] is going to relieve a bottleneck of traffic, and that always pays big dividends for shippers,” he said.

Mr. Mayne said delays on the bridge are built into plant production schedules.

“It goes without saying that when the pipeline gets more efficient the prospect of expansions increases, so that would improve the odds,” he said.

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

Roy Norton, the consul general of Canada in Detroit, in an email to The Blade Thursday, said 8 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada. “Since one-quarter of all U.S. trade with Canada crosses the Ambassador Bridge, therefore 2 million U.S. jobs depend on the Ambassador Bridge,” he wrote.

He said the number of Canadian jobs reliant on the Ambassador Bridge “is comparable,” so that would be another 2 million jobs.

Mr. Norton, whose region includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, has urged transportation interests throughout the region to support a new river crossing.

In an Oct. 16, 2011, column on The Blade’s Pages of Opinion, he 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.”

Last year, he also 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.

Mr. Hill added it is conjecture that there could be an economic benefit to the Toledo region from building a new span, but he acknowledged that it is possible.

“With the CSX yard there in Wood County and [Toledo] looking to be an intermodal hub, trying to enhance the movement of freight … I would suspect if there is a second crossing, that folks who are in shipping, … that a second bridge could play into that and make the probability of that higher.”

Gary Doer, the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, in an interview in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, said the delayed bridge is vital for trade and that it will be approved next year, regardless of who wins the presidential election in November. He made his comments to the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Blade’s sister paper.

In the lead-up to last month’s presidential primary in Michigan, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney refused to take a stand on the proposed $2 billion span, which is supported by Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, the Canadian government, and a host of labor and industry officials in both countries.

On Thursday, the Obama Administration released a statement supporting a proposed second span connecting Detroit and Windsor.

“The New International Trade Crossing is one of the Department of Transportation’s top border priorities,” said the U.S. Department of Transportation in a statement. “The Detroit-Windsor corridor is the largest commercial crossing in North America and carries 24 percent of trade between the U.S. and Canada. We are working with Michigan and the Canadian government to support construction of a new bridge that will boost trade and relieve congestion on the existing crossing,” the statement said.