OUR VIEW — International bridge: Great deal still awaits Michigan

“There are no rational arguments against the bridge…There are self-serving arguments that put greed, put profit ahead of jobs in Michigan.” – Roy Norton, Canadian Consul General

Holland Sentinel editorial board

Holland – Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, was in Holland last month to make a pitch for the efforts to build a new international bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. It’s a trip that shouldn’t have been necessary. The proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) should be a slam dunk — a major infrastructure improvement that will benefit Michigan’s economy, with the Canadian government funding the bridge cost of about $1 billion, plus providing $550 million to fully pay for needed highway connections in Michigan. It’s a plan backed by virtually every major business group in the state, major corporations from across Michigan, and Gov. Rick Snyder’s four most recent predecessors. But the plan has gone nowhere since Gov. Snyder rolled it out 16 months ago because of one special interest willing to spend millions on TV ads and contributions to state legislators to block it.

That special interest, of course, is the Moroun family and their Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the 82-year-old Ambassador Bridge that is now the only above-ground connection between Detroit and Windsor. The Morouns have invested heavily in ads implying that Michigan taxpayers could be on the hook if bridge tolls don’t recoup construction costs (not true, the Canadians are accepting that liability) and that Gov. Snyder’s support for the NITC somehow undercuts road maintenance in Michigan (actually the state can use the Canadian highway funding to leverage four times that amount in federal transportation dollars for use elsewhere in Michigan). The Morouns are even pushing a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to require a public vote on any new international bridge. The Center for Michigan’s Michigan Truth Squad has called several “fouls” on the anti-bridge ads. Gov. Snyder calls them “misleading.” In a meeting with The Sentinel editorial board, Norton said bluntly that Michigan residents have been “bombarded by lies.”

The Morouns are acting in their own economic interest, which is to be expected. We want to point out that the NITC is in the economic interest of all of Michigan, including those of us on the west side. Trade between Michigan and Canada is valued at $80 billion a year. An estimated 237,000 jobs in the state, including 7,000 in Ottawa and Allegan counties, are tied to business with Canada. As it stands, the key conduit for that trade is a bridge that opened in 1929 and feeds not into Canadian expressways but congested city streets. Further, there is no reasonable alternative if the Ambassador is damaged or otherwise becomes unusable. (The Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron is maxed out, and the next nearest crossing is in Buffalo, N.Y.) The Morouns say they want to build a replacement bridge near the Ambassador, but they don’t own the land they need and the Canadians don’t want it there anyway.

“There are no rational arguments against the bridge,” Norton said. “There are self-serving arguments that put greed, put profit ahead of jobs in Michigan.

”Most legislators tend to dance around the issue — few directly oppose the NITC, but they’re not sticking their necks out to back it. Gov. Snyder has talked of negotiating an “interlocal” agreement with the Canadians that would authorize the NITC without a legislative vote. We’d rather see the Legislature get behind the bridge, but as political insiders have noted, many legislators leery of negative reaction in an election year may appreciate the governor taking the decision out of their hands.

The New International Trade Crossing should be built for the good of our state’s economy. There’s a great deal on the table, one far more advantageous to our state that anyone could have imagined. We’d be foolish not to take it.