DETROIT – Gov. Rick Snyder has his agreement for a bridge to Canada that will cost Michigan taxpayers nothing.
Now, when will it be built?
“The sooner the better – I’m not known for my patience,” he told reporters after signing an interlocal agreement with Canada that goes around Michigan lawmakers who stood in the governor’s way. “We like to work in dog years.”
Five years? 10 years?
“It won’t be 10 years,” he said, standing in Detroit’s Cobo Center. “It’s a multi-year project. But it’s something hopefully we’ll see progress on in the next couple years in terms of seeing real construction start.”
Snyder, who has made a second bridge a top priority since backing it in his first State of the State address in 2011, said he would love to attend a ribbon-cutting if he wins election to a second term, calling it a “good occasion for a reunion.”
“We shouldn’t be satisfied with where we’re at. This was great progress. But the real progress that matters is when we’re all standing on that bridge watching that first truck go over and trade happening.”
It will not be easy.
Despite the bridge having considerable backing from Canada, Michigan business leaders and organized labor, hurdles lie ahead before construction can begin – the biggest being the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, billionaire Manuel “Matty” Maroun.
He owns some of the land in Detroit needed for the project. He is expected to file lawsuits. And his company is seeking to gather signatures by July 9 for a ballot measure that would require a statewide vote before the state helps develop a second bridge.
Mickey Blashfield, director of The People Should Decide ballot committee, said Snyder should make his “best case for his government bridge” because “the people want and deserve to have a vote about such an important issue.”
The Republican governor traveled via the tunnel under the Detroit River to get to the Cobo signing after the pact was announced earlier in Windsor with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. While the tunnel handles passenger traffic, the Ambassador Bridge carries 99 percent of commercial traffic through Detroit, according to Snyder.
Now that the deal is done, Michigan needs a presidential permit from the Obama administration – a requirement for border crossing projects. Others that have to sign off include the U.S. Coast Guard.
Snyder said that while he expects the ballot measure issue to end up in court, it could end up being a non-factor.
“If the presidential permit is issued before the election, it could very well be what might be considered moot,” he said of Maroun’s ballot initiative.
The bridge itself is estimated to cost about $1 billion (not including customs plazas, interstate interchanges and other work). The design, construction, operation and maintenance of the New International Trade Crossing will be covered by a private entity through a 40-50-year public-private partnership. It will be repaid by Canada through tolls, which only will be collected on the Canadian side of the bridge.
Canada also will pay for an interchange to connect the bridge to Interstate 75 in Detroit. The $550 million fronted by Canada for the state’s share will be eligible for U.S. federal matching funds for highway construction projects in Michigan.
Snyder’s office said the Ambassador Bridge is the “No. 1 traffic bottleneck in the entire Pan- American Freeway system.”
For years, the business community and others have been pressing for a second bridge over the Detroit River. They say it would boost jobs, ease congestion, keep the Detroit-Windsor area competitive as an international crossing and prevent economic calamity in case one bridge is closed because of a terrorist attack or another reason.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who attended the signing ceremony, said a second bridge will make Michigan a player in the “growing commerce between this continent and China.”
“Without it, they’re going to build their fifth span in Buffalo, which would be a tragedy,” he said.