The New International Trade Crossing will create thousands of jobs and spur economic growth

New Detroit international bridge a throwback to era of huge public works projects

By Rick Haglund

An effort by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian government to build a $2 billion bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor may provide an answer to a burning question about infrastructure:

Can a huge public works project still be built in an era of Tea Party politics, spending-adverse lawmakers and widespread disdain for government?

It’s been done in the not-too-distant past. The late Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara, through sheer force of will, got Northwest Airlines (now Delta) to mostly pay for a $1.2 billion terminal at Detroit Metro a decade ago.

The Michigan Legislature appropriated a total of $159.2 million to the airport project from 1997 to 2003. For his efforts, McNamara even got his name on the mile-long terminal, which opened in 2002 and cost $1.5 billion in today’s dollars.

The terminal, Detroit Metro Airport’s largest, is a key factor in the $7.6 billion of economic impact the airport generates annually, according to a 2005 study. (That’s about $9 billion in today’s dollars.) Metro also is responsible for 71,000 jobs in the region, according to the 2005 study conducted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn. (The study has not been updated.)

Snyder is looking for a similar story line with the proposed New International Trade Crossing bridge, which will stretch nearly a mile across the Detroit River.

Snyder surprised fellow Republican lawmakers when, during his first State of the State speech in 2011, he cited construction of the bridge as one of his top priorities.

The governor — who has not been able to convince the Legislature  to take action on ideas to fund much-needed road repairs — couldn’t get lawmakers to support the bridge, so he used his executive powers to sidestep lawmakers and sign an agreement with the Canadian government to construct it. Snyder has said the agreement will allow the state to use Canada’s $550 million contribution to leverage an additional $2.2 billion in federal transportation funds for other highway projects in the state.

A June study of the bridge’s potential impact estimated it would create more than 11,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs in Michigan. An additional $2.2 billion in federal road funds leveraged by the project could result in average 6,600 construction jobs a year for four years, according to the study by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

About 1,400 permanent jobs will be created to operate the bridge, according to the study, which was paid for by the Michigan Manufacturers Association, The Consulate General of Canada in Detroit and the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“We’re hopeful it will be coming soon. The construction industry is still depressed,” said Bart Carrigan, president of the Associated General Contractors of Michigan. “We’d like to see this crossing put our tradesmen back to work.”

The economic impact study predicted bridge construction would add $2.1 billion in 2012 dollars to the state’s gross domestic product in each of at least the next four years. That’s just six-tenths of 1 percent of Michigan’s $337.4 billion gross domestic product in 2011.

Michigan’s history – and present — is dotted with major public works projects. How does NITC stack up against some of them?

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