Canadian diplomat: No vote on Prop 6 vital for new bridge

Observer & Eccentric

Written by
David Veselenak
Observer Staff Writer

Canadian Consul General Roy Norton is calling the New International Trade Crossing bridge the most important infrastructure project in North America.

That’s why, he said, it’s important Michigan voters turn down Proposal 6 on Nov. 6.

“The state of Michigan bears absolutely no liability,” he said. “That’s not what the Ambassador Bridge’s more than $15 million of television advertising tells you.”

Norton, who represents Canadian interests in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, spoke to a full room about the NITC project at a Livonia Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday at the Italian American Club on Five Mile.

While Norton told chamber members the bridge, which is estimated to cost between $3.5 billion and $4 billion, could still be built with the passage of Prop 6, a defeat would allow for the project to move more quickly during legal challenges in the courts.

The proposal, if approved, would require a statewide and local majority vote before any bridge that is not in use before Jan. 1 of this year is built.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an agreement June 15 to allow

for the beginning of the construction. Under the agreement, Canada will pay for all the construction of the bridge, as well as the customs booth on the American side. Repayment for construction will come through tolls collected on the Canadian side in Windsor.

Norton said construction could begin in 2014, with completion in 2017.

“We said to ourselves, ‘This is critically important,’” Norton said. “From our point of view, it is not sound or prudent of the policy for government to simply cross our fingers and hope for the Ambassador Bridge’s eternal life.”

The Ambassador Bridge Co., run by Manuel Moroun, has opposed the construction of the bridge since the idea was hatched.

State Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, said the state has tried in recent years to keep the bridge a priority, but economic and financial issues have gotten in the way.

“The problem is, over the last 18 months, we’ve had a dozen priorities,” he said. “Dealing with legacy costs that were choking our local government and school districts across the state. And I could go on and on.”

State traffic crossing at Detroit and Windsor is estimated to increase 128 percent over the next 30 years, one reason why Norton said another span is needed.

If traveling across the Detroit River becomes too difficult, Norton said businesses could opt to not locate in southeast Michigan and go somewhere else, such as Buffalo.

“There’s absolutely no reason for Michigan to take that risk,” he said.

Walsh said the new bridge needs to be built, and trade cannot wait for another span built by the private company.

“It would be great if the Ambassador Bridge company can build it,” Walsh said, “but I don’t think they can.”