By Al Jones | Mlive.com
KALAMAZOO, MI – The consul general for Canada says here’s what you need to know about the effort to build a new bridge from Michigan to Canada:
“The bridge will cost the state of Michigan nothing,” said Roy Norton, the Detroit-based trade and commerce representative for Canada. “The biggest misconception so far is that folks in Michigan have to pay for this bridge or bear any responsibility going forward.”
In Kalamazoo on Monday to counter what he said are false statements about the plans for the New International Trade Crossing, and to promote a “no” vote on Proposal 6, Norton said, “I’m here on behalf of the government of Canada to solemnly swear that we will bear the full responsibility for this bridge and it will cost Michigan nothing.”
Ballot Proposal 6 calls for an amendment to the state constitution that would require a statewide vote for the building of any bridge and tunnel in Michigan. Proponents of the proposal, primarily the owner of the aging Ambassador Bridge which is the primary route for truck traffic from Michigan into Ontario, have mounted a statewide advertising campaign that insists Michigan taxpayers will pay for the bridge without being given a chance to vote on the matter.
Michigan Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Roy Norton made a presentation titled “Detroit International Trade Crossing” to the Rotary Club of Kalamazoo. Watch video
But Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said, “The agreement between Canada and the state of Michigan is so air-tight and so explicit in its protection of Michigan taxpayers that it would be impossible for an objective legal review to come to any other conclusion than that Michigan will be shielded from all liability.”
Beyond that, Calley said, “We just came through one of the worse economic downturns in out history and while we have good growth trends in our state, what we need more than anything is jobs. This bridge means 10,000 people go to work right now.”
Calley and Norton have been traveling the state to urge a “No” vote on Proposal 6 in the Nov. 6 election. They addressed a full-house luncheon gathering of the Kalamazoo Rotary Club at the Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites in downtown Kalamazoo.
Some $31.3 million in advertising and promotional money that they said Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Maroun has spent since May to push for the passage of ballot Proposal 6, “is a very cynical effort on the part of the monopoly owners of the Ambassador Bridge, who have never shown any interest in the views of the people … to ’empower’ the people to ensure that their monopoly continues into the future,” Norton said.
What’s the deal?
Gov. Rick Snyder and the government of Canada signed an inter-local agreement on June 15 authorizing the creation of the New International Trade Crossing. In it, the Canadian government has agreed to spend $550 million to build infrastructure on the U.S. side of the Detroit River that allows a freeway-to-freeway connection between I-75 and Highway 401 in Windsor, Canada.
A new stretch of highway on the Canadian side will cost Canada about $1.4 billion.
“The Canadians have agreed to cover the Michigan-side expenses and to guarantee the performance of the private company selected to build the new bridge,” Calley said.
He and Norton explained that a builder from the private sector will be selected to fund the construction and build the bridge. That has been projected to cost about $1 billion. That investment is to be repaid from tolls collected over the first 25 years the bridge is in operation. Tolls are expected to generate about $100 million per year.
Canada’s investment is to be repaid with tolls from years 25 to 50. And Canada and Michigan will split the tolls generated thereafter.
“That’s the deal that everybody in Michigan should be particularly excited about,” Norton said.
Why is Canada investing?
Norton said trade between Canada and Michigan amounts to about one-fourth of all the trade between the U.S. and Canada and maintaining and growing that is a No. 1 priority for his country.
“Companies are going to expand, probably doing a lot of business in Canada,” Norton said. “If they don’t know if in 5 years or 10 years or 15 years they are going to be able to reliably go across the Detroit River, they’re not going to expand here,” Norton said. “They’ll expand in northern New York state, where there are four bridges and a fifth is under discussion.”
Like all but two of the 27 bridge crossings between the U.S. and Canada, those are publicly owned by the U.S. and Canada.
Norton estimated that on an average day, big trucks have to wait less than an hour to cross the 83-year-old Ambassador bridge. But on other days it’s much longer. He said Chrysler sends about 1,200 trucks across the Ambassador Bridge every day, for instance.
Calley said about 237,000 Michigan jobs are dependent on trade with Canada. Norton said that includes 6,200 in Kalamazoo County, 3,000 in Calhoun County and 1,600 in Allegan County. Trade between Michigan and Canada grew by 21.6 percent between from January 2009 to April 2012. And trade between the state and Canada has been growing at a rate of about 12 percent per year.
Speaking of the Ambassador Bridge, Norton said, “We’re not prepared to place our faith forever on this 83-year-old bridge to carry (trucking) capacity going forward. We’ve stepped up and said we will pay.”
Norton also said the people of Ontario are a bit offended that people in Michigan would believe what proponents of Proposal 6 are saying, over the message from the full government of Canada.
“Canada doesn’t lie,” he said.
Al Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 269-365-7187.