DRIC bridge another step closer to reality

The Windsor Star

Dave Battagello

Construction of the $1-billion government-backed Windsor-Detroit bridge has taken a major step forward, with the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s decision to issue a waiver to its Buy America policy so Canadian steel can also be used.

“This decision clears the way for the development of a request for proposal to construct the bridge, and once a contractor or contractors are selected, they will be able to purchase U.S. and Canadian produced iron and steel to construct the new crossing,” said Nancy Singer, a spokeswoman for FHWA.

There were concerns Washington could hold up the planned Detroit River International Crossing bridge by requiring that only American steel be used in accordance with its federal Buy America policy.

Project backers on both sides of the border wanted to also use Canadian steel on such a massive bi-national infrastructure project. A waiver application was launched by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

“This is exciting news because it’s another step forward in getting this vital project under way,”  Ken Silfven,a spokesman for Snyder, said on Wednesday.

“We made the request because it was an issue of fairness for our Canadian partners. With Canada being such a generous partner in terms of its contributions to the project, it was only fair Canadian iron and steel be included in the mix. We’re pleased that the federal government agreed that the uniqueness of Michigan’s agreement with Canada warranted this waiver.”

A Buy America waiver can be granted when public interest is negatively impacted or domestic steel products are not sufficiently available.

Among the reasons why the waiver was being granted is the fact Canada has agreed to pay up to $550 million for Michigan’s share of the bridge and feeder roads, recouping that money through tolls. Canada also agreed to assume all the financial risk of the DRIC project, according to the ruling signed by Victor Mendez, FHWA’s top administrator.

The Buy America waiver is an “important step” towards the construction of the DRIC bridge, said Mark Butler, a spokesman for Transport Canada.

“The waiver is consistent with the crossing agreement signed by Michigan and Canada which specifically states all iron and steel for any component of the project in the U.S. and the international bridge must be produced in either Canada or the United States,” he said.

“The waiver also puts to rest the unfounded speculation that the steel to be used in this bi-national project would be sourced from outside of North America.” There had been concerns raised by bridge opponents in Michigan that it would be built using cheap suppliers in China or South Korea.

The waiver will benefit both Canadian and American companies which will provide the components, materials and workers for the construction of this project, Butler said.

During the required feedback period under the waiver application process, there were more than 120 comments submitted – including support from five unions that included United Steelworkers, the Michigan AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers.

Five steel companies and Ford Motor Company also supported the waiver.

In FHWA’s ruling it was noted that the only corporation to submit opposition was the Ambassador Bridge company – whose owner billionaire Matty Moroun is seeking to protect his annual $60 million in toll revenues and millions more in the sale of duty-free gas and goods.

The bridge company in its opposition said it was planning to use only American iron and steel if it’s allowed to build its proposed twin span.

But the FHWA ruling indicated the environmental assessment process already ruled out Moroun’s twin span proposal and selected the DRIC bridge as the final choice.

The waiver was also granted because of the anticipated “economic and transportation benefits” created by the DRIC bridge.

It listed the bridge project as creating more than 10,000 direct or spinoff construction jobs. It is also believed that once it’s built and open,  private investment related to the bridge will bring another 6,800 permanent jobs with another $2.2 billion in economic growth.

“The (DRIC) bridge enjoys widespread support from state and local Michigan officials, labour leaders, residents and the auto industry,” said FHWA’s  Singer.

The only other major approval remaining from Washington is a Presidential Permit, which is currently under review by the U.S. State Department.