By Doug Geiss
Michigan State Representative
To say that 2012 was politically tumultuous would be an understatement. No sooner had last year’s particularly heated election concluded than we Americans were confronted anew with the looming specter of a fiscal cliff.
At the same time, a multitude of contentious bills were rammed forward during Michigan’s lame-duck legislative session. As many of these spirited debates continue, I fear the din of controversy has muffled the conversation regarding other critical public issues, such as the New International Trade Crossing.
The need for a new bridge connecting southeastern Michigan to Ontario has been discussed for years — decades even — predating nearly every official serving in Lansing at this time.
Though significant amounts of data have been compiled demonstrating this need, questions naturally persist. To be sure, recent confusion over the NITC can be attributed to ads funded by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge Co. that attack the new bridge. Of course, these ads were criticized by fact-checkers across the political spectrum and made international headlines for being profoundly inaccurate and misleading. Let me therefore explain my support for the NITC, a plan that I find practical, common-sense and, above all, nonpartisan.
First, as I’ve mentioned, data strongly demonstrates that a new bridge is needed. Canada is a vital trade partner for the United States and for Michigan. In 2012, Michigan led all other states in two-way surface trade with Canada, and yet virtually all trucks — more than 8,000 daily — must currently cross an 83-year-old bridge that has no direct freeway access on the Canadian side. These current obstacles to traffic flow take time, and therefore cost money. Because traffic volumes are projected to increase, it is critical that a new bridge be constructed to facilitate flow of traffic from freeway to freeway across the U.S.-Canadian border.
Furthermore, if the numbers weren’t convincing enough on their own, the Canadian government believes that the bridge is so critical for growth of trade that Canada has agreed to cover the costs of the U.S. portion of the project — up to $550 million.
This brings me to my second reason for supporting the NITC: It will be built at no cost to Michigan taxpayers. This is perhaps the part of the proposal most often met with skepticism, and yet the agreement is publicly available for anyone who cares to review it.
Canada will front the costs of construction and the state of Michigan will bear no responsibility for repayment of the Canadian funding. A public-private partnership will be utilized in the construction of the new bridge, ensuring a competitive bidding process and engaging all sectors of the economy. As an added benefit to Michigan, the Federal Highway Administration will allow Canada’s expenditure of up to $550 million for the NITC project to be used to secure federal matching funds that will help complete critical road and bridge work across our state.
Third, the economic benefits of this project are enormous. Canada’s government is willing to incur the costs of the NITC project because they can do so with the certainty that the long-term economic benefits for their country will far outweigh the costs. So, too, will the U.S. and Michigan economies benefit from this new and improved infrastructure.
The project is expected to demand approximately 10,000 jobs related to its execution and up to 750 full-time NITC employees in Michigan by 2035. Furthermore, the benefits of the expanded border crossing will both generate and retain tens of thousands of jobs in Michigan and nationally. Frequent traffic delays at the border crossing are a significant barrier to economic expansion for manufacturers like our domestic auto industry, which relies on the ability to move materials between Canada and the U.S.
Finally, the aforementioned benefits of the NITC will help aid in the development of another project of importance to me, to the legislative district I represent and to the Detroit area and state of Michigan as a whole: the Detroit Region Aerotropolis. The Aerotropolis refers to the corridor along Interstate 94 from Taylor to Ypsilanti, connecting Detroit Metropolitan Airport to Willow Run Airport and the surrounding communities.
The Detroit Region Aerotropolis has been designated as a Next Michigan Development Act Corp. and is a public-private economic development agency that works to utilize vital airport access, existing infrastructure and development-ready space to attract new business to the region. Improved trade potential between the U.S. and Canada as facilitated by a new border crossing will further make the case for economic development. As these projects move forward, I am certain they will help facilitate Michigan’s re-emergence as an economic powerhouse.
For my part, I plan to continue to spread the word that Michigan is indeed open for business.
Douglas Geiss (D-Taylor) is a state representative serving Romulus, Taylor and part of Van Buren Township.