Editorial: Kerry should sign Detroit bridge permit

State Department’s approval is the next step in what remains a contentious process to get second span built

The Detroit News

Remember that new bridge that’s scheduled to be built across the Detroit River to Windsor? After dominating the policy conversation for years in Michigan, not much has been said about the second span since last fall, when voters rejected a ballot proposal to block its construction.

It’s time to get things moving.

A good place to start would be for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to sign the presidential permit necessary to begin construction. After Gov. Rick Snyder inked the deal with Canada last June, the proposed deal was sent to Washington for the State Department’s approval.

The approval process included a public comment period, which ended in early September, and then assessments from the usual suspects — the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Agency, National Security Council and the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Defense, Transportation, Justice and Treasury.

They all have weighed in, with no indication of concerns that would block the bridge. All that’s left is for Kerry to put his name on the permit.

Once that happens, the Canadian government, which is paying for the crossing, can begin acquiring land — not an easy task, since much of the property needed for the bridge is owned by litigious Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and will likely have to be obtained through the condemnation process — and doing preliminary site work. If the permit comes this spring and work isn’t held up by lawsuits, actual construction of the bridge could begin summer 2014.

But the lawsuits are a factor. Moroun has filed one in federal court in Washington, D.C., contending the agreement Snyder signed violates a contract he holds guaranteeing him the sole right to operate bridges across the Detroit River.

Another suit, filed by state Rep. Fred Durhal, D-Detroit, in Ingham County Circuit Court, challenges Snyder’s authority to bypass the Legislature and make the deal with Canada.

These suits and the ones that will surely emanate from land acquisition are bound to slow the building of the bridge, an endeavor that will create 13,000 to 20,000 construction jobs over the course of five years.

That makes getting an early start vital.

Kerry is new on the job and understandably has higher priorities — the Korean crisis, for example, and his effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table. And other projects have been waiting much longer for approval, most notably the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which has been on hold for five years.

But this bridge is one of the most important construction projects in the nation and has the potential to boost the economy not just with construction jobs, but by easing the trade route between the U.S. and Canada.

The State Department may be worried about stepping into the legal fight between Moroun and Snyder, and the federal lawsuit may be giving it some pause.

Michigan and the nation need this bridge. The sooner Kerry gives his OK, the sooner the next phase of the fight to get it built can begin.