By David Shepardson and Chad Livengood
The Detroit News
A presidential permit is moving forward for a new Detroit River bridge crossing, a decision that is expected to be announced as early as today that clears a last hurdle in constructing the $2 billion project.
A congressional aide briefed on the matter said Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to announce the approval from President Barack Obama today, and said the State Department has scheduled a telephone briefing for members of Congress.
Tom Shields, spokesman for the Coalition Supporting the New International Trade Crossing, said late Thursday that Snyder’s office invited him to attend a news conference today at the James Group International on West Fort Street, near the site of the new bridge, without saying what would be announced.
“I’m planning on being there and hopeful that it’s good news (for the bridge),” Shields told The News.
The Windsor Star reported late Thursday that Snyder will be joined at the news conference this afternoon by Canadian officials to announce the State Department presidential permit has been approved for the bridge between Windsor and southwest Detroit, a move needed to start construction of the $2.1 billion span.
The Canadian Embassy in Washington and White House did not respond to messages late Thursday to comment. Snyder spokesman Jeff Holyfield would neither confirm nor deny the Windsor Star report.
On Thursday, Snyder told WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids that “the bridge is making progress.”
“The presidential permit’s the next step and I hope we get that permit anytime,” Snyder said. “So we’re right on the edge and moving forward with it.”
Snyder has held several meetings in Washington this year with the Obama administration about the permit. Snyder’s office issued a media advisory Thursday saying the governor would hold a 2:30 p.m. news conference today to “discuss Michigan’s business climate and job creation at a growing Detroit business.”
Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the Governor’s Office asked him to attend the event without detailing what would take place.
Baruah said he met with Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, about a month ago to discuss the bridge. He said Doer had recently returned from Washington after meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry about the permit.
“He indicated that he thought it was close and that Secretary Kerry gave him all of the positive signs,” Baruah said.
The decision comes as several lawsuits have been filed to stop the new bridge, which would compete with the privately owned Ambassador Bridge. The Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge and is controlled by Manuel (Matty) Moroun, filed suit in Washington trying to block the span. Moroun spent millions trying to convince Michigan voters in a referendum last November to block the bridge.
Rep. Fred Durhal, D-Detroit, recently filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court challenging Snyder’s authority to enter into an agreement with Canada without the Legislature’s approval. After legislation authorizing a new bridge failed to get out of a Senate committee in 2011, Snyder bypassed the Legislature and signed a deal with Canadian officials last June that calls for Canada to build the bridge.
The Obama administration has backed a new Detroit bridge crossing since 2009, when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood endorsed the idea, saying it would create thousands of jobs in construction and via additional trade. In January, LaHood said federal approval for the bridge crossing was expected soon.
“We’re just about over the finish line,” LaHood said in January. “They are working on it.”
Canada agreed to front Michigan’s $550 million share of the cost, which will have to be repaid through toll revenue. The Canadians also pledged to reimburse Michigan for any expenses the state Department of Transportation incurs in connecting the new bridge to Interstate 75 through a new international plaza.
The United States and Canada have the largest trading partnership in the world, totaling over $524 billion in merchandise trade in 2010. Thirty-five states have Canada as their largest foreign trade-partner, and 57 percent — $297 billion — of U.S.-Canada trade moves by truck, according to the Michigan application.
Approximately 31 percent of truck transported trade, or $91.4 billion, between the United States and Canada passes through the Detroit River area and reaches markets across the nation.
U.S. and Canadian trade supports over 8 million U.S. jobs; approximately 237,000 Michigan jobs; and 1 in 3 Canadian jobs. The Detroit-Windsor border is the busiest trade corridor on the U.S.-Canada border and the second busiest trade corridor in North America.