By Dave Battagello
Construction of a $1 billion downriver bridge has hit another hurdle and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has lashed out at decision makers in Washington for being slow to sign off on $250 million required to build a U.S. customs plaza for the crossing.
“The U.S. government has largely taken a position that they don’t think they should pay anything for a facility for the United States government,” Snyder told the Detroit Free Press during an editorial board meeting on Friday.
When asked who U.S. federal officials expect to pay for the customs plaza, Snyder responded: “Apparently, someone other than them.”
Michigan was responsible for funding a toll plaza in Detroit and roads connecting the DRIC bridge, but given the state’s economic woes the Canadian government under thesigned agreement for the Detroit River International Crossing has agreed to cover those costs — expected to be around $550 million.
The entire crossing project, including plazas and feeder roads in Detroit is anticipated to cost close to $2.5 billion.
The private sector — under a public private partnership — is anticipated to be splitting the rest of the costs with Canada, aside from the customs plaza. Both the Canadian government and private partner are projected to recoup those costs through tolls.
The U.S. government’s sole cost is the bill for construction of the customs inspection plaza and buildings on the Detroit side. The government has already agreed to pay for staffing at the DRIC bridge, but has not yet agreed to pay for infrastructure.
The project falls under the budget for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which oversees U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Once funds are budgeted, construction of customs infrastructure will be carried out by the U.S. General Services Administration.
The Obama administration’s budget is scheduled to be tabled in late February or early March.
If funding for the customs plaza for the DRIC bridge is not included it could delay the project up to another year, unless funds are approved under a special order outside of the budget.
“There’s some time to find a resolution,” Snyder told the Free Press. “In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to see the rest of the bridge held up over what you might describe as a somewhat difficult-to-understand attitude.”
Snyder’s office, the Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration did not respond to messages from The Star on Monday, Martin Luther King holiday in the U.S.
The Obama administration gave the green light to the DRIC bridge project last June by issuing a presidential permit.
Job postings for a new CEO for the project and chairman of the planned binational authority to oversee the crossing were recently issued on the Canadian side, with hopes to fill those positions within the next couple of months.
Engineering drawings and early environmental protection work in Windsor has already started with next steps to include property acquisition and expropriation in Delray, the industrial community in southwest Detroit where the bridge will land. That process is expected to begin within the next couple of months.
Canada’s Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt met with Snyder last Thursday when she attened his annual state of the state address in Lansing. She will travel to Washington in the coming weeks to discuss the DRIC bridge and other federal Canada-U.S. transportation issues.
“A new bridge at Windsor-Detroit is needed for growing trade and traffic at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing,” said Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada. “This project will create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border. It will also provide a much-needed crossing alternative at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing and is expected to create 10,000 to 15,000 jobs in Ontario and Michigan.
“Our embassy in Washington and Consulate in Detroit continue to meet with U.S. government officials and members of Congress. The Minister of Transport, and other ministers, have raised this issue with their U.S. counterparts. We are hopeful the U.S. government will ultimately fund the U.S. Port of Entry and meet its obligations in this binational partnership to build a new crossing at one of North America’s most important gateways.”
Canadian Consul General Roy Norton believes common sense will prevail in Washington and the DRIC bridge will open as scheduled in late 2019 or early 2020.
“There is not yet a commitment from the Obama administration to pay for the U.S. customs plaza, but it’s not catastrophic,” he said. “Other work is proceeding, engineering drawings are being completed, land assembly will soon commence in the first half of this year.
“It’s not yet a source of delay, but will be if sometime this year there is not (budget) confirmation.”
Canada is poised to launch a bidding process in the private sector to find a partner to build the bridge, but that’s impossible until the customs plaza issue in Detroit is resolved, Norton said.
“The governor is hoping by increasing pressure on this he can draw people’s attention to the issue,” he said. “We are similarly concerned and frustrated, but also optimistic the U.S. government (will approve spending on the plaza).”
Canada has no plans to resolve the issue by offering to also pay for the U.S. customs plaza, Norton said.
“That is pretty unreasonable,” he said. “We are already paying for 15/16ths of the project. U.S. customs is a homeland security function.”
Even if Canada wanted to pay, there is no extra money sitting around in Ottawa to cover those costs, said MP Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor West).
“We all know Ottawa is broke,” he said. “The problem is, based on my experiences, Washington is worse.
“We knew (DRIC) was going to be a roller-coaster to get it done. Still, I’m confident we can get through this. This is one of the largest projects in North America. There is too much at stake here. When push comes to shove my expectation is the U.S. will contribute to this.”
Originally posted in The Windsor Star