Canadian leaders hope for DRIC bridge money in Obama’s budget

The Windsor Star

Dave Battagello

The Obama administration is poised to release its budget Tuesday, but there are few signs $250 million needed to construct a customs plaza in Detroit for the planned $1-billion downriver Detroit River International Crossing bridge will be included.

“There is no indication, but they don’t tell people what’s in the budget (ahead of time) any more than our leaders say what’s in ours,” said Canada Consul General Roy Norton, a leader in the fight to get the $1-billion bridge built.

“We will find out Tuesday. Obviously we would like something there. If nothing is there it’s not the end of the world, but the question is when there might be?”

The Canadian government has agreed to pay full costs for the bridge, plus property acquisition in Detroit and feeder roads to link with I-75 freeway – which in total will cost over $2 billion. The only project cost not covered is the U.S. customs plaza which is the responsibility of Washington.

Should funds be in Tuesday’s U.S. federal budget they would be included under the Department of Homeland Security.

Norton indicated should there be no funds, he would at least like to see a commitment mentioned in the U.S. budget to cover those costs sometime within the following couple of years.

The Canadian government is scheduled to put the project up for bids to the private sector late this year to consortiums.

“If it’s not this year, then are they committed to build the plaza?” Norton said. “That would be enough for us to proceed with a call for bidders on the span.”

The Harper government a few weeks ago announced a $630 million commitment to get property acquisition started in Detroit and pre-construction work launched.

The federal government already owns nearly all property required for the DRIC bridge on the Windsor side. Early environmental work has already started on the Canadian side, while the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway – an 11-kilometre highway designed to connect the bridge to Highway 401 – is about halfway completed.

A spokesman for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder expressed confidence Friday the DRIC bridge will move forward regardless of what happens with Tuesday’s budget announcement.

“The issue obviously needs to be addressed at some point and that’s why the governor continues to work with our federal and Canadian partners on this,” said Snyder’s spokesman Ken Silfven. “But next Tuesday should not be seen as any kind of deadline. The (DRIC) project is moving forward as plaza discussions continue.

“The plaza issue hasn’t caused one delay. There’s time to resolve the issue and we have every confidence that will happen regardless of whether an appropriation actually is included in the president’s recommended budget.”

There has been lobbying efforts by Canadian leaders on the issue in Washington, Norton said.

“Our embassy has been very active emphasizing how important this is,” he said. “Gov. Snyder has spoken and (federal transportation) Minister Lisa Raitt has had several conversations with her counterpart Secretary (Anthony) Foxx. I know members of Congress from Michigan have also communicated to the White House this should be a priority.

“What we need is certainty. We don’t necessarily need the money yet. Only for (the plaza) to be funded by the completion of all this. If there is a commitment they will build it, then that’s good enough for us.”

A spokesman for Transport Canada noted the DRIC bridge agreement calls for Washington’s financial backing of the plaza.

“We are hopeful that 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,” said Mark Butler.

Local MP Jeff Watson (C – Essex) believes there are other avenues beside the U.S. federal budget to secure funding for the customs plaza in Detroit.

“There are many other mechanisms for Congress through another appropriations bill to move this forward,” he said. “I’m not waiting around to see whether the budget by the president has this initiative for the plaza or not.

“There are a ton of funding bills related to infrastructure and this could be attached to any one of those bills.”

In the meantime, Watson said: “There is an overwhelming majority of other projects related to this that can begin moving forward.”

Local MP Brian Masse (NDP – Windsor West) was in Washington for border-related committee meetings this past week from Monday through Wednesday.

“The plaza did come up,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be in the upcoming budget, but the good news is everybody knew about the project.

“My major concern is if there is not an actual financial commitment (by the U.S. government), what’s our backup plan? Will this delay the project or is there another plan?”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star