Michigan Democrats urge Obama to name Detroit bridge point person

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Michigan’s seven Democratic members of Congress have urged President Barack Obama to name a senior White House official to help speed funding and construction of a new Detroit River bridge crossing and consider other funding approaches.

At issue is $250 million needed to construct a customs plaza on the U.S. side of the Detroit River, something the Canadian government expects the United States to finance while it funds the vast majority of the $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Carl Levin of Detroit and Debbie Stabenow of Lansing as well as U.S. Reps. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, John Dingell of Dearborn, Sander Levin of Royal Oak, John Conyers of Detroit and Dan Kildee of Flint urged Obama in a letter made public Sunday to help make the bridge possible.

The congressional letter comes two days before the release of the Obama administration’s budget plan, which the Canadian government hopes will include the $250 million or a future funding commitment. A failure to do so could push completion of the bridge beyond the projected 2020 target date, Roy Norton, Canada’s departing consul general in Detroit, said last week.

The letter said U.S Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration, the government’s landlord, have said they don’t have the money to fund the plaza and have met with the Canadian government to discuss the budgetary problems.

“Given the importance of this project to international trade and to the economy of Michigan, it is our hope that the groups involved can come together to resolve the funding concerns,” the Feb. 21 letter said.

The Democrats said alternative financing should be explored, “including public-private partnerships or the leasing of the facility by the U.S government.”

The letter asked Obama to “designate a senior White House official with the responsibility of coordinating and negotiating a way to move this vital project forward.”

Canadian officials have agreed to spend more than $630 million over two years on the new bridge that both countries consider essential for easing trading and creating regional job growth. A new span is to be built roughly two miles downriver from the Ambassador Bridge owned by Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who spent more than $30 million on an unsuccessful 2012 ballot measure to try to derail the project.

The U.S.-Canadian venture would connect Interstate 75 and Interstate 94 traffic on the Detroit side of the river with Windsor-Essex Parkway traffic in Windsor. The letter to Obama said the Canadian government is reluctant to fund the U.S. customs plaza.

Gov. Rick Snyder said last month the Obama administration has refused to commit money for property acquisition or rents. But Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said last week there is “time to work out” the plaza issue “and we’re going to work nonstop with the administration and congressional partners to help address this last, key remaining issue.”

Last month, Peters introduced legislation to approve $250 million to begin work on the plaza.

Originally posted by The Detroit News