Obama fails to include money for DRIC bridge in proposed U.S. budget
The Windsor Star
Canada’s Consul General Roy Norton believes the new Windsor-Detroit bridge remains on target for a 2020 opening, despite disappointing news that U.S. President Barack Obama has no money earmarked for a customs plaza in his proposed budget.
“Ideally you wanted to see the president designate something to this border crossing, but he didn’t do that,” said Norton, a major backer of the Detroit River International Crossing project. Supporters were hoping $250 million for a U.S. customs plaza would be mentioned in the White House budget under the Department of Homeland Security.
Norton pointed out how Obama’s proposed $4-trillion spending package unveiled Tuesday does include $482 million of new infrastructure money for all U.S. ports of entry. He said he is hopeful the DRIC project will be in play as Congress moves forward on actual budget decision making which has to be completed before October 1.
“There is money in the budget so Congress can play with that number – even increase it if they want. They can designate some to the (DRIC). You do not need the full amount in one year – it only has to be there by the time the bridge opens.
“I’m certainly not discouraged. Some of those funds could be used for DRIC. Now you will see six months of back-and-forth and jockeying.”
Norton expects property acquisition to start within weeks and the project put out for bid to the private sector before the end of this year.
“So far, that’s the timetable and nothing has happened to knock us off that,” he said.
Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada, said Canada will continue on with the process.
“We are hopeful that the U.S. government will ultimately fund the 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,” he said.
Canada is essentially paying full costs for the bridge and feeder roads under for the DRIC project – estimated to be over $2 billion – with expectations Washington will fund the U.S. customs plaza in Detroit.
The budget still requires political approval in Washington sometime before this fall.
Canada’s Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt is scheduled to travel to Washington for a conference on March 25 when she is also expected to meet with her counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. The DRIC bridge is anticipated to be prominent among discussions, federal officials said.
Congress still remains in position to find funds for the DRIC customs plaza in Detroit before budgets are finalized, said local MP Jeff Watson (C – Essex).
“While it would have been a good sign, not having this in the budget does not mean a lot to me,” he said. “There are plenty of other mechanisms for Congress to fund this project.
“What you need to see is for someone to champion this in both the House and Senate sides because you need measures passed in both. With the stage this project is at there is still time for Congress to make decisions, so I’m not overly concerned. I think at this point the next set of discussions has to include members of Congress.”
Meanwhile, there was disappointment expressed by political leaders across the border that DRIC bridge funds were not budgeted by the Obama administration.
“I am disappointed the president’s budget has failed to fund one of the most critical infrastructure projects for Michigan and the U.S. economy, a new customs plaza at the Detroit – Windsor border,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D – Detroit).
“The Detroit-Windsor crossing is one of the busiest and the most important in North America and this infrastructure project is a critical priority for our economy and export capability.”
The decision comes just days after a joint letter was issued by Michigan’s top federal politicians to Obama – including Peters – urging him to not only supply funding for the customs plaza, but also appoint a “senior” White House leader to ensure the downriver Windsor-Detroit bridge soon gets built.
The two-page letter from the Michigan contingent was also signed by U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, plus Congress representatives John Dingell, John Conyers and Sander Levin. They described the DRIC bridge as being “vital to our nation’s security and economic future.”
Despite the budget snub, Peters called on the Obama administration to work with Congress, plus government leaders in Michigan and Canada to move the bridge project forward.
“The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight, but we can continue to work together to make this customs plaza a reality,” he said. “I look forward to working with Governor (Rick) Snyder and members of the Michigan delegation to prioritize the (DRIC bridge).”
Having some new money on the table for U.S. customs infrastructure is a good sign, said a spokesman for Snyder.
“Gov. Snyder is pleased with the funding proposal,” said Ken Silfven. “We’ll continue working with Congress and the White House to secure the necessary funding for construction and improvements along the northern border, in both Detroit and Port Huron.
“Investing in customs plaza infrastructure will boost trade volume and efficiency, so the recommended funding is a positive development and we look forward to further dialogue with our federal and Canadian partners.”
Originally posted by The Windsor Star