Snyder, Canadian transportation minister vow new bridge will be built

Canada’s top transportation minister vowed today that construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor won’t be stopped by a dispute with the U.S. federal government over paying for a new customs plaza on the Detroit side.

The U.S. government so far has failed to commit to funding the U. S. Customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing bridge between Detroit and Windsor, set to open in 2020. Failing to agree to pay for the roughly $250-million facility where incoming trucks would be inspected by U.S. Customs workers has been a sore point in the ongoing bridge saga.

At a news conference this morning to announce the members of two bodies that will build and oversee the bridge project, Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said that the dispute over paying for the plaza on the Detroit end of the new bridge will be resolved.

“Our government won’t let financing disagreements get in the way of construction time lines,” Raitt, flanked by Gov. Rick Snyder, said. “We are going to be building a bridge, and we are going to stick to our time lines. … It’s time to get the work done and financing arrangements in our point of view will not hold up our construction time lines.”

At the news conference, Raitt and Snyder announced the appointments to the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a Canadian entity that will build the span, and to the joint International Authority, which will oversee the project.

The WDBA will hire a private contractor or team of contractors to perform the actual construction work. The International Authority will settle disputes on procurement of materials and hiring of workers, tasks that are supposed to be split equally between Canadian and U.S. firms and workers.

The three Michigan representatives appointed by Snyder to the six-member International Authority were Michael Hayes, president and CEO of the Midland Center for the Arts and a former vice president with Dow Chemical; Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of the Right Place, a West Michigan economic development agency; and Matt Rizik, the chief tax officer of Rock Ventures and a former longtime partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Snyder, echoing his earlier comments on the matter of the customs plaza funding , chided the U.S. federal government for its failure to commit to funding the facility.

“That’s something I’m going to continue to have strong and ongoing dialogue with the United States government,” he told the news conference on the Canadian waterfront. “The government of Canada has been fabulous. To be blunt, I think the U.S. federal government needs to do a better job.” To the extent that the U.S. government doesn’t want to pay for its own facility, Snyder said, “I don’t believe that’s a rational position to take, and I think it’s something that’s inappropriate.”

But both Raitt and Snyder emphasized the positive today. Snyder noted that the bridge project has received multiple permits and approvals in the past year, and the appointments announced today will allow the project to move ahead even faster.

“We’re on a time line to get this bridge built,” Snyder said.

The bridge project, known as the New International Trade Crossing in Michigan and as the Detroit River International Crossing in Canada, will cost about $950 million. Because Michigan legislators have blocked any state funding for the project, Canadian is fronting all the costs except for the customs plaza and will be paid back through future tolls.

Some observers have suggested that Canada might even pay upfront for the customs plaza, too, and be repaid through tolls, but Michigan officials, both within the Snyder administration and among the state’s congressional delegation, are working hard to convince U.S. officials to pay for the customs plaza.

They see it as a matter of fairness for the U.S. to pay for its own facility. And they worry that if Canada has to pay even for a U.S. customs plaza, negotiating with Canada over other issues will become more difficult.

With a planned opening in 2020, the new bridge project remains in the early stages of planning and organization. The first visible signs that something is happening may occur later this year as the Michigan Department of Transportation, using Canadian money advanced for the project, begins buying up the hundreds of parcels in southwest Detroit’s Delray district needed for the bridge approaches and customs plaza.

Originally posted by John Gallagher in the Detroit Free Press