Awaiting word from feds, NITC officials continue prep work for Detroit River bridge

While officials await word from Washington that it will pay for its toll plaza for the New International Trade Crossing, the prep work continues for the new bridge across the Detroit River on both sides of the border.

“They are still pretty much keeping on schedule, but they are having to work around the fact they don’t have the federal funds yet,” said Tom Shields, New International Trade Crossing coalition spokesman and president of Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group. “In order for this thing to really launch, they need the commitment of the dollars for the toll plaza.”

That amounts to about $264 million, but there have been no guarantees the federal government will come through with the funding. The Canadian government is paying for everything else related to the $2 billion project.

As the lobbying for that funding continues by state officials and members of the congressional delegation, the Michigan and Canadian governments are doing everything else they can to keep the project moving for targeted completion by 2020.

The state is close to finalizing its first land acquisition, which will represent about 30 percent of the parcels needed to locate the bridge landing and toll plaza.

Earlier this week, the Detroit City Council rejected the state’s offer of $1.4 million for 301 parcels in the Delray neighborhood where the new bridge will land, but Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr plans to approve it anyway, which he has the authority to do under state law.

But the council can prepare an alternative plan for the state’s emergency loan board to consider next week, similar to what it did when the state was considering the leasing of Belle Isle. The board rejected the council’s Belle Isle plan and went with Orr’s plan to lease the park to the state.

Part of the council’s counterproposal is expected to include its idea for a community benefits package for the residents of Delray, something Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who represents the area, has always sought.

She said the package should include funding to help rehabilitate some of the most dilapidated of the 2,000 homes that will remain in the area surrounding the new bridge. Once the bridge is in place and the increased truck traffic commences, Tlaib said, those homes are never going to be able to increase their property values without assistance.

While the bridge project references having a community benefit component, she said it is not defined.

She said she does not want the vendor to just plant some trees and then be able to check off a box that it provided “community benefits.”

“We really want something sustainable,” she said. “We don’t people to cross that border and see poverty and decay and blight. We want people to come across and see Pure Michigan, Pure Detroit, see a really thriving border community.”

Another wrinkle in the land acquisition appears to have had little effect.

At this week’s council meeting, Ambassador Bridge Co. President Dan Stamper presented a plan to outbid the state and purchase the parcels for $1.5 million, with another $1 million to begin rebuilding homes in the neighborhood.

That offer was met with skepticism from council members and was not accepted.

Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun has always opposed the new bridge, and has spent millions doing so. His company has also purchased some of the parcels that the state will need to acquire before moving forward with construction.

Those properties will take longer to acquire, Shields said, as the state is expected to have to use eminent domain to obtain them.

Because the Legislature did not allow the state to spend money to purchase property, the state is doing the negotiating for the land purchases, then after the six-member International Authority approves the purchase, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will pay for the land.

The International Authority, which consists of three members each from Michigan and Canada, was created in 2012 as part of a border-crossing agreement the two governments signed that year. The bridge authority, also created in 2012, is a not-for-profit crown corporation which reports to the Canadian Parliament through the Minister of Transport.

The Canadian government has acquired about 80 percent of the properties it needs, and land acquisition is expected to be completed in the next year and a half, with the possibility of a four-year construction period beginning sometime in 2016.

 

Originally posted in: Crain’s Detroit Business