Government Leaders Urge US Government to Fund New Customs Plaza
September 30, 2014
By J. Carlisle Larsen
“I would rather have us do the right thing and just pay for it…”
—Governor Rick Snyder
The New International Trade Crossing has been in the works for well over a decade. First discussed and studied at the turn of this century, the new bridge was finally agreed upon between the U.S. and Canada in 2012. Since then, land has been purchased on both sides of the river; permits have been approved to build the bridge; and governing boards have been established to begin moving the project forward. But at a news conference held this summer in Windsor, a key question popped up. “What is happening with the United States custom plaza?” Canadian Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt had this answer.
“Well we don’t know what’s going to happen in the end. But what we can say right now is: we know we have construction timelines and they’re very important, ‘cause we want to get this bridge built, we want to make sure nothing holds it up. And we know there’s conversations happening,” She said. “But the important part for this is: regardless of conversations on financing, they can’t impede our progress on the bridge…”
Canada is shouldering virtually the entire cost of the new bridge—estimated at more than $500-million dollars. That’s actually been a selling point to some taxpayers since Michigan residents would not be on the hook for the project. However, state lawmakers have argued that the U-S government should take on the responsibility of funding the U-S customs plaza. But Raitt says, in order to keep the bridge on the timeline that Canadian officials want, they would be willing to consider fronting the cost for the American plaza.
“If push comes to shove, we’ll end up having that discussion and conversation. And I’ve said before, we’re open to it. But the reality is that: Governor Snyder is working on the matter, we’re working on the matter with the Ambassador to Canada from the United States…and that’s an appropriate place to have those conversations,” Raitt says.
And according to two prominent Michigan lawmakers, conversations are taking place to convince the U.S. government to make the new bridge and the customs plaza a top priority. One of those politicians is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. His administration helped finalize the deal with Canada in 2012 and he’s been a vocal supporter of the bridge as a way to bolster the state’s economy. Snyder doesn’t mince words about the slow response from the federal government when it comes to approving funding for the plaza.
“Regardless of conversations on financing [the customs plaza], they can’t impede our progress on the bridge…”
—Canadian Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt
“It’s to be used by the federal government to protect the United States. And how would you feel if you were Canada, to say you were being asked to pay for that facility?” He says, “I think it’s offensive to the Canadian government and the people of Canada. So, I would rather have us do the right thing and just pay for it or rent it. So that’s the part I’m working on with the federal government.”
Snyder isn’t alone in pushing the federal government to fund the plaza. Michigan congressman Gary Peters introduced the Customs Plaza Construction Act of 2014—or H-R 4057—in February. Peters says he’s working to get support for the bill.
“It’s critical that this customs plaza be built. It’s important that the US federal government contributes to that seeing as most of the bridge project is being funded by the Canadian government,” Peters says. “But the facility that basically houses the US government agencies—border control and customs, needs to be funded by the federal government and we’re in the process of putting together the pieces and the support necessary to make that a reality.”
But the Peters’ bill has been sitting in both in the Homeland Security Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee since February. It’s likely that the hold-up to moving it out of committee is largely political. Tim Bledsoe is a Political Science Professor at Wayne State University and a former Democratic state legislator. He says he’s not confident that Peters’ bill will get passed given the make-up of the U-S House of Representatives.
“First of all, Gary Peters is a Democratic Congress member from Michigan and the US House is currently controlled by Republicans,” He says. “And generally the bills submitted by minority party members simply don’t move in the House of Representatives.”
Bledsoe says the bill would have had more political appeal in the House had it been co-sponsored by a Republican–such as Michigan Representative Mike Rogers or Dave Camp–instead of a slew of Democrats. However, Bledsoe says it’s possible that lawmakers could see a similar resolution tacked to another bill in the Senate, where its chances of passing are greater.
“Once it’s actually in a bill that’s been passed by the Senate…there’s a much greater likelihood of the Republican leadership of the House persuading its caucus to go along with it,” he says.
That fact isn’t lost on Gary Peters. He says it’s crucial that the bridge project is a bi-partisan effort, crediting the Governor—a Republican—with being an important part of the project. He admits getting his Republican colleagues on board in the House has been difficult. But Peters says he’s optimistic that the customs plaza will receive funding in some capacity. He says he’s been working with the Obama administration—which has funded other border projects, such as the customs plaza at the US-Mexico crossing in Laredo, Texas. Peters says there’s still time to secure money for the Detroit plaza since the bridge is in its earliest stages.
“Funding for the customs plaza doesn’t have to happen today or even next year, you don’t build a customs plaza until you build a bridge and that’s a few years down the road.
So we’ve got some time and I believe we’re making some good, constructive progress,” he says.
“It’s important that the US federal government contributes to [customs plaza] seeing as most of the bridge project is being funded by the Canadian government.”
—Representative Gary Peters, MI-14
Until the New International Trade Crossing is built, goods and motorists traveling through Michigan will still use the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, and the privately owned Ambassador Bridge to get to Ontario. It’s estimated that nearly eight-thousand trucks alone cross at the Ambassador Bridge daily. Supporters of the new bridge argue the project is needed to guarantee that trade will continue to flow freely between the two countries. The new bridge is scheduled to open by 2020.
Originally posted by J. Carlisle Larsen on WDET News