Ambassador Bridge and Blue Water Bridge Among Nation’s Busiest Crossings

Port Huron among nation’s busiest border crossings but trucks don’t stop here

By Holly Setter | Times Herald

On any given day, there’s a rumble across the Blue Water Bridge from Canada to the U.S. It’s a common sight for those from the area, but the trucks don’t stick around.

A 24/7 Wall Street article ranked the top 10 border crossings in the U.S. Port Huron was sixth for truck traffic volume; Detroit ranked No. 2.

“If you looked at the dollar value associated with the crossing, we would have been No. 3,” said David Haynes, director of business attraction for the St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance.

According to Blue Water Bridge Canada data, 58,805 trucks crossed the bridge into the U.S. in November 2012, the most recent data available. Throughout the year, the bridge averaged 57,328 trucks a month.

All of those trucks mean revenue for the area, officials said. Companies locate near the bridge either to make it easy to ship parts or receive them, creating a strong industrial tax base for the county, Haynes said.

The county is not doing all that it can to capture the maximum benefit of that traffic, however.

Dan Casey, chief executive officer and executive director of the St. Clair County EDA, said only 6 percent of trucks crossing the bridge actually stop in the area. Most continue on down the road before they stop for a bite to eat, fuel, shopping or to unload.

“We are economically benefiting from the 6 percent that stop,” he said. “Our challenge is to create value for the trucking community to stop here, to spend money, to transfer their goods from truck to rail or truck to airline or to drop them off to be altered.”

That, he said, is where the I-69 International Trade Corridor agreement comes into play. The four counties involved in the corridor along Interstate 69— St. Clair, Lapeer, Genesee and Shiawassee — are marketing the area to logistics companies to play up the relatively low cost of doing business here, as well as other benefits.

The collaborative has spent money to put up billboards advertising the 1-69 International Trade Corridor website, which details the tax abatements and tax-free renaissance zones available for development, as well as the low-traffic congestion and skilled workforce.

“We are reaching out to the trucking companies,” Casey said. “Our long-term hope is that it will result in jobs and investment for the area.”

Hayes said the Blue Water Bridge also is in the top five for the amount of passenger traffic crossing the border, which the community would be wise to capitalize on as well.

“We receive a lot of benefit from the spending that occurs when (Canadians) come visit,” he said. “Particularly in Fort Gratiot. We should be doing more marketing into Ontario, letting them know just what we have in terms of shopping and downtowns. We have a great community and a beautiful waterfront, and we should market that.”

Maximizing Region’s Global Trade and Jobs

Dome Magazine

by Rick Haglund

As mayor of Lansing in the late 1990s, David Hollister led the state’s capital city to an improbable and stunning economic victory.

Faced with the prospect of General Motors Co. closing its operations there, Hollister pulled together a blue ribbon committee of local business, education and community leaders that not only convinced GM to stay, but also to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in two new assembly plants.

Now, as the vice president of strategic initiatives of the Prima Civitas Foundation in Lansing, Hollister is championing an even more ambitious effort to revitalize the state’s economy by integrating its air, rail, water and highway systems with Canada’s transportation infrastructure to maximize global trade.

Various groups have predicted that tens of thousands of new jobs could be created by convincing shippers to transport goods from Europe and Asia through deep-water ports in Halifax and Montreal.

From there, cargo would arrive by rail in Michigan. The state would serve as a logistics hub to distribute finished goods throughout the Midwest. Parts that arrive here would be manufactured into automotive and other products.

“The larger issue is how do we stop the freight arriving here and add value to it?” said Doug Smith, senior vice president of strategic partnerships at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The MEDC recently named Peter Anastor, director of policy, program management and governmental affairs at the agency, to coordinate various transportation and logistics projects proposed in the state.

Among them are a rail tunnel under the Detroit River linking Windsor with Detroit, and several plans to connect Michigan to ports in Halifax and Montreal through rail connections.

Positioning Michigan as a transportation hub also would allow the state to boost exports of agricultural products and durable goods throughout the world.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can leverage these assets,” Hollister said. “With companies insourcing jobs and pulling their supply chains back into the United States, we can put Michigan on the map as a major transportation and logistics center.”

Formed by Michigan State University in 2006, Prima Civitas initially concentrated on economic and talent development in mid-Michigan. It expanded its focus statewide last year.

Hollister, who was the first chief executive officer of Prima Civitas, stepped down last year to focus on major new initiatives.

Among the biggest he’s helped put together is the I-69 International Trade Corridor, which would move goods through a transportation system using the Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron and Ontario, rail lines, the I-69 freeway and Bishop Airport in Flint.

Five counties and 34 local communities in the corridor recently applied for a Next Michigan Development Act designation that would allow the corridor to offer a variety of tax incentives to companies locating there.

Gov. Rick Snyder recently approved an interlocal agreement between the state and counties needed to move the project along. The trade corridor proposal is awaiting final approval from the Michigan Strategic Fund.

Bishop Airport would serve as the corridor’s “aerotropolis,” which places an airport at the center of an urban development. A similar project has been approved under the Next Michigan act to develop an aerotropolis surrounding Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports.

“This could be more significant over time than what we did in getting General Motors to invest in the Lansing area,” Hollister said. “This is the most sophisticated deal I’ve been involved with in my 40 years of public service.”

Prima Civitas also worked with Business Leaders for Michigan in developing a “Gateway to the Midwest” transportation and logistics element in BLM’s update Michigan Turnaround Plan, announced on January 24.

Hollister said Michigan’s near economic collapse during the past decade has prompted government and business groups to collaborate like never before.

“Regional collaboration efforts in the past were all about turf, turf, turf,” he said. “But communities have been so shaken by the recession that they really see cooperating on increasing trade as a hopeful opportunity to create jobs.”

Last October, more than 130 leaders from the public and private sectors in Michigan and Canada came together in a “Great Lakes International Trade and Transport Hub” summit at Michigan State University to discuss how the state and Canada could boost trade.

Hollister chairs the hub’s steering committee, which is focusing on the following areas: promoting greater collaboration among businesses and industry, integrating the state transportation and logistics assets, educating citizens for careers in global trade, marketing Michigan as a transportation hub and helping companies develop supply chains so they can boost exporting.

Even though Michigan and Canada are neighbors and do more than $60 billion a year in two-way trade, Hollister said Michiganders aren’t nearly as informed about Canada as they should be.

The hub report recommends greater education about Canada in the K-12 system and making students more aware of job opportunities related to trade between Michigan and Canada.

“Canada does a much better job than we do in terms of covering the United States in their school curriculum,” the report said. “International relations study is important to our students’ futures.”

Michigan has a rare opportunity to provide a secondary shipping and logistics alternative to Chicago, but must act quickly, experts say.

“Everybody knows there are delays in Chicago,” Hollister said. “Those delays are money. We need to offer a value proposition for companies to come here. That’s what we’re working on.”

But other Midwest metropolitan areas, including Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville, also are working to develop logistics hubs that would serve as alternatives to shipping through Chicago.

Some say a major threat to Michigan is a $175 million CSX Transportation intermodal train terminal built last year in North Baltimore, Ohio, south of Bowling Green.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor told the Toledo Blade in June that the project has the potential to create about 2,000 spin-off jobs in logistics and warehousing. She said the terminal “symbolizes to the rest of the world that Ohio is open for business.”

Hollister and others say Michigan’s advantage is its manufacturing base that allows components shipped to the United States to be built into finished products.

The state’s manufacturing and agricultural assets could be combined to make Michigan a major player in the “green economy,” he said.

Seats, steering wheels and other automotive components can be manufactured from soybeans and other agriculture products. An improved transportation system here would allow those products to be shipped around the world.

“We haven’t taken advantage of our strategic assets,” Hollister said. “We need more out-of-the-box thinking.”

A ‘no’ from Legislature won’t spell end for new bridge


Of all the words spilled in the debate over a new bridge to Canada, perhaps none have so stirred intrigue as those Lt. Gov. Brian Calley spoke in early August.

Calley, the point man for Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to build a new publicly owned bridge between Detroit and Windsor, said then that there are ways to authorize the construction of a new bridge even if the Legislature balks at approving Snyder’s plan.

“This bridge will happen. There’s a lot of ways the bridge can happen,” Calley told the Gongwer News Service. “My favorite way is the way we proposed the first time,” he said, referring to the legislative process, where Snyder’s plan for the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) project faces considerable skepticism in the state Senate.

Calley didn’t discuss what the backup options may be. But bridge watchers suggest two possible scenarios.

In one, Snyder would issue an executive order to a state agency, such as the Michigan Department of Transportation, to build the bridge. In the other, the federal government would take over the project, ending Michigan’s involvement.

Either would be likely to spark huge controversy — even more than currently embroils the much-debated NITC project.

Other ideas on how to build bridge surface

So how many ways are there to build a bridge?

For several contentious months now, the only way forward for Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) project passed through the Michigan Legislature, where the plan faces skepticism.

Then, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, leading the fight for the NITC, suggested in August that other ways to the same end might be possible.

“There’s a half-a-dozen different ways,” he said then. “I’m not going to get into describing all the different ways that it could happen because I’m still very committed to the way that we proposed, which I think is the best way, but it certainly is not the only way.”

He wouldn’t elaborate on his remarks to Gongwer News Service, but plenty of others have jumped in with suggestions.

Snyder himself has declined to get drawn into that discussion.

“The governor is very, very focused on doing this through the legislative process and working in partnership with the Legislature to make NITC a reality, and has every intent of doing it that way,” Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said this month.

Even so, observers have suggested two possible scenarios should the Legislature reject Snyder’s proposal to set up a new public authority to join with Canada to build the bridge.

In one scenario, Snyder would issue an executive order, directing either the Michigan Department of Transportation or, possibly, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to serve as the fiduciary for U.S. and Canadian funds to build the bridge.

MDOT already has broad experience shepherding big infrastructure projects to completion, including construction of a second Blue Water Bridge span in the 1990s, and dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars in highways funds from the federal government to pay for such projects. It would have the expertise to perform essentially the same function as a public authority created under Snyder’s NITC plan.

State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, chairman of the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, which is holding hearings on the NITC proposal, said that idea has riled some senators.

“It did raise some eyebrows,” Kowall said of Calley’s remarks. “I was asked by a few of the committee members, ‘Are we just having an exercise in futility here?’ ”

But Kowall agreed that under some circumstances, Snyder may be able to act without legislative approval.

“I do believe the governor could do that by executive order,” Kowall said this month. “I’d have to do a little bit more research. … I think it’d be a little bit risky to go the executive order route. … I don’t think it’s as easy as the governor just making a decision.”

The other possible avenue is to let the U.S. government take over control of the project from Michigan. Federal transportation authorities have declined to speculate on that scenario. But it has been a matter of speculation among watchers of the bridge debate.

Alan Ackerman, a Bloomfield Hills-based attorney specializing in land-use cases, said having the feds take over control would create a terrible outcome for Michigan.

“Then none of our local companies will be involved in the bidding process,” Ackerman, a supporter of the NITC proposal, said this month. “None of them will be involved in the engineering. We’ll lose thousands of white-collar jobs, literally thousands.”

Ackerman said ceding control to the federal government also would create worse outcomes for property owners in Detroit’s Delray community, who would have their land taken to make way for the NITC span and inspection plaza.

“There’ll be no responsiveness to anybody objecting to anything that goes on,” he said. “You have to go to Washington. You ever fight Washington? You know what fighting City Hall is? It’s impossible at the federal level.”

Before either of these scenarios would have a chance to play out, state lawmakers will decide whether to bless Snyder’s plan and create the public authority to build the bridge. Kowall’s committee plans to resume public hearings on the project this month. The issue could come to a vote this fall.

U.S.-Canada border gets tighter, tenser

Countries’ close ties strained after tragedy

Nathan Hurst / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington— Before the 9/11 attacks, the big talk surrounding the U.S.-Canadian border was how to make it more efficient for commerce.

Those plans came to a screeching halt on Sept. 11, 2001, when the border that was, for most, a mere formality became a barrier not only to commerce, but also to Michigan’s historically close connections with Ontario.

Gone were the days of nipping across the border for a quick meal with friends or family, in were the days of hours-long, headache-wracked delays on the Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, reports of cargo trucks waiting days to cross between Michigan and Ontario weren’t uncommon.

In the decade since, things have been less hectic and more streamlined at border crossings, but under a heavy pall of suspicion. Everyone needs a passport now, whereas before travelers simply were asked to declare citizenship. Driving or flying requires proof of citizenship.

If this summer has been any indication, the once-friendly waters of the Great Lakes plied by Americans and Canadians alike for generations can sometimes be tense spots. Border Patrol boats are on high alert on both sides, with reports in New York of Canadian officers detaining American anglers who had wandered over the border. Cameras have been deployed along the border, including some on the stretch along the St. Clair River.

Even vacationers are more vigilant.

In late June, two fishermen on the St. Clair River near Marysville caught and turned in a man from the Czech Republic who was swimming across from Canada with a backpack.

Recreational boaters in Michigan waters talk about a bolder presence of federal Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol and other federal agents along the borders in recent months.

In Washington, northern border security has erupted as a political flashpoint as well.

A growing number of legislators such as Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, have called for greater attention to be paid to the U.S.-Canada border. Miller has pushed legislation that would require federal authorities to beef up Northern border security to match that along the Southern border.

Miller said so much attention has been paid to drug-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border to the detriment of the Canadian frontier, which has proven to be a hot spot for suspected terrorists caught trying to enter the United States.

“I have to remind some people that there are two borders we need to be concerned with,” Miller said. “It’s essential that we be as vigilant as possible.”

Among the possible solutions: more agents and cameras, even unmanned aerial drones for remote locales.

On the other side of the aisle, some Democrats such as Rep. John Conyers of Detroit are concerned about the effects greater border scrutiny has on minority groups. In March, he called for a federal investigation into allegations from the Council on American-Islamic Relations that some Muslims were being unduly detained at border checkpoints coming into Detroit from Windsor.

Blue Water Bridge traffic grows

U.S.-bound vehicles soon will have increase in tolls


Times Herald

Traffic volumes across the Blue Water Bridge were the largest in years this summer.

Jim Mynsberge, operations manager of the bridge in Port Huron, said more than 258,270 vehicles crossed the bridge in July and more than 273,000 vehicles used the bridge in August.

In 2010, about 240,000 vehicles crossed the border using the bridge in July; about 248,000 did so in August.

Mynsberge said he credits the increase to the ease of crossing the bridge with Nexus, which allows expedited processing by U.S. and Canadian officials for pre-screened travelers.

But while there has been an uptick in traffic, there’s also going to be an uptick in cost to get back into the United States using the bridge.

U.S.-bound passenger vehicles will pay 25 cents more — $3.25 — to cross the Blue Water Bridge starting Oct. 1.

A roll of 20 tokens will increase from $40 to $45, and a 25-cent increase per axle will go into effect for U.S.-bound commercial vehicles Jan. 1. Chuck Chrapko, president and chief executive officer of Blue Water Bridge Canada, said the increase in the toll is estimated to generate an additional $1 million in revenue.

Blue Water Bridge Canada is self-sufficient and does not receive taxes from the Canadian government, nor does it pay taxes.

Chrapko said the extra funding is needed for the increased cost of daily operations now that a $70 million new plaza has been built on the Canadian side of the bridge. Some of the funds raised also will be set aside for capital improvements.

Canadian officials last raised the toll by 25 cents in 2009. That increase only affected cash-paying customers.

Mynsberge said he doesn’t anticipate an increase in toll for Canada-bound traffic in the near future.

U.S. officials increased the bridge toll in 2010, doubling the rate for passenger vehicles to $3 in January. The toll for Canadian-bound commercial vehicles was increased from $1.75 per axle to $2.50 per axle at that time, and was bumped up to $3.25 per axle April 1.

It was the first U.S. toll increase since 1997.

Snowstorm rattles supply chain: Trapped trucks, closed bridge cause shutdowns

Crain’s Detroit Business

By Dustin Walsh

Last week’s record-breaking winter storm caused a logistics logjam that led to some short-term scrambling for auto suppliers and their customers.

The storm, with frigid temperatures and nearly 20 inches of snow, closed the Blue Water Bridge to commercial traffic – one of two main supply arteries between the U.S. and Canada – for three days.

Case in point: Six Detroit-based Churchill Transportation Inc. semitrailers hauling automotive parts were trapped on Highway 402 in Ontario for 36 hours.

The six trucks contained parts headed to Chrysler Group LLC‘s Brampton, Ontario, assembly plant but were delayed by the storm last Sunday and Monday, which disrupted auto production. Parts shortages caused automakers to shut down lines.

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group all reported parts shortages that shut down lines Tuesday and Wednesday in the U.S. and Canada as suppliers struggled to get parts across the border to assembly plants while Canadian authorities cleared the highway after the storm blustered through Michigan and into Canada.

Paul Haelterman, global managing director of the automotive consulting group for Novi-based IHS Automotive Group LLC, said 70 percent of automotive freight traveling between the U.S. and Canada crosses the Blue Water Bridge, which links Port Huron and Point Edward, Ontario.

Southfield-based Lear Corp., Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc. and Aurora, Ontario-based Magna International Inc. are among the long list of suppliers that deliver parts to OEMs on both sides of the border.

While all three declined to go on record, it’s expected that the suppliers had to reroute some of their shipments more than 70 miles south to the Ambassador Bridge or Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

“When plants go down, it’s an immediate loss of cash,” Haelterman said. “OEMs and suppliers want to keep moving.”

The tunnel, which handles only cars and light trucks, saw a spike of 1,400 vehicles Tuesday linked to the Highway 402 snow problems, said Neil Belitsky, president and CEO of the tunnel.

The Ambassador Bridge saw about 3,800 more trucks on Tuesday compared with Monday, said Detroit International Bridge Co. President Dan Stamper. Total truck traffic was about 12,000 on Tuesday, and normally there is a small increase over Mondays, so the bridge company couldn’t specify how many trucks crossed in Detroit because of the Blue Water Bridge closure.

Saginaw-based Nexteer Automotive Inc. had to pay a premium to reroute shipments to the Ambassador Bridge, but it declined to put a dollar value on the costs.

However, in most cases, the trucking company would incur the costs of re-routing shipments, said Walter Heinritzi, executive director of Lansing-based Michigan Trucking Association.

“It’s a deregulated industry, so it can vary from shipper to shipper, but usually the carrier bears the responsibility for any additional costs for the shipment,” he said.

Churchill runs eight to 10 shipments a day across the Blue Water Bridge, said Don Federonko, president.

“We were forced to ship it back over to Detroit (across the Ambassador),” he said. “There was significant time lost waiting to cross the bridge, which meant a loss in man hours and additional fuel costs.”

Auburn Hills-based Dow Automotive Systems also experienced significant delays in shipments to Canada, but it never failed to deliver product, a spokesperson from the supplier’s customer service department said in an e-mail.

John Taylor, associate professor and director of supply chain programs at Wayne State University, said the automotive industry relies on reliable transportation and that the shutdown of 402 was an unacceptable option for the industry.

“In the North American supply chain, we can’t have our highways shut down because there happens to be a snowstorm in the winter,” he said. “Everyone was left scrambling to reroute and incur extra costs to expedite shipments. The Ontario government needs to take a hard look at their processes.”

However, auto volumes aren’t expected to be impacted, said Mike Jackson, IHS’ head of global forecasting.

“Certainly, the impact on the bridge closing had a cascading effect across the industry, but the reality is that while a number of plants were affected, in the big picture, we don’t think it’s going to affect volumes.”

Supplier shipments decrease in December due to the OEM shutdown between Christmas and New Year’s, so the impact wasn’t as extensive as it could have been, Haelterman said.

Highway 402 and the bridge reopened late Wednesday, and shipments and assembly line operations resumed. But closure of the Blue Water Bridge’s biggest, and lasting, impact was on confidence, Taylor said.

“With a reliable supply chain, we can supply from a specialist supplier that’s far away in order to get that best component at the best price, spec and quality,” he said. “If you shake the confidence in that, then buyers on the margins think that they should go to some closer supplier that may not be as good, and the chain suffers.”

Toledo Blade Editorial: Just build the bridge

This week’s sudden snowstorm proved that a new international bridge between Michigan and Ontario is desperately needed. The storm closed the Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Ontario, for several days, which sent hordes of trucks to the only other available crossing: Detroit’s aged and overburdened Ambassador Bridge.

At one point early this week, trucks were backed up for miles on I-75, snarling traffic. General Motors’ Flint Truck Assembly plant had to close temporarily for lack of parts, and the Ambassador’s management had to waive its normal rule forbidding hazardous materials from crossing the bridge. This happened as new statistics showed that traffic over the more-than-80-year-old bridge was up nearly 18 percent this year.

All this served to accent what business and industry in Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario already knew: A new bridge is badly needed. But Manuel Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, doesn’t want the competition.

There is a plan for an internationally-owned span, the so-called Detroit River International Crossing, or DRIC, which would be built two miles south of the Ambassador. Mr. Moroun says he is willing to “twin” his bridge and build one next to it.

But Canada has made it clear it will never allow him to do that, for environmental, traffic flow, and other reasons.

Canada needs and wants the DRIC bridge, and wants it so badly that it is willing to front cash-starved Michigan $550 million in costs, which would be paid back much later out of the state’s share of tolls.

But while the new bridge has broad bipartisan support, a bill allowing it to continue has been effectively killed by Republicans in the Michigan state Senate, many of whom have taken vast campaign donations from Mr. Moroun, some of which were disguised as donations to caucuses or committees they run.

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a suburban Republican, promised a vote on the new bridge last May but later went back on his word. Having a modern bridge is essential if both nations — and especially, Michigan and Ohio — are going to have thriving economies in the future.

Gov.-elect Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader-designate Randy Richardville of Monroe should make moving forward on a new bridge one of their first orders of business after they take office on New Year’s Day.

The corrupting influence of money over government is always bad. When it threatens the economy of an entire region, it is immeasurably worse.