Michigan needs its new trade crossing

Snyder, Richardville must continue fight to pass bills

Lansing State Journal

After months of work by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to support the New International Trade Crossing, the project got hung up in a Senate committee.

It may be moved to a new committee to keep it alive. That’s the right call. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Snyder must not give up this fight.

Michigan needs the new crossing. Snyder has worked carefully with the Canadian government to craft a plan that will build it without using Michigan tax dollars. Canada will pay Michigan’s $550 million share of construction costs, to be paid back by toll revenue.

Business and labor leaders across the state support the new bridge project. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the project. Snyder and four past governors of Michigan support it.

The Canadian government is eager for a new crossing with better highway connections, one that would take heavy truck traffic off Windsor’s busy streets. For that reason, it’s not likely to support Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun’s plan to build his own second span next to his existing bridge.

Detroit is the nation’s busiest commercial border crossing, with $120 billion in goods crossing annually. Construction of a new crossing would generate some 10,000 construction jobs, a sorely needed boost to Michigan’s economy.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, is one of the GOP senators supporting the new bridge. Aside from economic impact, Jones is concerned about the national security implications of Moroun’s bridge, which could be sold in a private deal.

The new trade crossing would be publicly owned, but privately operated, assuring access for shipping without meddling by those seeking to advance their own agendas.

Moroun’s manipulation of the Michigan Legislature is concerning. He spent nearly $5 million in advertising in the past six months, much of it blasting Snyder or targeted to pressure individual lawmakers.

And that doesn’t count additional millions in campaign contributions.

Michigan must not let Moroun block this much needed new bridge.

Pass the New International Trade Crossing project, senators.

An LSJ editorial

Why the bridge matters to West Michigan business

Grand Rapids Business Journal

Rick Baker

Look around. Just about everything in your office or workplace was once on a truck. Reliable, efficient transportation routes make our lives possible and are a critical component to trade and in deciding where businesses set up shop. To ensure West Michigan companies can compete, they need the infrastructure to connect them to the marketplace. That is why the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is strongly supporting the New International Trade Crossing, the proposed bridge to link Detroit and Canada. The chamber’s mission is to develop businesses and communities. The new bridge will support 109,000 jobs in West Michigan. That’s right: not Detroit, West Michigan. The new bridge is important to the Detroit area, but one in seven jobs here is directly linked to trade with Canada. Jobs generating $2.4 billion in wages and taxes. A well-functioning border with Canada is vital to retaining and growing these jobs that support our West Michigan communities. Here are the facts on why we need another bridge:

  • Michigan-Canada trade grew 43 percent last year over 2009.
  • Trade between Canada and the United States increased more than 20 percent in 2010.
  • Ambassador Bridge traffic was up 11 percent last year over 2010.
  • Over the long term, traffic and trade between Michigan and Canada has been increasing. As we recover economically, traffic will increase.
  • The global economy demands and relies upon just-in-time delivery. Delays put our companies at a disadvantage.
  • Without another bridge, in the event of catastrophic failure, terrorism, or a tragic accident, literally millions would find themselves out of work.

The new bridge is not about getting rid of the Ambassador Bridge; it is about ensuring that our strong trading relationship grows even stronger to support jobs in West Michigan. So how will we pay for it? First, the commercials you may have seen are simply untrue. The legislation before the Senate could not be clearer. The Michigan taxpayer is not, nor ever will be, liable for any of the costs of construction or operation of the bridge. If the bridge never generates sufficient revenue, it is Canada that would be on the hook, not Michigan. Private companies will bid on construction and operation of the new bridge. Through a governance agreement, Canada has agreed to pay Michigan’s share of the project — $550 million — to connect I-75 to the new bridge. If that isn’t enough, Gov. Snyder successfully negotiated with the U.S. Department of Transportation to leverage Canada’s investment to secure $2.2 billion for transportation projects throughout the state, including significant projects here in West Michigan. And if that still isn’t enough, our state will own half the bridge. Once it is paid off, we will begin collecting toll revenues estimated at $50 million a year. Sounds too good to be true, right? The reason Canada is being so generous is simple. The construction of a new bridge at Windsor-Detroit is Canada’s No. 1 national infrastructure priority. Why is it so important to them? They know what’s at stake. Eight million jobs in the United States, and a similar number in Canada, depend on trade between the two countries. Twenty-five percent of all U.S.-Canada trade is handled by the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, more than $350 million every day. Ensuring capacity and redundancy at the Detroit-Windsor crossing is a matter of critical economic security. That is why Canada is willing to take all the risk to see that it is built. Seeing the New International Trade Crossing built should be just as important to Michigan, and that is why businesses across the state support it. Half of everything that Michigan sells to the world, and 30 percent of everything grown in this state, is sold to Canada. So why is this so controversial? My answer is that when you have a private company with a monopoly over such an important asset, they will fight to protect it. The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge does not want competition. This would not be allowed in another industry, and we should not let them stand in the way. The New International Trade Crossing is one of those crucial decisions that will dramatically impact Michigan’s future. It is a tremendous economic development project that will benefit Michigan, and our children, for decades to come. It’s a deal we should not turn our backs on. Join the chamber in urging our legislators to pass Senate Bills 410 and 411.

Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fact-finding tour tries to bridge divide over 2nd span to Canada

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

A full day of briefings by Michigan and Canadian officials did not quash all the doubts some state lawmakers had about the wisdom of Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

After a visit to proposed bridge sites and meetings in both cities, some lawmakers on a daylong bus tour said they still had questions about the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

“I see the need for the project in the long term. I see the advantage to this location. But I’m concerned about the finances and making sure it’s done properly,” state Rep. Bradford Jacobson, R-Oxford, said as the day wound up.

Several lawmakers said they had to consider what they had heard Monday before making up their minds.

“I’m still in fact-finding mode,” said state Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek.

State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, chairman of the state Senate’s economic development committee and organizer of the day’s bus tour, echoed that. “It’s been a long day,” he said.

Kowall had started the tour by saying that it was all about fact-finding prior to the Legislature beginning debate on the NITC this fall.

The project involves building a bridge between southwest Detroit and Windsor that would connect directly to expressways through ramps on the Detroit side and a new highway on the Windsor side.

Canadian officials have pledged to advance $550 million to pay Michigan’s share of construction costs in a way that would protect Michigan taxpayers from any liability.

The dozen or so lawmakers who made the trip were treated to sharply divergent views of the NITC project and the Ambassador Bridge.

Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co. and son of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, told the legislators and others that “nothing but politics and ideology” was stopping the bridge company from building its own second span to Windsor, and that Snyder’s NITC wasn’t needed.

He called the Ambassador Bridge “a shining symbol of American prosperity” and said that the NITC project was “standing in the way of American capitalism.”

But in Windsor, several Canadian officials countered by saying that the Ambassador Bridge was an aging piece of infrastructure that wasn’t keeping pace with the economic needs of the U.S. and Canada.

“We need a 21st-Century infrastructure crossing,” Jayson Myers, president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters trade association, told the visitors.

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis echoed that, saying that the NITC “allows us to compete with the rest of the world with modern infrastructure.”

During a lunch stop at the Delray Community House, the visitors heard an impassioned plea from state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, to include a legally binding community development agreement in the NITC legislation. Such an agreement could lead to better pollution controls, more sustainable housing development and new jobs and tax base in Delray, one of Detroit’s most distressed districts, where the new bridge would land.

“These accountability measures are key to making this win-win,” Tlaib said. “You don’t want people to go across this bridge, look left, look right, and see blight.”

She added, “We want to reinvent the city of Detroit, and we think this is part of it. … Let’s build it right.”

Future traffic a key rumble in the bridge debate

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

By any measure, a lot of traffic crosses the Ambassador Bridge each year.

The bridge is the busiest crossing between the U.S. and Canada, the world’s two largest trade partners, carrying more than 7 million vehicles in 2010 and an estimated 25% of U.S.-Canadian trade.

But that’s down in recent years, and future traffic is a key question in the debate over whether Michigan should agree to build the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge backed by Gov. Rick Snyder and most business and labor leaders.

Government projections predict that car and truck traffic volume on the NITC bridge will swell to 10 million crossings a year by 2030, about 50% more vehicle crossings than on the Ambassador today. That volume of traffic would demand the six-lane span the NITC would create instead of the older, four-lane Ambassador Bridge.

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his supporters scoff at those predictions, calling them far too optimistic and saying traffic 20 years from now will be only about where it is today. They, too, want to replace the Ambassador — by building a new bridge next to it — mostly to upgrade infrastructure.

It’s a key point of contention, and it reflects the broader debate on the future of Michigan and whether its economy will recover and grow in decades to come.

“There’s every reason to believe traffic volumes will increase” as the economy grows, said Charles Ballard, an economist at Michigan State University and an authority on Michigan’s economy.

Future of bridge traffic tied to future of state

The debate over a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor mirrors the debate over the future of Michigan itself.

Those who see the state’s manufacturing might as inevitably growing smaller tend to believe the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge — backed by Gov. Rick Snyder — isn’t needed because traffic volumes on the Ambassador Bridge already have peaked. The family and employees of Ambassador owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun are in this camp.

Mickey Blashfield, Moroun’s director of government relations, contends that a decades-long rise in truck traffic induced by free-trade agreements topped out about 10 years ago. With domestic auto manufacturers having lost market share in the past 10 years, there is no new big driver that would push up traffic in decades to come, he said.

“What more incentive do we have? The only way we increase the number of trucks going across the border is if we’re manufacturing more,” and that’s not happening, Blashfield said.

But Snyder and almost all business and labor leaders, plus Canadian officials, back a new government-owned bridge to Canada. They note that Detroit automakers actually gained market share in the past year and may gain more in the future. They say the image of a Michigan whose best manufacturing days are behind it is much too bleak.

“It’s quite shocking,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said last week. “If you believed (Moroun’s) assumptions, I don’t know why any of us involved in Michigan government would come to work any day. It’s such a bleak and dire and hopeless future that they assume.”

The NITC bridge would be built by a public-private partnership and owed by the State of Michigan and Canada, with the Canadian government providing more than $500 million toward construction and the rest coming from private investors. The investors and Canadians would be repaid from toll collections.

There are, of course, reasons beyond traffic to build a new bridge. The Ambassador Bridge is 82 years old and is showing its age; rust mars the guardrails, and a lengthy project is under way to redeck the bridge. The Ambassador’s four lanes are considered too few for a modern bridge, which ideally would have six lanes, including at least one in each direction dedicated to prescreened traffic.

But the years-long debate about the NITC project inevitably returns to traffic projections. Snyder and other proponents of a government bridge say they believe traffic will rise in the future as the economy improves, reaching levels in 2050 roughly double today’s traffic volumes. Moroun and his supporters say those projections are overly optimistic.

Both sides agree there’s a close link between the state of the economy and the volume of commercial traffic crossing the border. Since the 1970s, as free-trade agreements began to encourage more crossings, commercial traffic soared. Truck crossings at the Ambassador roughly doubled in the 1990s.

Since then, tighter homeland security and economic slowdowns have kept annual truck crossings nearly steady at above 3 million a year. When the economy tanked in 2008 and ’09, truck crossings declined sharply. Commercial traffic has picked up more recently as the economy rebounded.

Passenger car traffic, meanwhile, has declined dramatically since 9/11, both because of tighter security measures that discourage leisure travel and a weaker U.S. dollar that makes shopping in Windsor less of a bargain than it once was.

Even so, about 40% of all the truck traffic crossing the border between Michigan and New York crosses at the Ambassador Bridge. The Ambassador carries twice the commercial traffic as the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, the next most heavily used venue.

Ron Rienas, general manager of the public authority that operates the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, N.Y., and Ft. Erie, Ontario, said waiting for traffic to increase before building a bridge may be too late.

“If you don’t have infrastructure in place, you lose on opportunities that could arise,” Rienas said. “If it gets to the point of congestion, then investment dollars will flow elsewhere.”

Others not directly involved in the project expect the state’s economy to pick up and with it, bridge traffic.

“There’s every reason to believe traffic volumes will increase,” said Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University and an expert on the state’s economy. “Ontario is the industrial heartland of Canada. They are sending stuff not just to metro Detroit, but also to other parts of the country.”

He said the Great Lakes region has become much more efficient and is poised for growth. Though Ballard acknowledges that Michigan’s economy is smaller than it was a decade ago, he noted that it is still more than 20 times larger than it was 70 years ago.

“To say that the growth of the last couple centuries has come to a screeching halt — that’s a really big stretch for me,” Ballard said.

Michael Belzer, a professor at Wayne State University who specializes in the economics of freight transportation, also agrees that truck traffic volumes at the Detroit-Windsor border will increase over the coming decades.

Unless a new bridge is built, “we will be right back into the congestion problem we had a decade ago,” he said, recalling the days before the economy tanked when trucks were lined up bumper to bumper at the Ambassador Bridge.

Belzer, who runs a nonprofit group that is trying to create an inland port in Detroit, also pointed out that more than 100 years ago, companies originally invested in Detroit because it had great transportation assets.

Today, infrastructure still plays a key role in attracting business investments to the area, he said.

Mich. governor, billionaire clash over new bridge

Bloomberg
Businessweek

DETROIT

A long-simmering divide over a new bridge is pitting Michigan’s new governor against a billionaire businessman.

Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing for a new, publicly supported bridge between Detroit and the Canadian city of Windsor, the busiest commercial border crossing in North America. Trucking magnate Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the existing Ambassador Bridge, says the government wants to destroy his company with a plan that will cost taxpayers millions.

The vast majority of international bridges are public infrastructure.

Pressure for a new bridge has mounted with the growth of international commerce and amid post-Sept. 11 security concerns.

Both national governments and many business heavyweights support the plan. Moroun has filed lawsuits, and his supporters distributed fake eviction notices in a Detroit neighborhood near where the new bridge would be.

David Littmann needs to get his facts straight on the bridge issue

The pessimistic and misleading column featured in The Detroit News written by David L. Littmann, Senior Economist for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, regarding the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) makes a number of misinformed and misleading statements regarding project funding, taxpayer burden, and border infrastructure, while ignoring the facts. Below are statements from Mr. Littmann’s column, followed by the truth of the matter.

Littmann: “A new governor from a different political party is again calling for a $2.1 billion outlay in a bridge to compete with the one we already have.”
Response: Michigan does not “already have” or own a bridge in Detroit, but the Moroun family does. The Ambassador Bridge is a privately owned and operated international border crossing that handles 8,000 trucks a day and an estimated $100 billion in trade each year. U.S., Michigan and Detroit taxpayers have shelled out more than $260 million in recent years to enhance the connections to the Ambassador Bridge that the Moroun family is not paying back. The proposed New International Trade Crossing will not cost Michigan taxpayers a dime.

Littmann: “In the past decade alone, Michigan has captured the dubious distinction of becoming the only state to have lost population. How does this help traffic volumes?”
Response: Michigan may have experienced population loss, but there are still significant amounts of traffic crossing the Detroit-Windsor corridor. In 2009, Canadians made 1.2 million trips to Michigan and spent more than $250 million at Michigan businesses. In 2010, truck traffic across the Ambassador Bridge was up by more than 17 percent. Although Michigan’s economy is still in recovery mode, people are still hard at work, with more than 237,000 Michigan jobs relying on trade with Canada.

Littmann: “To minimize or disregard the financial implications of a teetering economy is to play roulette with our existing infrastructure and public institutions.”
Response: Michigan may be facing a tough economic climate, but that does not change the fact that Michigan ranked 1st amongst all states with exports to Canada with more than $21.7 billion in goods sold to Canada in 2010. To sit back and do nothing regarding border infrastructure is truly playing roulette with Michigan’s economic future.

Littmann: “The cost of ignoring reality is to watch existing public roads, ramps, bridges, and overpasses crumble.”
Response: In case Mr. Littmann missed the announcement during the State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder secured a deal with the Federal Highway Administration that would allow Michigan to use the $550 million Canadian investment in the project to leverage $2.2 billion in federal highway construction funds for road projects across the state. These matching funds would be able to improve and repair the “crumbling” public roads, ramps, bridges, and overpasses that Michigan otherwise could not afford to fix.

Littmann: “The truth is that the Ambassador Bridge operation is already in the process of erecting the modern twin, along with the updated infrastructure, as replacement for the existing bridge at the site.”
Response: The truth is the Ambassador Bridge is nowhere close to erecting a second span. Although the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) has already built ramps and plazas for their proposed second span, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards determined that the DIBC illegally constructed ramps, plazas, and duty free shops that broke contractual agreements with the governments of Michigan and the United States. Judge Edwards ordered that the ramps, plazas, and duty free shops be torn down immediately…we are still waiting for the DIBC to comply with the ruling.

Additionally, the DIBC does not have the necessary environmental permits to build the proposed second span. The NITC is the only project to have completed environmental assessments on both sides of the border.

Furthermore, Matthew Moroun, President of the DIBC, recently told The Detroit News that building a second Ambassador Bridge span “could take three or four years or even up to a decade.” The NITC could begin construction immediately, following legislative approval.

Littmann: “Ambassador Bridge people are experienced, responsive to the public, and have a universally acknowledged track record for running a profitable enterprise that keeps tolls low…”
Response: Although the Ambassador Bridge people are experienced at running a border crossing, they certainly do not “keep tolls low.” In fact, the Ambassador Bridge tolls are the highest among all U.S. border crossings. Owning a monopoly on international traffic is great for the Morouns – but it’s an economic snake pit for Michigan.

Span would bridge U.S.-Canadian economies

Monroe Evening News

Dr. Roy Norton told an audience of Monroe County businesspeople that a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor is essential for economic growth.

BY CHARLES SLAT

A Canadian diplomat said construc­tion of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, could create jobs, boost Michigan businesses and ultimately im­prove state roads.

“The importance of this project cannot be ex­aggerated,” said Dr. Roy Norton, consul general of Canada at Detroit.

Dr. Norton was the featured speaker at Monroe County Community College’s

Calling it “Canada’s No. 1 infrastructure priority,” he said the proposed bridge is a key to the economic future of Canada and Michigan.

Backed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the six-lane, $4 billion span across the De­troit River would provide an alternative to the 82-year-old privately owned Am­bassador Bridge. Canada has offered to front the estimat­ed  $550 million cost to Michigan of con­necting the new bridge to I-75. Under a state agreement with the feds, that mon­ey also would trigger the release of about $2.2 billion in matching federal transpor­tation funds for the state’s roads. “This wasn’t Canada’s idea,” Dr. Norton said of the federal match. “We had nothing to do with it, but we think it’s brilliant.”

State Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Mon­roe, has requested enabling legislation that would be needed to move the project forward. Dr. Norton called Sen. Richardville’s initiative “a truly important act of leadership on his part.”

“I have requested a bill and am looking at the bill and speaking with the adminis­tration about it, so I have not made a deci­sion to introduce a bill until I look it all over pretty well,” Sen. Richardville told The Evening News today.

“After we get the budget done, we’re go­ing to talk about it then. We’ll look at the pros and cons and we’re trying to educate the caucus about it,” he said. “There are a lot of questions about it, so we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing be­fore we introduce a bill.”

According to the proposal, the Cana­dian and U.S. governments would joint­ly oversee construction of the bridge, which would be built and run by private contractors and operated under a public authority. Construction would last four to five years and create 10,000 construction-related jobs in southeast Michigan.

“Some of those jobs could well be occu­pied by welders trained at Monroe Coun­ty Community College,” Dr. Norton said.  He said congestion at the Ambassador Bridge, which now carries 10,000 trucks a day, and economic growth underscores the need for a second bridge.

Last year, U.S.-Canada trade grew by 21 percent and Michigan- Canada trade grew by about 41 percent as the economies on both sides of the border began to rebound, he said.

He said at least 2,100 jobs in Monroe County alone depend on trade with Canada, including auto suppliers, Midway Products in Monroe Township, Diamond Electric Manufacturing Corp. in Dundee and Johnson Controls, the former Plastech plants, in Frenchtown Township.

He said about 9 percent of Monroe-based La-Z-Boy Incorporated’s global sales — about 75 percent of its total exports — are to Canada.

“You, in Michigan, are our most important economic geography,” Dr. Norton said. “Nowhere in the United States — nowhere in the world — is more important to Canada than the State of Michigan.

“We buy more from Michigan than your next 25 export markets put together,” he said.

He said the new bridge would help President Obama realize his goal of doubling U.S. exports to Canada in five years and would make Canada a customer of choice for many firms new to exporting due to its closeness, the same time zone, similar legal system and uniform language. With ties to the recently improved Canadian rail system, companies would have easy access to international ports in eastern and western Canada, he said. “The potential is there for Michigan companies to grow themselves and create jobs by exports to Canada,” he added.

He said Canada’s growing energy businesses also have the potential to create export opportunities for companies like Ventower, the maker of wind-turbine towers, which is completing a plant in Monroe.

Although most in the audience seemed supportive of the plan, more than a few privately expressed concerns about the potential for inefficiencies in a government built and run project. Others suggested that governments should not compete with the private sector.

But after his talk, Dr. Norton said the authority that would oversee construction and operation of the bridge is no different than those that already operate most other spans to Canada. He said the project could be built and run by private companies under the auspices of the bi-national authority that would be created.

Dr. Norton, who holds a master’s degree in international public policy and a doctorate in international relations, has a broad background in international affairs.  He has held many posts in Canadian government on both U.S. and Canadian soil.

It was his second visit to Monroe this year. He said his first visit in February was “so rewarding I couldn’t wait to come back to `Pure Monroe’ as I understand you are now called.” It was a reference to the area’s recently unveiled tourism promotional campaign.