Battling a Giant

Gregg vs. Goliath

For years, a small truck ferry owner has been hauling hazardous materials across the Detroit River and battling Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. But if he wins, he will probably put himself out of business.

BY JACK LESSENBERRY // PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACOB LEWKOW 

Published: January 31, 2017 

FERRY OWNER GREGG WARD TAKES AN INTERNATIONAL VIEW OF THE DETROIT-WINDSOR BORDER.

Today, if the ice isn’t too thick, a few trucks that carry hazardous materials or are just too big for the Ambassador Bridge will squeeze themselves onto a 45-year-old ferry, the Lac St. Jean, at a hard-to-find dock a couple miles south of downtown.

When the trucks are aboard, Capt. David Seymour will fire up the engines of the Stormont, a battered, old Canadian tugboat, and chug off across the Detroit River, collect a few more vehicles, chat with the customs folks, and then chug on back.

The Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry might, on a good day, haul 50 trucks across the water. That compares to, oh, 8-10,000 or so trucks that roll across the Ambassador Bridge every day.

There’s very little comparison — or love lost — between the men behind each operation. 

The Ambassador Bridge is owned by Matty Moroun, 89, one of the richest people in Michigan.

The bridge itself was completed in 1929, just as the greatest depression in American history was settling in.

Moroun managed to outmaneuver legendary investor Warren Buffett and gain complete control of the bridge in 1979.

He also owns a vast trucking empire, CenTra, plus the hulking ruin of the Michigan Central Station, and vast swatches of what are often called slum properties around both his bridge and what will be the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, the creation of which Moroun has fought ferociously for years.

Forbes magazine has rated Moroun’s net worth at around $1.6 billion. 

The Detroit Windsor-Truck Ferry was started on April 22, 1990, — Earth Day — by Gregg Ward and his father, John.

The date was appropriate. The Ambassador Bridge isn’t certified as safe for hazardous materials. These days, the elder Ward has been ailing, and his son has been running the business.

Gregg Ward is outwardly cheerful and warm, and looks a decade younger than his 55 years. But his life is anything but easy. Instead of a mansion in Grosse Pointe Shores, he has a nice but modest home in Dearborn. A divorced father of two, he doesn’t often see his daughter Emily, who is in college in Europe. (His former wife moved back to her native Iceland.) His life revolves around caring for his 20-year-old autistic son, Michael, to whom he is totally dedicated.

It would be safe to say that those who compile the Forbes list of the richest Americans have never heard of Gregg Ward.

“You know, we started this thinking it would be a part-time job, and it became our lives,” he tells me over lunch at Johnny Noodle King in southwest Detroit, not far from his ferry.

For him, in many ways, this business is ideal, since it allows him the flexibility to take care of his son. But there’s a cloud on the horizon; once the Gordie Howe bridge is open to traffic, Ward expects it will put him out of business.

“The new bridge should be safe for hazardous materials,” he says, as well as being large enough to carry the huge windmill pylons that now use his ferry service.

That means the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry will no longer be able to compete. 

You might think that would make Ward as determined as Moroun to stop the new bridge.

But you’d be totally wrong.

For more than a decade, long before Rick Snyder ever thought of running for governor, Ward has fought for a new bridge.

He does that, to be sure, because he doesn’t like how Moroun does business or treats people.

His stories about the billionaire could fill a book, and would undoubtedly invite lawsuits from Moroun, whose love of litigation is legendary. 

“What some might get out of a night with Marilyn Monroe, Matty gets out of suing people,” former Gov. James Blanchard, who had worked both for and against Moroun as a lobbyist, once told me.

But most of all, Ward thinks a new bridge is essential for this region’s survival. “If it didn’t happen and something happened to put the old bridge out of commission, this region would be so euchered …” he says.

He shakes his head. “I don’t know why the business leaders, the automotive companies especially, aren’t calling more loudly for the bridge to be built.”

What’s not in dispute is this: Around half a billion dollars in goods, mainly heavy auto components, trundle across the Ambassador every day. Unfortunately the bridge is not only wearing out, showering concrete onto a Windsor neighborhood last year, but it’s also in the wrong place for traffic patterns. Trucks crossing into Canada have a dozen lights to get through before they get to Highway 401.

That’s starkly inefficient, which is why at peak times, you can see traffic backed up onto I-75. That won’t happen with the Gordie Howe; the Canadians have built carefully landscaped access roads to whisk traffic on to their freeway system.

But progess lags on the Michigan side, around Delray, the area where the bridge would be anchored. 

Ward is worried. “Delay, delay, delay,” he says.

He’s also suspicious that Mayor Mike Duggan is dragging his heels on transferring jurisdiction over roadways and easements, so that work on things like electrical connections can start.

“I worry that he is doing a deal with Moroun,” Ward says. 

The Ambassador Bridge owner has long argued that he should be allowed to build a new bridge at his own expense, next to his old one.

But that would make no sense from either an environmental or traffic point of view. 

A spokesman for the mayor denied any deal: “We continue to support the Gordie Howe bridge, and we are committed to ensuring that the needs of those who live in the community are addressed,” says Jed Howbert, executive director of the mayor’s Jobs & Economy Team (JET).

But Ward isn’t too sure.

Moroun’s idea of “twinning” his current bridge seems to be an obsession, but probably also a fantasy. Higher-up Canadian officials have told me they will never allow that.

Ottawa is so committed to the Gordie Howe bridge, Canada is even going to pick up Michigan’s half-billion dollar share of the tab, money Canada will supposedly be repaid someday out of the tolls.

But Moroun’s fantasy is a rich one. 

“Every year of delay is that much more in profits for the Morouns,” Ward says, and that much more lost to businesses on both sides of the border. 

Ward, who grew up in Indiana and moved to Michigan at 17, has always seen things in terms of an international focus. After earning a BA in international studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, he went to the Université Laval in Quebec to be certified as fluent in French, before earning an MBA in finance from Michigan State University.

He’s been a business consultant and adviser for a dozen countries, including the Baltic States and Romania, but sees the U.S.-Canada relationship as key to our economic future.

Ward does think the Gordie Howe bridge will eventually happen; his guess is that it might be ready for traffic by 2022.

What he will do then is a good question. But he is almost universally regarded as an honest and caring person.

And nobody knows bridge issues like he does. 

“Gregg has an exhaustive knowledge of the subject,” longtime investigative reporter Joel Thurtell has noted. “Those of us who have written about the proposed new bridge owe Gregg Ward a huge debt for maintaining what amounts to a digital news service that keeps us up to date.”

Ward’s also politically and economically savvy. But when I ask whether he might ever consider a career in politics, he laughs. 

“How can you compromise on the most basic things? I can’t see myself going up to the worst sons of bitches and shake hands and acting like everything is fine,” he says. 

I decided I didn’t need to ask who he meant. 

http://www.hourdetroit.com/Hour-Detroit/February-2017/Gregg-vs-Goliath/

Power to the Gordie Howe

Energy project puts Gordie Howe between the pipes

Posted: Jan 27, 2017 1:08 PM | Last Updated: Jan 27, 2017 1:08 PM

WINDSOR–Ontario’s energy infrastructure has been enhanced thanks to the installation of 4.3 kilometres of new transmission and distribution natural gas pipeline installed as part of preparatory works at the Canadian Port of Entry (POE) for the Gordie Howe International Bridge project.

CAUTILLO ON THE HOWE BRIDGE: “Not just a transportation undertaking.”

Two high-pressure natural gas pipelines located within the footprint of the Canadian POE needed to be relocated to allow for the construction of the project.

The pipelines deliver natural gas to the Brighton Beach Power and West Windsor Power generating stations, which use the natural gas to generate electricity for the provincial energy grid.

WDBA worked closely with Union Gas Limited, the power generating facilities and the Ontario provincial Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) to coordinate the changeover at the power plants to ensure there was no interruption to the energy grid.   

The $8.4-million project provides increased pipeline capacity to meet current and future energy needs. The project was completed by Union Gas Limited and paid for by WDBA.

With the completion of the natural gas pipeline relocation, WDBA has started the relocation of an extensive network of hydro-electric lines. Many of these transmission and distribution lines are currently located overhead and will need to be moved underground to accommodate further construction at the Canadian POE.  

Commented Michael Cautillo, WDBA President and Chief Executive Officer: “The Gordie Howe International Bridge project is not just a transportation undertaking. Preparing the Canadian and US sites for the bridge construction has resulted in enhancements to local infrastructure such as the new gas pipeline, the Broadway Drain and the new perimeter access road. WDBA is committed to ensuring that the project provides residents, businesses and communities on both sides of the border with economic and community development opportunities.”

Quick Facts

  • A total of 4.3 kilometres of new pipeline has been installed including 1.7 km of 50 cm diameter transmission pipe, 1.6 km of 30 cm diameter distribution pipe and one kilometre of 10 cm distribution pipe.
  •  The amount of gas moving through these pipes each day is equal to that used by more than a half million homes.
  • WDBA anticipates investing over $150 million to prepare the Canadian POE for the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Click here to see a video of the gas pipeline installation.

http://www.todaystrucking.com/energy-project-puts-gordie-howe-between-the-pipes

Delray residents near new bridge looking for a buyout

Jarvis: Detroit residents near new border bridge look to Canada for help

Jarvis: Detroit residents near new border bridge look to Canada for help

Cedric Jones stands in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on  Nov. 3, 2016.
Cedric Jones stands in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

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DETROIT — Beulah Jones was the first black teacher in Roseville, a suburb of Detroit. She worked all her life.

She didn’t drink, smoke or curse. She went to church until she wasn’t able to.

“I couldn’t ask for a better mother,” said her son, Cedric.

Yet Beulah spent the last 10 years of her life, until she died Aug. 31 at age 83, fighting for decency and respect from the people building the Gordie Howe International Bridge that will link Windsor and Detroit.

When the mostly black, Latino and low-income residents who live next to where the bridge is planned hear about the amenities on the Canadian side, they see a difference. And they don’t think it’s fair. They believe that Canada, which is leading the project, should also protect its foreign neighbours.

“We have this international project straddling these two communities, and when it lands on this side, it doesn’t have the protections that it has when it lands on the other side,” said Simone Sagovac of the community advisory group established by Detroit’s city council to advocate for residents. “We are looking for Canada to be leading in a way that will be fair on both sides of the border.”

Cedric Jones, of the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, on Nov. 3, 2016 holds a copy of minutes from a meeting at which he says he was promised his house and his mother's home would be purchased to make way for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Cedric Jones, of the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, on Nov. 3, 2016 holds a copy of minutes from a meeting at which he says he was promised his house and his mother’s home would be purchased to make way for the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

What Beulah Jones faced defies belief. She lived on South Harrington Street, off West Jefferson Avenue. Her neighbours across the street, including her son and caregiver Cedric, were bought out. So was everyone on her side, up to her block. The land at the other end of her block is also part of the project.

That left Beulah and one neighbour, Vietnam War veteran Elmer Johnson, on a sliver of land.

Theirs were among about 50 houses in small, isolated clusters left dotting the boundaries of the planned truck plaza south of I-75 — the busy interstate highway that will connect to the new bridge.

Beulah had lived in her house for more than 60 years. She didn’t want to move. But she didn’t want to be left all alone.

“In a multibillion-dollar project, they’re nickel-and-diming these people whose lives are so impacted,” said advisory group member Gregg Ward.

“Have some morals,” Cedric said. “I don’t know no politicians, no higher-ups who would allow their mothers to live under those circumstances. If it’s not good enough for your mother, why is it good enough for my mother?”

Beulah spent her days calling the advisory group, the city, the state. Some people believe the stress hastened her passing.

“It made her have to worry about something she shouldn’t have had to worry about,” said Cedric.

Longtime Delray residents Albert and Myrtle Green talk talk about the impact of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project Nov. 3, 2016.
Longtime Delray residents Albert and Myrtle Green talk talk about the impact of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Albert and Myrtle Green live several streets west, on Crossley Street. They bought their house in 1948. It was an industrial neighbourhood, but it was vibrant — Hungarians, Armenians, Italians and lots of kids. There was a house on every lot, schools and stores. The Greens ran a nearby variety store and lunch counter for 56 years.

The announcement of the bridge quickened the neighbourhood’s decline, said their daughter, Debra Williams, another member of the advisory group. People who could afford to move left. Landlords stopped repairing their buildings. Scrappers picked apart the remains. There was illegal dumping.

Now, the Greens’ house, with their garden of petunias and marigolds, is one of only two occupied houses on the block. They’re 89 now, married almost 70 years.

They’re five blocks away from the plaza. Still, “with my age and the surroundings,” Myrtle said quietly, her walker next to her chair, “I would like a buyout.”

She’s worried about more pollution, noise and isolation.

“I don’t think I could sell because nobody wants this,” she said.

“They worked hard to build the business,” said Williams. “They worked hard on their home. They pay their taxes. They’re good citizens. The time they have left, they should have a good quality of life and I don’t think that’s asking a lot.”

Debra Williams stands in front of her childhood home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray on Nov. 3, 2016. Her parents still live there.
Debra Williams stands in front of her childhood home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray on Nov. 3, 2016. Her parents still live there. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Albert and Myrtle Green's former store is now closed in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray as shown on Nov. 3, 2016.
Albert and Myrtle Green’s former store is now closed in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray as shown on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The north side of I-75 is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Detroit. There are more children than in any other part of the city. They’re more than 70 per cent Latino and largely low-income. The ramps to and from the bridge and interstate will rise about 30 feet in the air — within about 100 feet of some homes. On the south side, traffic will exit I-75 and almost T-bone an apartment building before turning to go around it.

There will be noise walls between the service roads and interstate but nothing to protect all those families from the diesel particulate and noise from the steady stream of trucks on the ramps.

“It may be a small number of people, but they will experience a dramatic change in their lives,” said Sagovac.

The advisory group is calling for a minimum 300-foot buffer between the entire project and the houses. It cites studies showing that high levels of particulate from vehicles settle in areas within 300–1,500 feet of major highways, causing higher rates of heart disease, cancer, asthma and premature and low birth weight babies.

Particulate is the most harmful type of pollution, and it’s most dangerous within 300 feet of a major road. That’s where the smallest particles, which are carried deepest into the body, are concentrated. Children face the most risk, according to studies cited by the advisory group, because they breathe more air relative to their body weight than adults, are more active and are outside more.

Homes in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray are shown on Nov. 3, 2016.
Homes in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray are shown on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Michigan can’t buy out more homes because there is no money in the state’s budget for the bridge. That’s why Canada is fronting the initial cost. The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, the Canadian Crown corporation building the bridge, is responsible for funding property acquisition only within the right-of-way, spokesperson Heather Grondin said in an email.

So Michigan state Rep. Stephanie Chang asked Infrastructure Canada for money for more buyouts. The answer was no.

“I understand their reason why,” said Chang. “They’re Michigan’s properties, and they’re not responsible for outside the footprint.”

She and others also understand that the neighbourhoods on the American side faced more challenges than those on the Canadian side before this project, and that Windsor fought long and hard to get the amenities along the Herb Gray Parkway that leads to the bridge site.

Still, she said, “the general idea of protecting people’s health, protecting people’s quality of life needs to be a priority on both sides.

“Obviously,” she said, “Canada plays a very large role because the funding is entirely from the Canadian side. I would say to Canadians and Americans with any giant development project that is going to have enormous consequences and bring a lot of economic benefits to both countries, we need to make sure the host communities on both sides are treated in a way that really protects their quality of life and makes sure people are reaping economic benefits.”

A sign marks a recently purchased piece of property in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
A sign marks a recently purchased piece of property in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The former Detroit River International Crossing study recognized that the new bridge would have a “disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income population groups.” But the impact will be “fully addressed,” said Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeff Cranson. There are “rigorous” guidelines for reducing noise, monitoring emissions, buffers and aesthetics. The final details will be determined after the builder is chosen, but “we have listened to the community and are confident that mitigation measures … will adequately address the community’s concerns,” Cranson said.

The bridge authority is also meeting with groups on both sides of the border and is committed to a crossing that is “respectful to neighbouring residents and businesses in Canada and the U.S., Grondin said.

Related

The Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS), an anchor in the neighbourhood for 40 years, is just south of I-75. Most of its patients are women and children, most without health insurance. Most live on the other side of the interstate and don’t have cars. They walk along Junction Street over the highway to get to the centre. But Junction will close to accommodate the ramps connecting I-75 to the bridge’s truck plaza.

Denise Pike, development director for the Community Health and Social Services Center in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, is shown at the centre on Nov. 3, 2016.
Denise Pike, development director for the Community Health and Social Services Center in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, is shown at the centre on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

A new pedestrian crossing will be built at Morrell Street 300 yards away. The state promises it will be wider, well-lit and maintained all year. Still, CHASS patients will have to traverse eight to 10 lanes of traffic. They’ll have to cross service roads on either side. They’ll land on the south side by a truck stop known for prostitutes. Some of them will do this pushing baby strollers.

“That would make me afraid,” said CHASS development director Denise Pike.

The bridge authority said it would consider putting stop signs or lights on the service roads, but their engineers told the centre it must request this in writing, Pike said.

“They’re designing the project,” she said. “They should make sure they’re not cutting businesses off from their customers. This has been made clear several times. It’s not as if (Michigan’s transporation department) and the (bridge authority) are not aware of it.”

Pike suggested that the project pay for transportation for some patients or extend the pedestian crossing across both service roads, but has the impression the state and the bridge authority won’t consider it.

An abandoned home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
An abandoned home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

A destroyed home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
A destroyed home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The offers being made for land needed for the bridge are also being questioned. On the Canadian side, Heritage Park Alliance Church in LaSalle received $17.9 million for its 15 acres when the parkway was built. The former Hellenic Banquet Hall in Tecumseh got $14 million for its 12 acres — like winning the lottery, its president said at the time.

Meanwhile, First Latin American Baptist Church in Detroit was offered US$411,000 for its smaller property.

“Canada’s approach to community benefits has been praised as an example to follow,” Pastor Kevin Casillas said in an email. “It would be a peculiar legacy for those overseeing the international project … to have millions of dollars to relocate churches (and) businesses on one side of the border, including $17.9 million for one church and funding to protect the eastern fox snake and Butler’s garter snake, but for some reason on the other side of the border, Latino and African American residents, businesses and churches end up receiving proportionately much less.”

Some Americans call this Canada’s bridge. It’s not fair to put everything on Canada, said Ward, who operates the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. Users, not governments, will pay for most of the crossing through tolls.

But the people who will pay the most, potentially sacrificing their quality of life, will be those like the Greens and the women and children at CHASS, who live near it, he said.

And they’re expecting Canada, the country known for decency, the country leading the project and fronting initial costs, to take care of them.

“It’s embarrassing to say but I believe from my experience of 28 years at the border that Canada will take better care of residents than the U.S.,” Ward said.

“Protecting these people — it’s just right,” he said.

ajarvis@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/winstarjarvis

Elmer Johnson sits in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016.
Elmer Johnson sits in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Hurdle cleared in effort to build Gordie Howe bridge

Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press

The Michigan Department of Transportation has cleared a hurdle as it moves to acquire property for construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s companies have granted permission, after initially refusing, for MDOT to access property the Morouns control in southwest Detroit so the agency can survey and conduct other work.

MDOT had sought a court order to allow the agency access to property, which the Ambassador Bridge owner uses for a trucking terminal on West Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The agency is acquiring property in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood for the new Canada-financed bridge between Detroit and Windsor and filed suit Wednesday in Wayne County Circuit Court, saying it needs access “immediately” to avoid delays in construction, which is projected to start in 2017.

But Michael Samhat, president of Moroun’s Crown Enterprises, explained that he had granted the permission in writing the day after MDOT’s attorney set a 24-hour deadline, but that a lawsuit was filed anyway. After reaching out to MDOT the next day, he said the suit was withdrawn.

“Our intent was not to fight or resist their entrance to the property. We understand it’s part of the process,” Samhat said. But “we need to have some details.”

Samhat referenced an aerial picture that MDOT provided of the Central Transport operation showing curving red lines through the property, presumably representing what MDOT believes it might need to acquire.

“It’s obvious to us it’s not them taking a sliver,” Samhat said, noting that if that area is eventually acquired “it would greatly impair the operation.”

As reported by the Free Press in July, MDOT needs to control up to 800 parcels in the southwest Detroit neighborhood to provide room for the approaches to the bridge and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza. The report said that “legal wrangling over the price of individual parcels could go on for years after residents and businesses are relocated and even after the Gordie Howe International Bridge is scheduled to open in 2020.”

The exchange between Samhat and MDOT played out in a series of back-and-forth letters since the beginning of October. Moroun’s companies own more than 20 parcels that MDOT wants to access, but only one appeared to be at issue.

In a letter Oct. 12, Samhat suggested, in denying MDOT’s access request, that it was looking out for its business and employees.

“We are sensitive about the disruption and employee concern that your inspection will cause with this parcel. This site is utilized by Central Transport and it is one of the larger employers in this Detroit neighborhood,” according to the letter, which also notes that it’s “premature to start the process toward condemnation when important decisions concerning the ability of the project to go forward are currently before the federal court in Washington, D.C.”

That letter followed a decision by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who dismissed “virtually all of the remaining legal counts in the Morouns’ five-year-old lawsuit against federal and state officials” in their fight over the new bridge. Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. had claimed an exclusive franchise to operate a bridge between Detroit and Canada without competition.

MDOT’s attorney, Mark Zausmer, said in his letter seeking access to the Moroun property that the agency needs to survey, take measurements and photographs, appraise the property and conduct noninvasive environmental inspection activities.

The MDOT lawsuit noted that Samhat was requesting “an assurance that their ‘business and employees will not be damaged in this condemnation process.’ ”

It might not be a surprise that MDOT turned to the courts to address its access request. Moroun has aggressively fought construction of the Gordie Howe bridge, which would be downstream of the Ambassador, at the same time he has been fighting, despite significant opposition in Canada, to build a second span for the Ambassador.

Originally posted by the Detroit Free Press

U.S., Canada strike deal to speed border checks

Melissa Nann Burke, Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Travel by roadway, rail and water between Michigan and Canada could become easier under a deal signed Monday by U.S. and Canadian officials.

The impact on crossings in the Great Lakes state is likely years away, though the effects could be felt sooner in other states if the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament approve it.

The proposed change could mean shifting some American customs inspections to the Canadian sides of the border crossings at Detroit and Port Huron, and allowing U.S. customs agents to carry weapons while stationed inside the Canadian border.

The deal — years in the making as part of the Beyond the Border Initiative — sets out a legal framework allowing law enforcement agents into each other’s countries to conduct customs, immigration and agricultural inspections inside the border. It is a process already in operation at eight Canadian airports, including Toronto.

“This agreement will help facilitate the legitimate trade and travel that keeps our economy thriving as we maintain utmost vigilance to the security of our borders,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. “We remain committed to our deep partnership with Canada, a true ally, neighbor and friend of the United States.”

A new process for advance government screening of business shipments and individuals could relieve congestion and shave off time while traveling between the two countries, officials say.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney said the “historic” agreement builds on decades of successful pre-clearance operations in Canadian airports. About 4.5 million passengers traveling through Toronto airport now go through the pre-clearance process before traveling to the United States, Blaney said.

The administration of Gov. Rick Snyder welcomed the development with Michigan’s largest trading partner.

“It is extremely helpful for goods to move quickly across the border in a way that still protects residents in both countries,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Monday, but noted the administration still needs to review the agreement.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor is the busiest along the U.S.-Canada border, carrying more than 20 percent of all merchandise trade between the nations through the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Detroit is also a popular crossing for travelers, last year ranking the third-busiest U.S.-Canada crossing for passenger vehicles with more than 4 million, behind Niagara Falls, New York, and Blaine, Washington, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Port Huron was the fourth-busiest crossing with more than 1.9 million passenger vehicles in 2014.

The agreement could cut valuable seconds and even minutes off getting across the border.

“It means the same number of officers at the border can process more trucks, and those officers can spend more time on those trucks who do require more attention,” said Douglas George, the Canadian consul general in Detroit. “Both our countries are very interested in ensuring there’s still a very high level of security.”

Maryscott Greenwood, an adviser to the Canadian American Business Council, said she expects arrangements for the Detroit-Windsor crossing would move quickly after the agreement receives legislative approval because of how busy and important it is.

“We’ve talked about pre-clearance at Detroit-Windsor for years because of how congested it is on the Detroit side, and how relatively less congested it is on the Windsor side,” Greenwood said.

“There’s always a complicated dance that you do in Detroit-Windsor with the various stakeholders, so that will remain to be seen,” she added, referring to the private ownership of the Ambassador Bridge.

The re-clearance operations would require approval by both Canada and the United States. Johnson said there will be “some negotiation” that goes into each border-crossing site, and “this agreement even spells that out.” The deal will be implemented at select sites “where it makes sense,” he said.

The trucking industry applauded the agreement as a step toward easing costs and increasing predictability at the border, although David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, doesn’t see Detroit-Windsor as a top candidate for a pre-clearance site.

Buffalo-Fort Erie is a more likely site, in part because there’s no space for a modern customs plaza on the Buffalo side, and officials want to relocate inspections to the Fort Erie side, said Bradley, whose group represents more than 4,500 Canadian trucking companies.

“In Detroit-Windsor, you really don’t have that same sort of issue, and you certainly won’t with the new bridge,” Bradley said. “They’ll have a modern customs facility on both sides and the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t have the same land constraints that you have in Fort Erie and Buffalo.”

Last month, officials said Canada would pay to build a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. finances its operations. The $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River is to be built two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge by 2020.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, supports the new agreement but called on the Obama administration to finish the long-delayed project to expand the customs plaza and ease congestion at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, estimated at $165 million.

“In the interim, it should employ every means possible to facilitate the flow of commerce and trade with one of our greatest neighbors and allies, Canada, including using this new authority to ease congestion, starting with the Blue Water Bridge,” said Miller, who chairs of the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also welcomed the agreement.

“Thousands of jobs in southeast Michigan depend on our trade and travel partnership with Canada,” Peters said Monday. “Today’s announcement will strengthen that relationship and bring new economic opportunities to both countries.”

How Michigan compares

Two Michigan ports lead the nation when ranked by the total value of goods traded with Canada.

1. Detroit, $133 billion

2. Port Huron, $86.1 billion

3. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y., $85.1 billion

4. Pembina, N.D., $27.9 billion

5. Champlain-Rouses Point, N.Y., $23.2 billion

Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Originally posted by The Detroit News

New $2.1 Billion Detroit-Windsor Bridge Promises Boon to U.S. Trade

Fiscal Times | Eric Pianin

Amid the gloom over the partisan deadlock in Washington over an infrastructure program and the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. and Canadian governments have quietly cut a deal on a new $2.1 billion bridge linking Detroit and Ontario designed to eliminate a massive bottleneck in the flow of goods between the two countries.

With more than $650 billion in goods exchanged each year between Canada and the United States, Canada represents this country’s largest trading partner, overshadowing China, Mexico and Japan. Nearly half of all goods that are transported between the two countries by truck each year – or roughly $131 billion worth – currently pass over the Ambassador Bridge or through an adjacent  tunnel.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is swamped by over 8,000 trucks daily. A combination of heightened border security and persistent traffic jams is creating a drag on potential growth in U.S. exports and imports along the Detroit-Windsor border. Some experts say construction of a new bridge would pave the way for a significant increase in trade in coming years.

“Among all the border crossings between Canada and the United States, Detroit is really the most emblematic of the infrastructure problems that need to be addressed,” Joseph Kane, a senior policy specialist on U.S. metropolitan areas, said in an interview on Monday. “There’s a huge scale of value really going across the border, and it’s not just a local issue where it’s just benefiting local workers and business establishments in Michigan itself.”

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge in 2013, but the project has been dogged for years by financial and legal problems and challenges from community residents.

The new bridge is to be constructed about two miles south of the  Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned suspension bridge that currently is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. The project also will include construction of new highway interchanges in downtown Detroit and Windsor to handle more easily the crush of traffic. Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020, although construction hasn’t started yet.

The deal was finally sealed after the Canadian government agreed recently to pick up the $250 million to $300 million cost of a customs plaza for the New International Trade Crossing on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security says that a “public-private partnership” will use tolls to reimburse Canada for the plaza’s construction. In return, the U.S. will pay for the workers, operations and maintenance of the plaza in Detroit – with a first year cost of about $100 million.

Much of the $131 billion worth of cargo transported by truck between Detroit and Windsor annually is high-value transportation and electronic equipment that is destined for regions well beyond Detroit and Ontario.  By comparison, the next highest volume border crossing, in Buffalo, N.Y., handles about $151 billion of truck traffic a year, or one third of what is trucked across the Ambassador Bridge, according to data prepared by Brookings.

Click here to read the entire article from msn.com.

Latest deal on Detroit-Canada bridge a huge boost for metro trade

Brookings |

Over the past decade, the New International Trade Crossing (NITC)—a proposed bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario—has been in the works to improve connectivity at one of the world’s busiest border crossings and sites of commerce. Supported by an innovative, binational public-private partnership between the United States and Canada, the $2 billion-plus project will not only relieve pressure on the increasingly congested, 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which handles over 8,000 trucks daily, but also reinforce Michigan’s role as a global trading hub.

Uncertainties over funding and vocal opposition have long stalled the NITC’s progress, but the project just cleared a major hurdle toward completion when Canada agreed to pick up a $250 million tab for the bridge’s customs plaza. In addition to the thousands of local workers and industries that stand to benefit from this latest move, metropolitan areas across the United States and Canada will reap economic rewards for years to come.

Protecting the U.S.-Canadian trading relationship is of vital significance to both countries’ economies and facilitated by key infrastructure investments. With over $650 billion in goods exchanged each year, Canada represents the largest trading partner for the U.S., outranking China, Mexico, and Japan. At the same time, those goods flow to an impressive amount of places on both sides of the border, from Seattle and Houston to Vancouver and Montreal, helping explain why Canada has taken a lead role investing in the NITC.

Detroit is easily the most important of these trading depots, especially when it comes to truck movement. Last year, more than 1.6 million trucks passed through the metro area, which represented the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada and the second-busiest in North America next to Laredo (1.9 million trucks). An upcoming release in our Metro Freight series will reveal a similar result, showing how Detroit funnels approximately $131 billion, or nearly half, of all goods that move by truck between the U.S. and Canada. By comparison, the next highest border crossing, Buffalo, transports about one-third this value by truck ($51 billion), followed by several rural regions.

Source: Brookings analysis of EDR data.
Note: “Rest of” designations refer to nonmetropolitan portions of each state. For instance, the “Rest of Washington” includes all rural regions outside metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Spokane.

In turn, a variety of markets across the U.S. rely on Detroit to profit from Canadian trade. For example, only 4.7 percent of the $131 billion carried on these trucks ($6.2 billion) is produced or consumed locally in Detroit. Instead, the vast majority of this value travels to and from large markets like New York ($4.7 billion), Chicago ($4.4 billion), and Los Angeles ($2.5 billion), including anything from electronics to metals to agricultural products.

As policymakers look to target more freight investments in the future, the NITC clearly assumes national importance. The U.S. already faces an enormous backlog of infrastructure projects along the border, and it’s time for a more coordinated, proactive approach—through a national freight investment program— that can further support trade in particular regions.

Originally posted by Brookings