Michigan Leaders Praise Granting of Presidential Permit

New International Trade Crossing Moves Forward

Washington, DC. – The U.S. Department of State issued a Presidential Permit for the construction of the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) today. The project could break ground some time in 2014 and is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs and secure international commerce with Canada, Michigan’s largest trading partner, for decades to come.

“This is great news for Michigan,” said L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive. “We need this critical piece of infrastructure to support trade with Canada, which provides more than 230,000 jobs in Michigan, including 41,000 jobs in Oakland County.”

The new Detroit-Windsor bridge is supported by more than 175 business, labor, and community leaders and organizations representing more than 10,000 businesses and hundreds of thousands of Michigan employees.

“This is great news for Michigan and North America. To ensure our companies can compete, they need the infrastructure to connect them to the marketplace,” said Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “The New International Trade Crossing is a key platform for improving the flow of trade, and it will play a vital role in creating and supporting economic growth, including right here in West Michigan.”

The Detroit-Windsor border is crucial to Michigan’s economic success. In 2011, trade between Michigan and Canada totaled $70.2 billion – more than 11 percent of the total U.S./Canada trade. Additionally, more than 8,000 trucks per day cross the Detroit-Windsor border. According to the Public Border Operators Association (PBOA), truck traffic is projected to increase 128 percent over the next 30 years.

“The success and growth of Michigan’s auto industry is directly tied to exporting and importing products with Canada,” said Tim Daman, President and CEO, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The Detroit-Windsor corridor is arguably the most important international crossing for trade in the world and is in desperate need of an upgrade. The new crossing will provide secure world-class trade and transportation infrastructure, providing the long needed direct freeway-to-freeway connection to the busiest corridor between the U.S. and Canada.”

The project has received all of the necessary environmental clearances in the U.S. and Canada. The project now awaits the final approval for the U.S. Coast Guard permit as well as land acquisition.

“The New International Trade Crossing expands our markets with our largest trading partner and will position Michigan as a global trade hub for decades to come,” said Paul Tait, Executive Director, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). ”This bridge will make freight movement more efficient and give our border critical backup to expand our region’s standing in the market.”


Snyder to push public-owned bridge at Mackinac Policy Conference

Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing— Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to begin a major push for a new publicly owned bridge to Canada at the Mackinac Policy Conference that kicks off Wednesday.

Transportation issues and Michigan’s recovering economy are expected to be major topics at the three-day conference on Mackinac Island, hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Besides the bridge, Snyder is also expected to push an initiative to urge state businesses to buy from one another during a conference billed as having a statewide focus that will feature heightened participation from western Michigan.

A bill to authorize the new bridge — formerly known as the Detroit River International Crossing but now dubbed the New International Trade Crossing — could be introduced in the state Senate this week, possibly today.

Snyder — who joins about 1,500 attendees dominated by business people after delivering a corporate tax cut of nearly $1.8 billion in a budget completed four months early — said last week he wants the conference to be a springboard for action on pressing items such as the bridge.

“He’s on a real high,” said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who will attend. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he rides in … with people dropping rose petals in front of him.”

However, “if he can get that bridge done in this legislative session, then I’d like to see him take on global warming next.”

Bridge opponents — including two members of the Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge — also will attend the conference. Snyder has ducked a request from Dan Stamper, the president of Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s bridge company, to debate the bridge issue during the conference.

Snyder backs a bridge that would be privately built but publicly owned. He struck a deal with the federal government under which $550 million fronted by Canada to cover Michigan’s share of the project could be used to leverage more than $2 billion in federal road funds. Moroun has a competing proposal to spend private funds to twin the Ambassador.

Democratic lawmakers have generally supported the public project, while Republicans have generally opposed it. The business community is generally in favor, and the Detroit Regional Chamber strongly supports the bridge, but the largest and most powerful lobby, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, has not taken a position.

“I think the context of the conference, with all of the folks who make things in Michigan and sell them all over the world, is going to be a good one to talk about the merits of solving our transportation debacle between the two borders,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. “It will definitely be a hot topic of conversation.”

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, is interested in introducing the bridge bill, but no timetable is set, spokeswoman Amber McCann said.

Beginning at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and ending at 2 p.m. Friday, all but three sessions will be televised live through Detroit Public Television and live-streamed on the Internet. A link to the live-streaming will be found at http://www.detnews.com/mackinac.

Snyder was heavily involved in developing the agenda, and the governor’s campaign theme about “reinventing Michigan” is also a conference theme, said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

In addition to participating in an opening news conference and giving a keynote address Friday, Snyder is expected to participate with Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Michael Finney in a Thursday news conference about the state’s “economic gardening” efforts, including a program to encourage Michigan businesses to buy from other Michigan businesses.

Conference Chairman Charles G. “Chip” McClure said this year’s event will stress statewide issues rather than ones mainly of concern to southeastern Michigan. CEOs from western Michigan were part of a committee that helped plan the conference, he said.

“We’re kind of at a pivotal point with the state, and we have a new administration making significant inroads” on increasing Michigan’s competitiveness, McClure said.

Though some think of the bridge as a regional issue because of the thousands of construction jobs it is expected to create in the Detroit area, the New International Trade Crossing is consistent with the statewide focus because “it’s part of what makes the state competitive,” McClure said.

No Republican presidential candidates are expected to attend the conference. Pundits will be watching for any signs of a prominent GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who is up for re-election in 2012, but there were no signs Friday of any announcements of that nature.

The bridge won’t be the only transportation item discussed. A proposed light-rail project for Woodward Avenue and a high-speed rail project to Chicago that recently won federal funding are on the agenda, Patterson said.

It is time to build the DRIC

The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), the new proposed bridge between Detroit and Windsor, continues to be stalled in politics. It’s time to end the talk and start construction.

In a state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, and in the city of Detroit, which has the highest unemployment rate in the state, we can’t afford to wait. The DRIC is probably the largest job creator we are going to see for many years.

The Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millrights supports the DRIC as a generator of economic growth. The project will bring an estimated 10,000 jobs to the region, putting citizens back to work.

In addition to short-term employment as the bridge is constructed through 2016, the DRIC will provide long-term growth to the region, widening an established trade route and increasing our relevance as an international trading corridor.

Every day the DRIC remains bogged down in the State Legislature, Michigan workers continue to lose their homes.

Outside of the Capitol, groups who normally disagree are united in support of the bridge. Former governors John Engler and Jim Blanchard, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the AFL-CIO all have endorsed the project.

Why can’t our elected officials agree?

Of course there are legitimate questions to be answered as the process moves forward, but it’s my hope that policy will trump politics for once in Lansing. Forget that there is an election around the corner. It’s time to find solutions.

It is time to work together to move forward on a project that will benefit Michigan families now as well as in decades to come. It is time to build the DRIC.

Mike Jackson is executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights.

DRIC permeates Mackinac; Big 4, candidates state cases

A proposed new Detroit River bridge was the subject of discussion, debate and lobbying during last week’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference.

With the state Senate preparing for a second week of committee debate on legislation that would green-light Michigan’s end of the joint U.S.-Canadian project, gubernatorial candidates staked out their position on the proposed bridge.

Chrysler Group L.L.C. CEO Sergio Marchionne also reiterated his company’s support for the publicly owned span during the Detroit Regional Chamber‘s event that attracts business and civic leaders and policymakers to the island.

The Michigan Department of Transportation on Friday released revenue estimates it previously said it planned to keep secret to protect the competitive bid process on the $5.3 billion Detroit River International Crossing that would link Ontario’s Highway 401 and I-75 in Detroit.

The agency estimates a new bridge would collect $60 million in toll revenue its first year based on a predicted daily average of 18,700 cars and trucks — a traffic estimate criticized as overly optimistic by some infrastructure analysts and by the privately owned Detroit International Bridge Co. that runs the Ambassador Bridge.

That bridge is believed to generate $60 million annually right now.

MDOT also promised that the bridge cost would be borne by the private sector and Canada, and Michigan taxpayers wouldn’t be exposed to construction costs or any risk if the project defaulted because traffic estimates failed to match reality.

Tolls are supposed to pay for the bridge’s financing debt and maintenance costs. It would be owned by both nations but operated by the private sector under the current plan.

The private bridge company, owned by Grosse Pointe trucking industrialist Manuel Moroun, says that building DRIC about two miles from the Ambassador Bridge is unneeded and unfair government competition. He has ongoing litigation opposing DRIC and also related to his own stalled effort to twin his bridge, something opposed by Canada.

The bridge company on Friday said its May traffic was up 18 percent compared to a year ago, but noted that May 2009 was its worst crossing number since 1984.

DRIC’s backers have predicted the new span would eventually siphon about 34 percent of all the border traffic between Detroit and Port Huron. MDOT officials have said they believe the bridge company earns enough money that it can afford to lose some to a state-controlled crossing.

The opposition to DRIC or its enabling legislation is shared, to varying degrees and for varying reasons, by most of candidates for governor.

Republican Attorney General Mike Cox said at the conference that he worries the bridge could fail financially and would hurt the state’s bond rating.

“I don’t rule out a public bridge, but we don’t know enough about it right now,” said Cox, who said he has accepted campaign contributions from the Ambassador Bridge owners.

State Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, who also has taken Ambassador Bridge contributions, said he believes another bridge is less of a need than other problems in Michigan.

U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, said he favors a public-private partnership to build a second bridge, using private money, but said it’s just a piece of a transportation hub that Southeast Michigan needs to form through investments in additional areas. He said he’s taken Ambassador Bridge owner financial contributions.

Republican Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder said Michigan “should be a transportation hub,” but he has questions that need to be answered about the public-private partnership model. He said he hasn’t taken money from any special interests.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat, said he opposes the DRIC-related legislation as written, but thinks there is a need for a second span. He and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said they have received money from the Ambassador Bridge owners, and Bouchard said that “if we’ve got a private sector investor that’s willing to build the bridge, let’s take our money, time and investment elsewhere.

Only House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, who supported the House-passed legislation on May 26, favors DRIC and said the risk will be on the private sector. He believes he may have taken donations from the Ambassador Bridge in the past.

Chrysler’s Marchionne said the new span is critical to Chrysler’s just-in-time supply chain that includes 1,300 shipments and 2,000 cars and trucks crossing the Detroit-Windsor border every day.

“The need … is widely acknowledged. I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the DRIC” because it adds “necessary redundancy” to the current Ambassador Bridge as well as better access linking Canadian and Michigan highways.

DRIC proponents say the bridge is needed to create construction jobs and create or protect other jobs, to bolster trade and provide border capacity redundancy in case the other crossings went out of service.

The issue also was raised in the annual “Big 4” discussion among Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano and Macomb Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Gieleghem. All expressed support for DRIC.

Patterson said he favors the DRIC because Windsor is unlikely to accept a second Ambassador Bridge span in its downtown area, “and if it’s not going to do it downtown, it’s either DRIC or (another bridge) in Buffalo. … I hope we can settle it soon. I love Matty, but he’s got a monopoly. Who wouldn’t want to protect a multibillion dollar monopoly? Why would you want a competitor?”

Added Ficano: “The Moroun family has legitimate concerns, but you can’t go against the Canadian government.”

“We all favor DRIC,” Bing said. “It will create 6,000 permanent jobs and ancillary jobs. He (Moroun) doesn’t want that bridge, but we’ve got to think beyond the individual entrepreneur and do what’s best.”

Said Gieleghem: “People are saying Michigan can’t afford it, but it needs to be looked at as an investment and about turning this region into a transportation and logistics hub.”

Crain’s reporters Amy Lane and Tom Henderson contributed to this story.

Bill Shea: (313) 446-1626, bshea@crain.com

News From Mackinac

Big 4 at Mackinac support proposed new bridge

Mark Hornbeck / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — The Big Four leaders of Metro Detroit all said today they support the proposed Detroit River International Crossing, saying there’s no viable alternative to a public-private partnership building a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Gieleghem said the DRIC is needed to increase cross-border commerce and security.

Patterson said he’s a friend of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and didn’t fault him for trying to protect his monopoly. But he said Canadian officials have said they won’t accept the twin span he wants to build next to the Ambassador that would put traffic from another bridge in downtown Windsor.

So the only game in town is the DRIC, or it’s Buffalo,” he said at the Big Four panel discussion at the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference. The DRIC has been a primary focus of public and private discussions on the island the past three days.

Added Bing: “From Matty’s standpoint he doesn’t want that competition. But we have to look beyond that to do what’s best for this area as soon as we possibly can.”

Reacting to a proposal espoused earlier this week by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich to make Detroit a citywide tax-free zone, Bing and Patterson said “the devil is in the details” but they didn’t rule it out.

Bing said he wants to make sure any benefits would go not only to new businesses lured to the city but also to those in Detroit. He noted it would take state and federal legislation. But he added: “I am open-minded and in favor of doing that.”

“It has a lot of sex appeal… but if Dave doesn’t have any revenue coming in how’s he funding his police department?” Patterson asked. “Will he ask his neighbors to help?”

In other developments, Ficano and Patterson announced an agreement has been reached on the Aerotroplis economic development project that Patterson will sign early next week. Patterson said he has read the details of the legislation and his concerns about renaissance zones and other provisions have been addressed.

“It’s all in there, we were going to sign it here but we couldn’t get it organized so we’ll sign it back home,” Patterson said

The Aerotropolis plan would develop property between Metro Airport and Willow Run Airport, giving companies access to airports, rail and highway. The idea is to develop an area for industries that would be efficient for moving goods.

Bing said he’s eager to take the reins of Detroit Public Schools and he wants to do it as quickly as possible so “I will be able to step up and take a leadership role as it relates to the schools.” He added emergency financial manager Robert Bobb’s contract runs out next March so it’s important to launch a national search for his replacement soon.

The leaders said they met today and plan to huddle again soon on a regional transit authority, a deal that has proved elusive for decades.

“I think we’re getting close,” Bing said.

Three of the leaders said they oppose making Michigan a right-to-work state, saying the issue would be too divisive at a time the state needs to focus on other priorities. Patterson said he’d be willing to try it in tax-free zones, adding the state’s unemployed citizens “would love to have the right to work.”

On the gubernatorial front, Gieleghem said he’s backing Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero for governor and Patterson said he’s supporting Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard. Bing and Ficano said they haven’t picked a candidate yet.

mhornbeck@detnews.com (313) 222-2470

Essay: Build the Bridge – 5.28.10

The Michigan House narrowly passed a bill to approve a new bridge over the Detroit River. As Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry says, it’s now up to the Senate.

Hear Audio Story Here

What do L. Brooks Patterson, Jennifer Granholm, the Ford Motor Company and the government of Canada have in common?

They are all in favor of the proposed new Detroit River International Crossing Bridge, usually known as DRIC for short. It would be built about two miles south of the old Ambassador Bridge. Private investment would be welcome, but DRIC would be jointly owned and run by the United States and Canada.

The pro-business, Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce is solidly in favor of the bridge. So is State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a liberal who represents the area that includes both bridge sites.

The Michigan Legislature now needs to decide whether to proceed with the project, and it should be a no-brainer. The government of Canada is so convinced a new bridge is necessary, that it has offered to cover Michigan’s share of the costs, money to be paid back later out of tolls.

Brooks Patterson estimates a new bridge could mean six thousand jobs for his Oakland County. The governor says as many as ten thousand could be created overall.

These would be good paying jobs that might last only a few years, but which are desperately needed in Michigan now.

All that has to happen at this stage is to approve a bill to allow the state to enter into public-private partnership agreements on transportation projects like the bridge.

But the House only narrowly passed the bill Wednesday without a single Republican vote, and now the bridge’s fate is up to the GOP-controlled Senate. And prospects are doubtful, because one man is firmly opposed — Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the eighty-three-year-old billionaire owner of the eighty-one year old Ambassador Bridge.

Right now, he has a monopoly. Detroit-Windsor is the nation’s biggest and most important trade crossing. Billions of dollars in goods rumble across the Ambassador Bridge every year.

But it is wearing out. There is no backup if something happens to the Ambassador, and while the volume of trucks declined significantly during the recession, it is now moving back up again.

Even Moroun knows a new bridge is going to be needed, but he doesn’t want to lose his monopoly. He wants to build a second bridge of his own next to the current one, instead. Trouble is, few others think that is a good idea, for reasons involving security, pollution, and the freeway system in Canada.

Even the thoroughly free-enterprise Detroit News says it was time to recognize reality and start building the DRIC bridge.

The Canadian government has indicated it will never allow the Ambassador Bridge to be twinned, But Moroun isn’t giving up the fight. He figures Job One is stopping the competition.

Accordingly, he continues to oppose DRIC. He donates lavishly to political campaigns, and whether for this or other reasons, he has strong supporters in the legislature still trying to stop the new bridge.

This seems suspicious, given that the Republican-controlled Ohio senate just voted unanimously in favor of the DRIC bridge. Michigan needs the jobs it would create, and needs to avoid the very real threat of having trade diverted to the crossing at Buffalo, New York. So, now our future is up to the Senate. In this case, if we don’t build DRIC, a whole lot of jobs won’t come.

And our lawmakers need to do the right thing.