Trump could light a fire to move the Gordie Howe Bridge project forward

A bridge not far enough? Repairing roads and bridges comes with pros and cons

By Kathy Hoekstra – Watchdog.org – – Monday, January 9, 2017

A few months ago, a Detroit Free Press headline asked, “Will the Gordie Howe bridgeever get built?”

It’s a fair question for the $2 billion, publicly funded project launched more than a decade ago to relieve growing congestion on the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Planners say construction could begin as soon as mid-2018.

If that’s not soon enough, how about this year? Or this spring?

A transition team adviser for President-electDonald Trump tells Watchdog.org that all it would take is “just a phone call from Trump.”

Norman F. Anderson is president and CEO of CG/LA Infrastructure and an adviser to the Trump “infrastructure task force.” That group is charged with prioritizing and coordinating the president-elect’s ambitious $1 trillion infrastructure program — that is, $137 billion in tax incentives used to lure the remainder from private investment.

Mr. Anderson said the task force already has identified 68 projects across the country that could begin this year — although he did avoid the term “shovel-ready” — for a total investment of $262 billion and the potential for 700,000 jobs.

The bridge would bear the name of the Red Wings immortal near the top of the list. Other examples provided to Watchdog.org are the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project, Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail, the Southwest Pass dredging project south of New Orleans, the Yakima River basin water pumping station and Veterans Affairs hospital construction.

Whom would Mr. Trump call to push the Gordie Howe International Bridge to the starting line?

Many who have followed the bridge saga would likely agree on billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun. He and his family own the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which charges $5 for cars in the U.S. to cross. He has raised some of the biggest roadblocks to a publicly funded bridge that would compete with his family’s $60-million-per-year enterprise.

The latest gambit is a lawsuit claiming Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, is doing an illegal end run around the Legislature to get the bridge built.

Mr. Anderson demurred on the phone call speculation, saying the 2017 projects compiled by the task force all have the same unmistakable impediment to progress.

“All are projects that would be ready to go, simply lack the final approval, permit or push,” he said. “The point is that there are projects, many of them across all sectors, tied up in the soon-to-be former administration’s lack of leadership, willingness to take risks, and indecisiveness. And that’s not a political point. It’s just a fact.”

Mr. Anderson also chided the Obama administration for not having the right infrastructure professionals at the table, which led to misplaced spending.

“The failure of the Obama people to identify good projects and invest in those projects doesn’t logically mean there aren’t good projects; it just means that they sucked at it — radically underestimating the complexity, setting mediocre people to the task of execution and not following through,” Mr. Anderson said.

Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the free-market-oriented Mercatus Center, is equally critical of President Obama’s infrastructure efforts, especially his signature American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the $800 billion stimulus package that kicked off his administration.

A 2011 Mercatus paper that Ms. de Rugy co-wrote, “Would More Infrastructure Spending Stimulate the Economy?” challenged the notion that a quick infusion of government money for infrastructure projects instantly creates shovel-ready jobs and jump-starts economic growth.

“President Obama had roughly $47 billion in direct infrastructure spending, and the idea was to invest it into ‘shovel-ready’ projects. And it would take the place of the private sector during the recession,” she explained to Watchdog.org. “And once the economy picked up, the private sector would then come back.”

The federal government’s final report in 2014 shows that $30 billion of that money went to transportation infrastructure, while the bulk of the rest went toward shoring up state and local governments and sudden paperwork-laden grant programs.

“President Obama himself had to acknowledge that there are just not that many ‘shovel-ready’ projects,” Ms. de Rugy said.

Ms. de Rugy said that even though Mr. Trumpaims to encourage more private investment through tax incentives, the plan likely will go down the same unsuccessful path. It’s not the mix of government and private spending, she said. It’s which projects are chosen and why, often a choice based on politics and popularity rather than merit.

A project as high-profile as the Gordie Howe Bridge is a no-brainer for investors, who can expect ribbon-cuttings, outsized press coverage and perhaps a cut of revenue. After all, the Ambassador Bridge pulls in $60 million per year.

But how eager are investors to fix crumbling highways in Detroit that get motorists to the bridge?

“One of the things we may actually need is maintenance. But I don’t think that’s what [Mr. Trump is] going to have in mind — to just do maintenance. It’s not that lucrative for the private sector,” she said. “So I think they’re going to find that the administration’s grand idea is going to be a whole lot of misallocation of capital or that there’s no amount of tax credit that can actually attract the private sector to do some of the stuff that would be useful to do.”

Another pitfall the incoming administration needs to avoid, Ms. de Rugy said, is considering government infrastructure spending a “jobs” program. It is a popular notion, especially among Democrats looking to recapture the votes of American workers who have defected to Mr. Trump.

“If we need to build infrastructure, try to get the highest quality for the lowest price and try to ignore the ‘economic impact’ or the ‘jobs impact,’” she said. “That’s not your reason to do it. It’s because you need it.”

Mr. Anderson blames infrastructure sluggishness on a market shackled by regulations, the “incompetent, slow and sleazy execution of studies” that cause endless delays, and leadership unwilling to challenge the regulatory status quo or revitalize the public sector.

Ms. de Rugy and Mr. Anderson agree, however, that time is of the essence.

“The infrastructure is a very, very bad tool to try to stimulate the economy in the short term,” Ms. de Rugy said. “It has to happen fast. And that’s actually really just hard to put in place.”

The ever-optimistic Trump team thinks not.

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.

Thank goodness for the Canadians

Canada has agreed to cover all construction costs of the U.S. customs plaza, and with the deal removed the last political hurdle Wednesday for the planned $2.1-billion Detroit River bridge.

The Canadian government has agreed to pay the $250 million cost for the inspection plaza in Detroit under a deal agreed to by both countries.

It had been hoped the Obama administration and Washington would pay for construction of its own customs plaza, but that will not happen under the newly signed agreement.

Canada along with a private sector partner soon to be selected by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority — which is overseeing the project’s completion — will now be paying the Detroit River International Crossing project’s full construction costs.

The public-private partnership is expected to recoup construction costs in the years ahead through tolls and other potential revenue generators such as duty-free goods and gas.

“I am pleased to confirm that following significant discussions with the United States and Michigan, Canada has now signed an arrangement to ensure the new publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit can proceed without further delay,” said Lisa Raitt, Canada’s transport minister on Wednesday.

The U.S. inspection plaza will be procured as part of the public-private partnership assigned to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the DRIC bridge project, she said.

Taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the costs, Raitt said.Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to cover all U.S. customs staffing costs for the new bridge.

“This arrangement is good for Canada and for Canadians,” Raitt said. “It also allows Canada and Michigan to move the project forward immediately to its next steps which include further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side of the border.”

Canada’s top political leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have listed the DRIC bridge project as the nation’s No. 1 infrastructure priority and promised it will open to traffic by 2020.

The new international bridge will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach and Delray.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman in an email statement Wednesday indicated there is a commitment from Washington to spend about $100 million in the first year of the customs plaza operations for equipment, staffing and setup costs in Detroit, plus up to $50 million for staff in each of the following years.

“This arrangement results from several months of productive discussions among the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. General Services Administration, State of Michigan, Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and Transport Canada,” said Marsha Catron.

She said although the U.S. government is not paying any construction costs, it is very supportive of the DRIC bridge project. Catron cited numerous U.S. federal approvals to date including issuance of a President’s permit from the Obama administration.

“The United States will continue to support (DRIC) as it is built and following its completion,” Catron said.

“The United States and Canada are vital economic partners and steadfast friends. Canada is the largest trading partner of both the United States and Michigan. Many U.S. and Michigan jobs depend on the vitality of U.S.-Canada trade.”

The Windsor-Detroit corridor is the largest commercial crossing in North America.

In 2014, annual Canada-U.S. trade in goods was approximately $658 billion with over one-quarter of that trade travelling through the Windsor-Detroit corridor.

“The arrangement announced today ensures we can continue to build momentum on this much-needed trade and transportation link,” Catron said.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — a driving force to get the DRIC bridge approved and constructed — applauded the agreement.

“I’m appreciative of the work of our partners in Congress and the Canadian government to ensure the (bridge) — important to both of our countries — continues to move forward,” Snyder said.

Finding a resolution on the U.S. customs plaza had been one of the last unresolved hurdles slowing construction of the DRIC bridge, said Sen. Gary Peters (D—Detroit) another leading advocate of the project.

“As a longtime advocate for the (bridge), I am pleased the United States and Canada have reached an agreement on construction of a new customs plaza removing a significant obstacle that has delayed this critical infrastructure project from moving forward,” he said.

Peters in his role as a member of the Senate’s Homeland Security committee will work with the Obama administration to “ensure the U.S. fulfills our commitment to fully staff and operate this border crossing,” he said.

The project’s next steps include ramping up property acquisition in Detroit to make room for the new bridge plaza and a feeder road in Delray that will link to I-75 freeway.

Nearly all required property on the Canadian side is already in the hands of the federal government, with land clearing in Brighton Beach just recently completed.

The WDBA is in the midst of hiring blitz to staff its support office in Windsor with about three dozen employees whose first task will be to assemble a request for proposal to find a contractor and project partner to build the bridge.

A new border highway in Windsor to link with the bridge — the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway — is expected to be fully open to traffic by the end of this year.

“The new DRIC bridge is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border,” Raitt said. “It will also bring new jobs, opportunities and continued prosperity to communities in both countries.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Canada to pay for bridge customs plaza, U.S. to operate

Gary Heinlein, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Canada will pay for the construction of a U.S. customs plaza on a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor while the U.S. government finances its operations, under a deal announced Wednesday.

A Canadian public-private partnership overseeing the bridge project will pay for building the customs plazas on both sides of the border and that the United States would staff, operate and maintain the Detroit customs plaza.

“This arrangement is good for Canada and for Canadians. It ensures that all the elements of the project will ultimately be delivered through a public-private partnership,” said Transport Minister Lisa Raitt at the announcement in Ottawa, Ontario. “It also allows Canada and Michigan to move the project forward immediately to its next steps which include further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side of the border.”

Raitt said the proposed span “is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border.” It’s one of Canada’s top infrastructure projects, she added.

The agreement appears to remove the largest lingering hurdle for the $2.1-billion New International Trade Crossing span over the Detroit River. The publicly financed bridge is scheduled to be built two miles south of the privately owned and operated Ambassador Bridge.

The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the building of the Detroit customs plaza through toll revenue. The Obama administration has made a commitment to staff and to equip the plaza at an estimated cost of $100 million the first year and $50 million annually afterward.

The Obama administration previously said it was difficult to commit an estimated $250 million in the federal budget for building the Detroit plaza because of a congressional prohibition against earmarked money for certain projects.

The Detroit News first reported this month that an agreement was close after several months of talks. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told The Detroit News this month that a deal between the two countries on funding the customs plaza was close.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in an interview Wednesday that Congress will need to approve the funding for the new customs plaza, but won’t have to act until closer to the bridge’s completion, scheduled for 2020. She said she didn’t think it would be a problem.

“The bridge has to be built first,” Stabenow said. “We all want to get this done as soon as possible.”

Canada wanted assurances that the United States would staff the customs plaza if it built the facility.

The key was getting a commitment from the Obama administration to fund the operations and equip the plaza. Stabenow praised the Canadian government for “working creatively with us to solve this last roadblock.”

“The final stage (of the talks) was just to make sure that everybody was clear that the United States would, of course, pay for the staffing and operations,” she said.

She praised the bridge as key to national security and Michigan’s economic future.

“This is really is the final critical step to be able to get this done,” Stabenow said.

She said the precise cost of the estimated $250 million to $300 million customs plaza could change before the final design is completed.

Officials from both countries explored other options but with the Obama administration refusing to propose funding and the Republican-led House refusing to add funds for years, there was little choice, supporters said.

While touring a high-tech plant in Lansing on Wednesday U.S. Sen. Gary Peters mildly criticized the Obama administration’s reluctance to fund more of the U.S. share of the project, but welcomed the deal.

“I certainly would have preferred to have the federal government being there. … putting up funds for the customs plaza but I think the important thing right now is that it’s moving forward,” Peters said.

“The key right now is to have … a commitment from the federal government to make sure that plaza’s fully-staffed as is necessary to operate it and continue to expand trade between Canada and the United States,” added the Bloomfield Township Democrat, calling the bridge “an incredibly important infrastructure project” for the state and federal governments.

Gov. Rick Snyder released a statement saying he’s “appreciative of the work of our partners in Congress and in the Canadian government to ensure that the New International Trade Crossing — important to both of our countries — continues to move forward.” He pledged to keep pushing the federal government for funds for the customs plazas there and at the Blue Water bridge in Port Huron.

As designed, the bridge would provide direct access between I-75/I-94 in Michigan and Ontario Highway 401 through a parkway in Windsor. Formal talks between to two countries toward construction of the bridge began a decade ago, and a feasibility study was completed in 2008.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor carries more than one-quarter of all merchandise trade between the two countries, currently by way of the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The two countries estimate goods and services worth an amount approaching $2 billion flow between the U.S. and Canada daily.

The process to build a bridge began in 2001, and a 2004 joint U.S.-Canada study concluded that additional border-crossing capacity was needed for reasons including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns. The State Department approved a permit for the new bridge in 2013.

Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a required permit for a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada — clearing another key hurdle in the high-profile project.

In addition, a federal judge in Washington in 2014 rejected a legal motion to force the Coast Guard to issue a permit to Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who wanted to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

It appears we have a deal

Detroit-Windsor bridge plaza deal expected within days

David Shepardson, The Detroit News

U.S. and Canadian officials are expected, as early as Wednesday, to announce a deal to pay for a U.S. Customs plaza at a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, American and Canadian officials briefed on the plan said Tuesday.

The issue is one of the largest lingering hurdles for the $2.1 billion bridge over the Detroit River. The deal is expected to include a commitment by the Obama administration to staff and equip the plaza, which is estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million.

The Canadian government has offered to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the U.S. share through toll revenue. The public-private partnership overseeing the bridge is expected to announce it will pay for construction of the customs plazas on both sides of the border and that the United States will staff, operate and maintain the customs plaza in Detroit.

It was not clear Tuesday how much the U.S. government will contribute.

The Detroit News first reported this month that an agreement was close after several months of talks. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told The News that a deal between the two countries on funding the customs plaza was close.

The publicly financed bridge is scheduled to be built two miles south of the privately financed and operated Ambassador Bridge.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s spokeswoman, Sara Wurfel, didn’t comment Tuesday on any deal. But she reiterated “how strongly we feel about what a critical infrastructure project this is for the state of Michigan, the city and region, our country and Canada.”

“Discussions are ongoing between Canada and the United States. Transport Canada will not speculate on the outcome of the ongoing discussions,” said Transport Canada spokesman Mark Butler.

In January 2004, a joint U.S.-Canada study concluded that additional border-crossing capacity was needed for reasons including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns. The State Department approved a permit for the new bridge in 2013.

Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge, has been fighting efforts by Michigan and Canada to build the bridge, insisting it will harm the Ambassador’s business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Saturday negotiations have centered on the Canadians fronting money for construction of the plaza and then be repaid by tolls.

“My focus right now has been to ensure that … when the plaza is built that it is fully staffed” with customs and border patrol agents, Peters told The Detroit News.

He expressed frustration that the Obama administration and Congress have resisted appropriating tax dollars toward building the customs plaza to be “a partner in this border crossing.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment to the United States government,” Peters told The News.

Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.

Originally posted by The Detroit News

New Michigan senator poised to lead fight and secure new bridge plaza funding

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Newly elected Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) listed securing $250 million for a U.S. Customs plaza for the new Detroit River bridge as a top priority Tuesday just before being sworn into office.

Peters, a Detroit-area congressman elected as freshman senator in November to replace retiring political stalwart Carl Levin, has long been a primary advocate to get construction started on the $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing project.

In his new role as senator, he called the DRIC bridge critical for both the Michigan and U.S. economies during a conference call with reporters.

“The international trade crossing is perhaps the most important infrastructure project in the whole country,” Peters said. “I will continue to push very aggressively for that.”

Peters has already secured a seat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — a key entity in Washington that decides spending and legislative priorities.

Peters indicated Tuesday he is also working hard to develop a relationship with Homeland Security boss Jeh Johnson — who DRIC supporters have been tirelessly lobbying to put money in the budget for the customs plaza in Detroit.

“(Johnson) just saw me in the hallway, raised his hand, and said ‘I know, I know, the bridge, the bridge,’” Peters said. “He knows where I’m coming from. It’s a priority. It’s something I’m going to continue to push very hard for.”

Peters will also sit on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, among others.

Committees are “quite influential” in terms of decision-making in Washington, said Bill Anderson, a Boston native and director of the University of Windsor’s cross-border institute.

“It varies from committee to committee, but in the American system, most of the give and take takes place in committees,” he said. “Whether you are in the House or Senate, getting a seat on the right committees is something every legislator really strives for.

“(Peters) having a seat on Homeland Security is a great thing. He can be a strong voice on the (bridge) issue. I hope he not only can appeal to the Senate, but also administration (under President Obama) in his own party.”

Peters also spoke at length Tuesday about ongoing concerns of petroleum coke — a byproduct from Canada’s oilsands. He was a political leader over a year ago to help remove massive piles of petcoke from the riverfront in Detroit.

Peters indicated he remains opposed to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada into the U.S. largely because of the petcoke issue.

“Petcoke on the Detroit River was not handled properly — it was blowing into people’s homes and businesses,” he said. “Detroit was just an example of what may happen if the Keystone pipeline goes all the way into New Orleans.

“We need a study on petcoke to determine its effects and best practices on how to handle it. I want to go from no standards to best standards.”

Local MP Brian Masse (NDP–Windsor-West) said having a seat on such influential committees gives Peters a chance to “steer the ship” and set the agenda on “issues he wants to focus on.”

“Having this (Windsor-Detroit) border reinforced in Washington is critical,” Masse said. “It has not been getting the attention it deserves. Having him there can make a difference. Just raising the issues and bringing it there is a critical component to getting any change.

“If someone can do this, it would be him. I’m confident in his abilities. He will bring this region to Washington. He is one of those type of guys. He has a real genuine interest in the area.”

Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Chamber — also active in lobbying to build the DRIC bridge — believes it will definitely make a difference with Peters in place as “someone who has really been engaged on the issue.”

He cited Peters’ being able to secure a seat on the homeland security committee, previously introducing legislation last term as a congressman to get funding for the bridge plaza, plus his growing ties with Johnson as positive signs.

Baruah said he believes it won’t be necessary for Canada to pay for the DRIC customs plaza — as Ottawa hinted it will do if delays continue.

“I really don’t think it will come to that,” Baruah said. “We have been working closely with the (Michigan) governor (Rick Snyder) and we think there are things afoot to ensure Canada does not have to pay for it.

“That would be embarrassing if that were the case. Canadians have already done a lot of heavy lifting on this project. Our position is this is U.S. infrastructure required for the U.S. government, so the U.S. government should pay for it.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

Ambassador Bridge crash snarls traffic

CTV Windsor

Traffic was backed up on the Ambassador Bridge Tuesday afternoon after a reported collision between three transport trucks.

Windsor police say bridge traffic was slow coming into Canada and has stopped heading to the U.S.

A truck driver stuck on the bridge around 1:30 p.m. told CTV News both directions were at a standstill. He says Windsor emergency crews attended the scene. The crash appeared to be right in the middle of the bridge.

Traffic was also lined up along Huron Church road leading to the bridge.

Police say there were no injuries.

All lanes were open again around 3:30 p.m.

Originally posted by CTV Windsor