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

Pick DRIC

Marchionne pulls no punches

Published: Monday, June 07, 2010

If anyone has a chance to convince Michigan senators to support the DRIC plan to build a second bridge between Windsor and Detroit, it has to be Sergio Marchionne.

The no-nonsense CEO of Chrysler Group LLC had a captive audience of politicians attending last week’s policy conference on Mackinac Island, and he took the opportunity to address them.

“I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC,” he told them in a speech. “This proposed new crossing would add necessary redundancy and unimpeded access from Ontario’s highways to Michigan’s interstates.”

Then he gave policy-makers some numbers: Chrysler has 2,000 vehicles crossing the border every day, plus 1,300 shipments and hundreds of workers. Add in other companies and at least $100 million in goods cross daily.

“This project needs adequate attention and needs to become a priority in federal and state political agendas,” he continued, well aware senators have been waffling.

But those senators are also well aware of the devastating impact the collapse of Chrysler would have had on the disadvantaged state. They need the company to be able to operate at optimum efficiency, and Marchionne has made it clear that can’t happen without DRIC’s second span.

State leaders should also look at the $1.8-billion that would be pumped into Windsor and Detroit, generating about 30,000 jobs on both sides. Michigan alone would benefit from 10,000 direct new construction jobs.

Given all this, would senators say “no” to the best deal for their state? We hope not.

© The Windsor Star 2010

News from Mackinac: Business supports DRIC

“I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC,” said Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler Group LLC. “This proposed new crossing would add necessary redundancy and unimpeded access from Ontario’s highways to Michigan’s interstates.”

“Smooth crossing is essential to our just-in-time manufacturing enterprise,” Marchionne said. “It is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible…this project needs adequate attention and needs to become a priority in federal and state political agendas, it is the most effective solution, in terms of costs and timing.”

Supporting DRIC and Public-Private Partnership Legislation

Access Engineering
Advanced Geomatics
Alfred Benesch & Company
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan
Arvin Meritor
Associated General Contractors of Michigan
Automation Alley
Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association
Backstrom McCarley Berry & Co., LLC
BASF
Canadian Auto Workers
Canadian Automotive Partnership Council
Canadian Industrial Transportation Association
Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters
Canadian Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association
Canadian Teamsters, Local 879
CCN Matthews News Distribution Experts
CH2M Hill
Chrysler
Conway
Corradino Group of Michigan, Inc.
County Road Association of Michigan
CZAE
David Bing, Mayor of Detroit
Detroit Logistics Company
Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce
Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry
Eddie Francis, Mayor of Windsor
Elaham Shayota LLC
Elsey Construction Products
Evans Group
Ex-Imp Global
Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc.
Ford Motor Company
Gannett Fleming of Michigan, Inc.
Gateway Communities Development Collaborative
Governor James Blanchard
Governor John Engler
Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
Grand Valley Metro Council
HH Engineering, Ltd.
HNTB Michigan, Inc.
International Union of Operating Engi0neers, Local 324
International Union, UAW
Jackson Chamber of Commerce
James Group International
L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive
Laborers International Union of North America, Local 625
Magna
Michigan Association of Counties
Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association
Michigan Manufacturers Association
Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters & Millwrights
Michigan State AFL-CIO
Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation
National Association of Manufacturers
Northwest Consultants, Inc.
NTH Consultants, Inc.
OHL USA, Inc.
OHM Advisors
Ontario Chamber of Commerce
Ontario Road Builders’ Association
Ontario Trucking Association
Opus International Consultants, Inc.
Parsons
Parsons Brinkerhoff
Road Commission for Oakland County
SEMCOG
Somat Engineering, Inc.
Southern Wayne Regional Chamber
Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition
Steve Tobocman, former State Representative
Surveying Solutions, Inc.
TesTech, Inc.
The Mannik & Smith Group, Inc.
The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council
Transystems
TY Lin International
URS Corporation
URS Corporation Great Lakes
Walbridge
Wayne County Commission

Chrysler boss Marchionne: We’re in it together

BY TOM WALSH
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

MACKINAC ISLAND — Drawing comparisons between his company and its home state, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told Michigan business and political leaders Thursday that the resurgent automaker has added 1,600 workers this year to accelerate its product development.

“In many ways,” he said, “the fates of Chrysler Group and the state of Michigan follow parallel paths. Skeptics had foreseen dire futures for both of us. We have all heard predictions that Chrysler would be relegated to the dustbin of history, and that Michigan’s glory days are in the rearview mirror.”

In an after-dinner speech at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference at the Grand Hotel, Marchionne also received strong applause for his resounding endorsement of plans to build a second bridge over the Detroit River.

“I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC,” he said. “Each day, Chrysler moves more than 1,300 shipments, some 2,000 cars and trucks, and makes 1,600 entries per day at the Detroit-Windsor border. Hundreds of our employees cross the border to work in the U.S. or Canada.”

And in an interview, the blunt-speaking Italian-Canadian CEO of both Chrysler and its partner Fiat said Chrysler is “ahead of schedule” in posting profits and stopping a severe cash drain less than a year after exiting a government-imposed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Marchionne said “the thing we didn’t see coming” was the battle with dealers that the company tried to eliminate as part of its drastic overhaul.

“We’re winning most of the (arbitration) cases,” he said, “but it’s taking a lot of time and energy. It’s a hassle.”

Marchionne traveled to the island with Chrysler Chairman Robert Kidder and former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Chrysler board member appointed by the UAW-run retiree health care trust that is Chrysler’s largest shareholder.

Ignoring the Grand dining room’s jacket-and-tie rule for men, Marchionne was clad in his signature black sweater as he told the crowd that Chrysler now has nearly 20,000 employees in Michigan, with annual wages of $1.8 billion. In addition to the 1,600 product development hires, Chrysler will start a second shift of 1,080 workers at its Detroit assembly plant to build the new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Marchionne said the proposed second bridge between Detroit and Windsor — the project known as DRIC for Detroit River International Crossing — is essential to further growth for Chrysler.

“The need for an additional crossing to handle current and future trade flows is widely acknowledged, and it is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible,” he said.

Bankruptcy and a government rescue of Chrysler and GM, Marchionne said, “facilitated a courageous shift that brought together government, trade unions, business, workers and financial institutions as partners with the goal of saving more than just the automotive industry.”

But Chrysler and other automakers now face a host of new challenges, he said, singling out the rise of China as an automotive power.

“We cannot respond to this growth with a series of complaints that in the end all add up to one: ‘Why can’t the Chinese be like us?’ ” Marchionne said. “We cannot afford to be unprepared … reassuring ourselves of our invincibility.”

That message is spot-on. Detroit paid plenty for years of wallowing in denial and overconfidence. Now that Chrysler and GM appear to be stabilizing, it’s imperative that they not relax. That’s certainly not likely at Chrysler, not on Marchionne’s watch.

Contact TOM WALSH: 313-223-4430

or twalsh@freepress.com

Fiat’s Marchionne throws support to DRIC plan

Fiat-Chrysler chief calls proposed bridge project ‘imperative’

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Chrysler Group LLC and its Italian partner Fiat SpA, took on a new role Thursday as outspoken Michiganian in a pointedly political speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island.

Marchionne, who jets between Auburn Hills and Turin, Italy, every week with little time to embrace his new Michigan home, expressed concern for the state while calling on government to ensure smooth cross-border trade between Detroit and Windsor.

“My purpose here this evening is to talk to you of the prospects we at Chrysler see for the global auto industry, how our alliance with Fiat can contribute to reshaping it, and how we can work in partnership with the state of Michigan for mutual advantage,” Marchionne said.

A prime example: the proposed Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), which would add a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The DRIC was approved last week by the Michigan House of Representatives but could face a rough passage through the Senate.

“I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC,” Marchionne said. “This proposed new crossing would add necessary redundancy and unimpeded access from Ontario’s highways to Michigan’s interstates.”

On the line for Chrysler: 1,300 shipments and 2,000 vehicles daily, plus hundreds of employees who cross the border for work.

“Smooth crossing is essential to our just-in-time manufacturing enterprise,” said Marchionne, who holds dual Canadian and Italian citizenship, and attended the University of Windsor.

“Engines made in Trenton or stampings from Warren or Sterling Heights cross the border daily for use at assembly plants in Ontario.”

Industrywide, $100 million in goods crosses the border at Detroit daily, he said. Adding a second bridge is a $1.8 billion investment in the Detroit-Windsor area that would create 10,000 construction jobs in Michigan and 30,000 indirect jobs in the state and Windsor.

“It is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible,” he said, commending state representatives who supported the DRIC, and urging the Michigan Senate to do the same.

Marchionne also called for government help to establish the infrastructure to make fuel more available for vehicles powered by compressed natural gas.

Fiat has a line of vehicles that run on natural gas and Chrysler is exploring applications for the technology, he said. One solution might be home units so customers could refill their cars from their garage.

“This project needs adequate attention and needs to become a priority in federal and state political agendas,” Marchionne said. “It is the most effective solution, in terms of costs and timing, to lessen this country’s reliance on oil, especially foreign oil, while delivering a significant reduction in emissions.”

Such moves are in the interests of all the stakeholders, he said, noting the parallel paths of Chrysler and Michigan.

“Skeptics had foreseen dire futures for both of us,” he said. “We have all heard predictions that Chrysler would be relegated to the dustbin of history, and that Michigan’s glory days are in the rear-view mirror.”

Marchionne disputes such views, and repeated past comments that it can take a crisis to stir change. The trick is to ensure that when prosperity returns, complacency does not undo all the efforts.

Chrysler CEO Backs the DRIC

Delays at Ambassador Bridge is costing Chrylser $300 per car according to testimony by a Chrylser executive at the House Transportation Committee hearing

Comments by:

Sergio Marchionne
Chief Executive Officer
Chrysler Group LLC

March 15, 2010

Every day, the combined U.S. and Canadian auto industry sends thousands of cross-border truck shipments and well over $100 million of goods across the Detroit-Windsor border. These trucks carry vehicles and production parts that are destined for automotive assembly plants in Ontario, Michigan, as well as other U.S. states.

The integration of our industry makes the movement of trade between Canada and U.S. important and dependent on each other. The North American automobile industry and the hundreds of thousands of employees in vehicle assembly and parts production depend on the smooth flow of just-in-time deliveries across this critical border gateway.

In light of the importance of efficient and effective infrastructure to the success of the automotive industry, Chrysler strongly supports the partnership between the governments of Michigan and Ontario, as well as Canada and the United States, as they work toward securing a new gateway at Detroit/Windsor.

The automotive industry continues to support the proposed Detroit River International Crossing, or DRIC. This proposed new crossing would add redundancy and unimpeded access from Ontario’s highways to Michigan’s interstates.

DRIC will bring $1.8 billion in investment to the Detroit – Windsor area and would create 10,000 construction jobs in Michigan and generate another 30,000 indirect jobs in Michigan and Windsor.

In the coming months, the Michigan Legislature will consider a bill to authorize construction of the new DRIC bridge. It is my sincere hope that the Legislature will pass the bill by the June 1st deadline.

The need for an additional crossing to handle current and future trade flows is widely acknowledged and it is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible. It’s important to our collective future!