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

Canadian government may pass legislation to protect New International Trade Crossing project

By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau

LANSING – The Canadian government may pass legislation to protect the New International Trade Crossing project from legal action by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, a Toronto newspaper reported today.

The Globe and Mail, quoting from briefing notes prepared for Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel, said an act of Parliament might be needed to prevent delays from Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the Ambassador and opposes construction of a public bridge across the Detroit River about two miles downstream.

“There is a risk that legal challenges launched by the Ambassador Bridge could delay the … project or, in the worst case, they could prevent the project from proceeding,” the newspaper quoted the briefing notes as saying.

“To avoid further delays to the project, Transport Canada is actively examining, with other departments, the option of an act of Parliament to enable the construction” and “exempt the project from specific laws under which permits or approvals are required to implement the project.

“In essence, such an act could allow the project to proceed while quashing current legal challenges and preventing any future challenges to Canada.”

An Ambassador Bridge spokesman was not immediately available for comment this morning.

Click here to read the full article.

Canadian government, Snyder to discuss ‘next steps’ for public bridge

Detroit News

Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Canadian government is “extremely disappointed” by the Michigan Senate’s defeat of a public bridge bill, but is ready to work on “other options” to get a Detroit-Windsor span approved, an official said Friday.

Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel is expected to meet with Gov. Rick Snyder in Ottawa in two weeks “to discuss next steps” for the New International Trade Crossing, said Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada.

“Canada remains fully committed to building a new publicly owned crossing between Windsor and Detroit and will continue to work with the governments of Michigan and the U.S. to jointly examine other options for delivering the new crossing,” Butler said.

Butler wouldn’t say what those options are, but Snyder said Thursday he remains committed to getting the bridge approved by the Legislature. Snyder’s communications director, Geralyn Lasher, affirmed that pledge Friday after Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville told The Detroit News the bridge issue is dead in the Senate until next year at the earliest.

Richardville sponsored Snyder’s bill to create a bridge authority, but saw it defeated 3-2 Thursday by a GOP-controlled Senate panel.

Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge and opposes the public bridge across the Detroit River, said Thursday he expects the Canadian government will now look more favorably on his company’s proposal to use private money to build a bridge beside the Ambassador.

But Butler gave no indication that’s the case.

The public span “is the only proposal to have received all necessary environmental approvals on both sides of the border,” and a new crossing should be “subject to appropriate public oversight,” he said.

Snyder wants the bridge with direct freeway connections to clear a border bottleneck and assure exporters easy access to the state’s top trade partner. He has said the public bridge would be privately financed, built and run at no cost to state taxpayers because of $550 million fronted by Canada.

Owners of the Ambassador have spent millions on TV ads, lobbying and campaign donations to fight the proposal, saying it’s an unfair government encroachment on their business.

Snyder called for a cooling-off period of up to a few weeks, but Richardville wants a longer hiatus.

“I’m done with it for now,” he said, suggesting Snyder might want to raise the issue “at a future State of the State” address, next year or later.

Lasher said Richardville’s comments underscore the need for a cooling-off period, but Snyder doesn’t see it extending into next year.

“We want to make sure we get moving” so federal road match money from the project can be used on Michigan roads, she said.

Richardville said his caucus has a full agenda of jobs and tax issues through the end of the year, and he has nobody “champing at the bit” to bring forward another bridge bill.

He said Republicans were concerned about whether state tax money would be used and whether the bridge would be self-supporting. Democrats wanted assurances residents of the Delray neighborhood in southwest Detroit that would host the bridge will benefit.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer has accused Richardville of backing out of a deal he struck with her caucus leaders under which Democrats would support the bridge bill in return for community benefits for Delray. Richardville said there was a misunderstanding and he’s partly responsible for miscommunication.

NITC Senate Committee Hearing – Day One: Canadian Government Reaffirms Bridge Funding Guarantee

Any doubts, concerns, and questions regarding the Canadian government’s offer to cover Michigan’s $550 million in costs for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario were dismissed during the first legislative hearing on the project.

Helena Borges, an associate assistant deputy minister with Transport Canada, testified before the Senate Economic Development Committee on June 15 that Canada, not Michigan, would bear the financial risk on the proposed bridge project. Ms. Borges reaffirmed that Canada will cover any shortfalls between bond payments and toll revenues. Canada expects to recover the money from tolls.

“Canada is on the hook and Michigan is not,” said Ms. Borges.

Lt. Governor Brian Calley testified that a freeway-to-freeway connection is essential and that the Ambassador Bridge is the “worst bottleneck in the entire pan-American freeway system.” He said it would be made worse by putting another bridge beside it.

“We need to get this done for employers in the state of Michigan, for job growth in the state of Michigan,” said Lt. Governor Calley. “We can’t reject an opportunity to provide a reasonable and secure crossing option for them. That’s who this is about.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Moroun, son of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, attended the hearing and continued to provide misleading information in order to maintain their monopoly (which handles 99% of all truck traffic) and avoid any competition. He said the toll revenues will be insufficient for the business enterprise that’s created, and he said it doesn’t matter what provisions are in the bill to protect taxpayers.

Click here to watch highlights from the first day of legislative hearings regarding the New International Trade Crossing.

Feds make another bridge pitch in Mich.

By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star

With the son of Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and company executives sitting a couple metres behind them, Canada’s top bureaucrats Wednesday made yet another pitch in Lansing to convince Michigan lawmakers to approve a government-backed Windsor-Detroit bridge.

The Senate Economic Development Committee staged the opening day of testimony on legislation to approve the bridge and welcomed Canadian Consul General Roy Norton and Transport Canada Associate assistant Helena Borges -this country’s lead official on the bridge project.

The pair attempted to reassure the state’s political leaders Canada’s offer of up to $550-million to pay for Michigan’s share of the bridge known as the Detroit River International Crossing project comes without any tricks and leaves taxpayers across the border at no risk.

“To anyone who believes there is no need for a new bridge means they have already determined the Canadian and U.S. economy as being in a terminal tailspin,” Norton told the committee. “We don’t believe that.

“This remains the Number 1 Canadian infrastructure project.”

Borges noted it was less than a year ago she appeared before the Senate Transportation committee in the state capitol and made the same arguments to no avail.

“We have been here since 2009 trying to get implementation of this project,” she said. “We thought last year we had a chance, but now we are back.”

She pointed to her government’s role in binational studies that date back to early 2001 which firmly determined the need for additional crossing capacity at the Windsor-Detroit border.

But the DRIC bridge’s fate remains totally unclear.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents neighbourhoods where the DRIC bridge would be located, is a major supporter but threatening to withhold her vote of support unless community improvement language for the hard-hit Delray neighbourhood where the bridge will be located is part of the package.

“When somebody comes across the bridge we want them to see a vibrant community, not blight and poverty,” she said.

The Moroun family also continues to launch a full-blown public relations and lobbying attack to keep the project from winning political support in Michigan -the final hurdle before construction can begin. Matty’s wife, Nora Moroun, was also in attendance at the hearing.

Matthew Moroun afterwards dismissed the testimony by the Canadian pair as rhetoric.

“I know it’s not very newsworthy to say we’ve heard it all before but that’s still my answer,” he said.

“We put out our numbers and (a new bridge due to insufficient traffic) operates with negative cash flow of $100 million per year. All we hear is it won’t cost Michigan taxpayers any money, but this is a business enterprise and you have to look at profits.”

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley -political lead appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to get the DRIC bridge approved -also testified at the hearing on how the proposal is the best option for a new crossing, especially on the Canadian side.

“It is a nightmare to get from freeway to freeway -today or back in 2000,” he said. “This is not just about a bridge. You have customs (in Canada) who can’t handle secondary inspection. You can’t tell (Canadians) to take out the University of Windsor or a business district (in Sandwich). We need another system that makes more sense.”

NO COST TO STATE WITH BRIDGE, SUPPORTERS INSIST

Gongwer News Service

If there was one point that supporters of building a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, sought to hammer Wednesday at the first legislative committee hearing on the issue, it is that the state and taxpayers will bear no financial responsibility for the project and subsequent operations.

“We’re not on the hook,” Lt. Governor Brian Calley told the Senate Economic Development Committee.

“No cost to the government of Michigan and at no cost to Michigan taxpayers,” said Helena Borges with Transport Canada.

And again, Ms. Borges: “Canada is on the hook, and Michigan is not.”

The legislation authorizing the bridge (SB 410 and SB 411) goes to great lengths to state Michigan has no financial responsibility, but that has done little to assuage skeptical lawmakers who question what happens if the bridge becomes a financial disaster and tolls fail to repay the cost of bonds to build it.

The hearing, the first of several, lasted two and a half hours and was held in the Boji Tower’s large Senate Hearing Room, which was jammed. Officials from the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, who fiercely opposed the government-led bridge known as the New International Trade Crossing, will testify Thursday.

Immediately, the gravity of this particular issue was on display. Senators gave opening statements on the legislation, something highly unusual for committee meetings.

Sen. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) pleaded for good data, not spin.

“It is my hope that both sides will put aside the rhetoric and instead give us the facts,” he said.

And the task ahead for bridge supporters, including Governor Rick Snyder, was quickly clear. There were signs of skepticism from some senators, especially Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) and Sen. Virgil Smith (D-Detroit). Mr. Hansen noted he voted against the bridge in the previous legislative term.

“I’m hoping that we’ll come up with, what is the business model,” he said.

Mr. Calley, in his presentation, sought to touch both the mind and the heart.

On the one hand, he pointed to data showing continued increases in trade volume at the Detroit-Windsor border and ironclad wording in the legislation shielding Michigan from any financial repercussions in case the bridge is a financial failure. He criticized poor traffic flows with the Ambassador, where drivers must navigate some 15-20 traffic lights on Huron-Church Road in Windsor to get from the bridge to Ontario Highway 401.

“A freeway-to-freeway connection is essential,” he said, ridiculing the Ambassador as the “worst bottleneck in the entire pan-American freeway system.”

But other arguments were clearly designed to push emotional buttons.

“I think that if you believe in Michigan, you believe it will be successful,” he said.

Mr. Calley also said allowing the Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador, to build a new six-lane span next to its existing one would continue a monopoly and be the equivalent of government awarding a no-bid contract.

“We wouldn’t allow that under other circumstances,” he said. “Why would we allow that here?”

And Mr. Calley insisted there would be plenty of traffic to have both the new bridge and the Ambassador profitable. He pointed to Buffalo with its three crossings even with less traffic than at the Detroit-Windsor border.

But senators poked at Mr. Calley’s assertions.

When Mr. Calley, in an exchange with Mr. Nofs, a former state trooper, asked him what he thought of the current situation at the Ambassador where vehicles referred for a secondary inspection must proceed to a different facility, Mr. Nofs downplayed any security concerns, saying he would simply follow the car.

Mr. Smith seemed unconvinced by Mr. Calley’s case, criticizing the plan to create governor-appointed authority that would handle the project instead of the Department of Transportation.

“It sounds good. It really does. But everything that glitters is not gold. Authorities, in my opinion, are sometimes riddled with corruption,” he said. “We’re taking the project away from the folks that have the knowledge.”

Mr. Smith questioned what the rush was on the issue.

Responded Mr. Calley: “This is one of the oldest issues around.”

Mr. Hansen questioned the need with traffic still well below where it had been a few years ago. “I guess I’m having a hard time with that,” he said.

Mr. Nofs asked Mr. Calley to address the argument that the private sector, in this case the Moroun family that owns the Ambassador, should be allowed to handle the issue instead of the government.

“The business of international crossings necessarily involves government,” Mr. Calley said. “Infrastructure is one of those things that is the unique responsibility of government.”

The Canadian consul in Detroit, Roy Norton, testified along with Ms. Borges.

Again and again, Ms. Borges sought to assuage legislators that Canada, not Michigan, would bear any financial risk. Canada will cover any shortfalls between bond payments and toll revenues, Ms. Borges said.

“Canada is on the hook, and Michigan is not,” she said.

Watching from the first row in the hearing room was Matthew Moroun, son of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

He said Mr. Calley’s presentation included “distortions,” such as referring to a rise in trade volume instead of traffic.

“That doesn’t mean traffic has gone up. That means inflation has gone up,” he said.

Mr. Moroun also was asked about Mr. Calley’s argument that to oppose the bridge is to take a pessimistic view of Michigan’s future.

“We’ve got a lot of faith in Michigan’s recovery,” he said, noting that the economy is still recovering.

Mr. Moroun said the Ambassador gets fierce competition from the government-owned Blue Water Bridge connecting Port Huron and Sarnia, Ontario, calling the competition argument “malarkey.”

He dismissed the presentations as “just more of the rhetoric.”

Court rejects anti-DRIC complaints by bridge, enviro group

Today’s Trucking

DETROIT – A Federal Court dismissed allegations by the Ambassador Bridge Company and the Sierra Club of Canada that the government breached environmental guidelines and other procedures when deciding to build a new public crossing downriver.

The decision means that the Detroit River International Crossing has cleared another hurdle towards starting the bridge project.

The court ruled that Canadian Transit Company and the Sierra Club of Canada’s complaints were “without any merit.”

The Canadian Transit Company insisted that Transport Canada was “biased” when it rejected the private bridge’s proposal to build a twin span rather than constructing a new crossing 3 km southwest.

The court found that the reasoning behind the rejection of the twinned Ambassador – that there was no crossing redundancy in case of a terrorist attack – was a valid decision by Transport Canada.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club said that Transport Canada breached the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act by purchasing $34 million of land from the City of Windsor before an environmental assessment was completed, and that authorities disregarded a principle under the Act for studying adverse environmental effects against endangered species during the construction.

Both allegations were dismissed.