Canada, Michigan Sign Historic Agreement

Rolf Lockwood

Windsor, Ont. – After countless years of negotiating, and probably even more lawsuits, a deal has been struck to build a new bridge across the Detroit River linking Windsor, ON and Detroit, MI. The announcement was made jointly today by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. The new span, expected to cost between C$3.5 and 4 billion, will take four or five years to build.

It doesn’t have a name yet, referred to latterly as the New International Trade Crossing, or NITC, in Michigan. Canadians, including Prime Minister Harper in today’s announcement, call it the Detroit River International Crossing, or DRIC.

With the signing of the agreement, Canada and Michigan can now proceed with the next steps of the project, which include further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side before construction can begin.   

The crossing agreement establishes the framework for Canada’s and Michigan’s roles and responsibilities for the construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the new international crossing. Under the agreement, Canada will be responsible for almost the entire project, with private-sector involvement. It’s expected to create 10,000 to 15,000 construction jobs in both Ontario and Michigan, and many thousand permanent posts.  

“Our Government is taking the measures necessary to facilitate trade and investment between Canada and the United States in order to generate jobs, economic growth and long term prosperity,” said the Prime Minister. “This new bridge will reduce congestion at this critical Canada-U.S. border crossing, support the creation of new export related jobs and investment opportunities along the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, increase the competitiveness of the North American manufacturing sector, and provide thousands of construction jobs in Ontario and Michigan.”

Applause came quickly from the Canadian Trucking Alliance and from Chrysler.

“It’s been a long road to get to this day, with even more stops and starts than on Huron Church Rd.,” said CTA president David Bradley, referring to the years of political wrangling that has delayed progress on what many say is Canada’s most important and most needed infrastructure. “So we are thrilled the new crossing will become a reality.”

In a recent survey conducted by the Ontario Trucking Association, 80 percent of member carriers said a second bridge is the most important infrastructure improvement at the Canada-US border. And 84 percent said a new, publicly-owned bridge is “extremely important” or “very important” to the long-term economic well-being of Ontario.

“Chrysler Group applauds the strong leadership that U.S. and Canadian government officials have provided for the proposed New International Trade Crossing, especially Governor Snyder, Prime Minister Harper, Premier McGuinty and Secretary [of State] LaHood,” said Sergio Marchionne, chairman and chief executive officer, Chrysler Group.

“A new crossing represents a tremendous opportunity to further strengthen the economies of the U.S. and Canada, the future of our company and many other businesses,” he added. “Undoubtedly, the new crossing will provide a secure, world-class trade and transportation infrastructure for the busiest trade corridor in the United States.”

Every day, Chrysler moves over 1,300 component shipments across the Windsor/Detroit border, plus 2,000 cars and trucks. It makes over 1,600 customs entries.

The new project includes the bridge, Canadian and U.S. inspection plazas, and an interchange with Interstate-75. The project will be funded by the Government of Canada, with the U.S. plaza being the responsibility of the U.S. federal government. The private sector is also expected to contribute to the project through a public-private partnership. Ontario and Canada are jointly funding the Windsor-Essex Parkway, which will connect Highway 401 to the new bridge, which is already about a third finished. It will mean the end of 8,000 or more trucks a day trundling along Windsor city streets, stopping and starting at 17 stoplights between the end of Highway 401 and the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge. It’s presently the only Windsor/Detroit crossing option aside from a small ferry intended to haul hazmat trucks, which are theoretically banned from using the bridge, across the river.
 
The new inspection plazas at the bridge are being developed in consultation with the Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection. They will provide areas for primary and on-site secondary inspection of people and goods as well as permanent inspection equipment. The bridge will also provide for dedicated NEXUS and FAST lanes, which will substantially improve border processing capabilities.

As we understand it, construction, financing and other aspects of the project will be managed by a largely Canadian body to be called the Crossing Authority, though the actual work – and subsequent bridge operation – will fall to a private company yet to be named. A public-private partnership with the Crossing Authority is likely to be a 40-to-50-year deal.

Much property – including a few churches – has yet to be expropriated on the American side, though Canada will pay for it. We’ll also pay for construction of the interchange between the bridge plaza and Interstate 75. It’s intended that Michigan will pay Canada back through bridge tolls, which will only be collected on the Canadian side.

The question is, when will it start? Or even, will it start at all?

While every jurisdiction on the Canadian side wants the new bridge, the same unanimity can’t be found across the border. In fact, despite having won election in a massive landslide, Republican Governor Snyder has been unable to gain approval for the bridge from the Michigan legislature. It hasn’t even been debated there. He was forced to employ a rarely used legal tool to bypass a legislature loaded with free-market Republicans opposed to any public expenditure on this scale. This in spite of the fact that every major Michigan and Ohio business – including the automakers – is solidly behind the new crossing. And the truth is, Michigan will spend nothing on the project.

Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun has fought the DRIC project tooth and nail, and isn’t expected to stop now. Often accused of having ‘bought’ those free-market Republicans, he has also been waging a massive ad campaign to sway Michigan voters. In his latest salvo, he’s been pushing to have approval of the bridge project dependent on a referendum during November elections. Whatever else he may do, it’s almost certain that he’ll try to stop construction of the new bridge in the courts. He has some $60 million in annual toll revenues at stake, not to mention duty-free sales. He and his bridge company have not yet commented on the Harper/Snyder agreement.

So, while today’s agreement is a decisive step forward, the new bridge is not yet a done deal. — R.L.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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