Detroit-Windsor Bridge Sees Clear Road

Rolf Lockwood

OTTAWA — Finally, the green light is shining. The last big roadblock to building a new bridge joining Detroit with Windsor, ON has been pushed aside. Federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt has announced that Canada and the U.S. signed an “arrangement” this week to ensure that the new publicly owned bridge could “proceed without further delay.” 

The so-called Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) has been in the works for years, the first plans dating back to 2001. It’s to be built 3 km  downstream of the privately owned 86-year-old Ambassador Bridge that’s presently the only road route across the river for trucks. A ferry also exists but its capacity is limited.

A definitive agreement to build the new crossing was signed several years ago but one crucial hurdle remained until now: Washington has steadfastly refused to pay the $250-300 million cost of a new U.S. customs plaza in Detroit, despite endless urging by Ottawa and Michigan, with intense political maneuvering on all sides. In the end the Harper government agreed to pick up the bill itself, effectively, by linking the plaza to the rest of the project.

That represents a diplomatic failure. Canada, after all, had already agreed to pay all other costs involved in building the bridge, including buying necessary properties in Detroit and even building a road link between the bridge and U.S. Interstate 75., with a total price tag upwards of $5 billion. Ottawa, it seems, decided to be pragmatic and just get a deal done, having said late last year that money would not stand in the way.

“Under the terms of the Arrangement, the U.S. inspection plaza will be procured as part of the public-private partnership (P3) which will design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the Detroit River International Crossing/New International Trade Crossing (NITC) project. The cost of the U.S. port of entry will be repaid from future toll revenues and not by Canadian taxpayers,” said Minister Raitt.

“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. 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.”

Washington’s obligation here is limited to staffing and operating the new stateside customs plaza.

While many Americans, including Michigan’s two Democrat senators, have expressed shame and embarrassment that their federal government refused to pay for its own customs facility, let alone any other DRIC costs, optimism has been the overwhelming response to Raitt’s announcement.

“This infrastructure project is an investment in the continuing trade relationship between Canada and the U.S.,” said Gregg Ward, vice president of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. “The return on investment will come from a strengthened manufacturing sector, increased mobility, and a more attractive business climate for the region.”

A Michigan resident, Ward is a long-time DRIC supporter despite the fact that the new crossing will likely damage his business severely. While his ferry will take trucks hauling general freight, it really exists to handle hazardous loads that aren’t, in theory, allowed on the Ambassador Bridge. The new bridge will not suffer that limitation and the ferry’s customer base will thus shrink.

“The fact a P3 operator will be responsible for funding both the new bridge and U.S. customs plaza is less important than the commitment being shown by  government to support investment in the future of Canada/U.S. trade,” Ward added.

Some 30 percent of that trade total is hauled across the river that separates Detroit and Windsor.

“The new DRIC/NITC bridge is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border,” Raitt said. “It will facilitate the movement of people, goods and services by ensuring that there is sufficient border crossing capacity to handle projected growth in cross-border trade and traffic in the Windsor-Detroit trade corridor. As well, it will provide a much-needed crossing alternative at one of the busiest commercial border crossings in North America and support national security and public safety priorities in Canada and the U.S. It will also bring new jobs, opportunities and continued prosperity to communities in both countries.”

The new bridge is expected to be operational in 2020.

Rolf Lockwood

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

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