Michigan lawmakers get final message before bridge vote

DETROIT — As the Michigan legislature prepares to vote on the future of the Detroit River International Crossing, supporters and retractors of the project took time to get in some parting words.

Canada’s Transport Minister John Baird travelled to Detroit this week to speak to the city’s Economic Club and reiterated the federal governments support of the project, as well as a commitment of funds to help jumpstart the infrastructure project on the U.S. side of the border.

“To show our support for the project, I recently announced a funding commitment from the Government of Canada of up to a maximum of US$550 million to help jumpstart projects on the Michigan side of the border, such as an interchange and a toll plaza,” Baird says. “This is in addition to the funding we have committed for projects on the Ontario side of the border, which are now progressing.”

According to local reports, Michigan’s cost for the DRIC project is estimated at about $100 million. The remainder of the Canadian money, which would be paid back by taking more of the bridge tolls, would cover the U.S. federal portion of the project.

The actual bridge project is estimated at $2.1 billion, with an additional $3 billion being needed for related highway infrastructure.

In the past, funding for the Michigan portion of the DRIC project has been in jeopardy, but most recently the debate in Michigan’s legislature is about the legalities of the state entering a public-private partnership.

While speaking with reporters, Baird twice declined to speculate on what would happen if Michigan chose not to participate in the project by rejected the P3 legislation.

"We think it’s in the national interests of both countries to have a second bridge," he said.

There is fear in the region that if a second bridge is not constructed traffic will be lost to other crossings in the region, such as the Niagara-Buffalo crossing.

Shortly after Baird’s speech in support of the publicly funded billion dollar DRIC project, Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun held his own press conference in Detroit in support of the Detroit International Bridge Co. proposed plans to build a privately owned span.

Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge, has planned for years to build a new bridge adjacent to the current crossing, which is more than 80-years-old.

He’s been met with government opposition at several levels and is currently involved in a handful of lawsuits with governments on both sides of the border.

Moroun continues to insist that his company building a second, private span is the only option that will not put Michigan taxpayers on the hook for funding.

Supporters of the DRIC project counter that the government funded option will create thousands of jobs in the region and boost trade. Baird even said that a new bridge adjacent to the current Ambassador Bridge would make a ripe target for terrorists.

“I am confident that the Michigan Legislature will make the right choice and that together, we will get the job done,” Baird said. “Together, let’s continue to build upon the strongest trading relationship in the world. Let’s continue to build jobs, grow trade and attract new investment. Let’s continue to build for the future.”
 

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