Michigan vote critical to DRIC future, shipping conference hears

TORONTO — Canadian transportation officials say we should know in June whether the proposed Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project moves forward in a timely manner or gets hopelessly tangled in political knots for decades.

Speaking at a conference in Toronto yesterday, Sean O’Dell of Transport Canada said Michigan politicians have signaled their intention to vote on the DRIC proposal in June.

"The legislature has indicated its intent to vote either yea or nay at that time," he said. "So June should be an interesting month, and we hope to get the positive signal we need to allow us to move this thing forward."

He shared the stage at the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters (I.E.Canada) conference with Fausto Natarelli of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, and Doug Switzer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

All three said congestion at the Detroit-Windsor crossing threatens to hinder economic growth in Canada.

"For the first quarter of this year has seen truck traffic up about 20 percent over the same period last year," said O’Dell. "It’s still off the peak that we saw at the beginning of the decade, but we do see the recovery and we’re very confident moving forward that the capacity argument will not go away."

He said the proposed DRIC project offers an ‘end-to-end solution’ which connects Canada’s 401 highway to the American interstate highway system. The bill currently before Michigan legislators will give the state the authority to enter into the kind of public-private partnerships that is seen as necessary to the long-term success of the project.

"Without that piece of legislation, we would be stymied," said O’Dell.

Switzer said Michigan Democrats, who control the state’s House of Representatives, are largely on-side with the project. Some republicans may need more convincing.

In particular, Sen. Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt), a known supporter of the Ambassador Bridge’s owner Matty Moroun, has been trying to cut funding to DRIC for years.

"We’re at a critical point," said O’Dell. "While we’ve been talking about this bridge for a long time already, the reality is if Michigan votes no in June, this may not get built for quite a while."

He pointed out that in 2001 when governments started getting serious about a new border crossing for Detroit-Windsor the anticipation was that it could be done by 2013. That’s now impossible, since designing and building the new bridge will take about six-and-a-half years.

"We’ve slipped a little from that (original completion date)," said Switzer. "But we still hope it’ll be closer to 2013 than 2030."
He said the history of infrastructure construction in Ontario is "pretty messy." The recently completed Red Hill Creek Expressway in Hamilton, for example, was initially proposed in the 1950s.

"We really hope the DRIC will not suffer the same fate," he said. "We all know the old adage that a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and for a long time now Windsor has been the weak link in our supply chain. The uncertainty and unpredictability of the flow of goods through there has been a problem for the entire supply chain. Hopefully with this process we’re going to strengthen that supply chain and the connection with our U.S. partners." 

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