During a tour of Monroe, Canadian Consul General Roy Norton met Tuesday with U.S. Rep. John Dingell to discuss a fourth international crossing between Detroit and Canada.
The Detroit River International Crossing project would improve traffic flow between U.S. and Canadian interstates and highways, unlike the nearby Ambassador Bridge, which deposits traffic onto the city streets of Windsor.
Besides opening trade routes, the bridge project is expected to create 10,000 jobs during its construction and support another 25,000 jobs afterward.
In addition, Canada has pledged to cover Michigan’s $550 million share of bridge construction, to be repaid by toll revenue.
The project was proposed in 2005 and received approval from the Michigan House, but reached a standstill in the state Senate in 2010. Current Gov. Rick Snyder, however, revived interest in the bridge proposal during his State of the State address on Jan. 19.
The Canadian government concluded its approval of the bridge in 2009.
Norton and Dingell are both in support of the project.
“This is a bridge that the state of Michigan gets for no money down, no borrowing, no liability,” Norton said. “It gets shared ownership, shared control with the government of Canada, and, after approximately 40 or 45 years, a revenue stream of 40, 50, or 60 million dollars a year for Michigan alone.”
If that doesn’t sound like a much-needed opportunity for Michigan, Gov. Snyder announced that the money would also improve Michigan’s bumpy roads.
The federal government typically pays 80 percent of highway and road construction costs, provided that the state puts up the final 20 percent. That can be paid in either dollars or transportation infrastructure investments.
Snyder arranged that the $550 million from Canada toward the construction of the bridge would count as Michigan’s match to receive at least $2 billion in federal highway funds.
“We’re very impressed by the creativity that the governor has demonstrated and the good will of the secretary of transportation and folks in Washington toward this proposal,” Dr. Norton said. “It may actually be decisive in the end in terms of persuading Michigan legislators that this is a very good thing for the entire state.”
If the bridge is not built, Michigan would have to find money elsewhere in the struggling budget to match those federal funds.
“If that happens, unfortunately the bridge would probably go elsewhere like Buffalo or some other place,” Dingell said. “All of the business and jobs and opportunities that would be associated with it would not come to our people in Michigan or to our friends in Ontario.”
Canada isn’t willing to front the $550 million as just a charitable donation – it has a stake in the commerce that would be created by the bridge.
Norton said that without easing the trade routes between Ontario and Detroit – two major areas of industry – there is legitimate reason to believe that firms, owned by the U.S., Canada, Japan, or others, could take their business to other areas.
“This has become Canada’s number one national infrastructure priority,” Norton said.
Canada already has begun contracts for the $2 billion worth of road construction needed to connect the new bridge to Highway 401 in Ontario.
The other international crossings in the area are the Detroit-Windsor tunnel for passenger cars, the overburdened Port Huron Blue Water Bridge, and the 80-year-old Ambassador Bridge that lies two miles from the proposed site.
Nearly 10,000 trucks a day cross the Ambassador Bridge alone.
“When they get to the Canadian side, they go through 17 traffic lights on a major Windsor street before they get to freeway, and there’s no way to bring freeway to the foot of the Ambassador Bridge,” Norton said.
“Imagine 10,000 trucks a day on Monroe Street in downtown Monroe.”
Hospitals, the University of Windsor, retail and residential areas line the streets following the Ambassador Bridge exit.
Norton said it is critical that a new crossing be developed for international truck traffic to avoid the congestion at the Ambassador Bridge, and to acquire standard security screening that meets post-9/11 standards.
Norton also addressed the project’s impact on the Ambassador Bridge, and whether the two would be in competition.
“We regard the bridge as complimentary, not competitive,” he said. “Studies show that there is enough traffic for both. Particularly given that truck traffic is expected to triple over the next 30 years and car traffic to double.”
However, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Matty Moroun, still doesn’t want competition. Instead, he wants to build a second bridge two miles from the Ambassador span. With some help from his immediate family and employees, Moroun donated nearly $600,000 to Michigan election campaigns last fall.
Norton said he hopes that will not affect legislators’ decisions about the Detroit River International Crossing.
“We think legislators will do the right thing in the end,” he said.
“we think, notwithstanding who it is they might have received campaign contributions from, legislators will see that they really have no choice if they’re going to act in the interests of the people of Michigan but to vote for this.”
If the state legislators deny the bill again, the consul general said the next step would be to discuss the issue with the U.S. president and Congress.
“If it comes to it, there may be no choice but to go that route. That’s how important this is to Canada,” Norton said.
Rep. Dingell said he thinks Snyder’s endorsement will prove helpful in approving the needed authorization.
“I think this is something that needs to be addressed and quickly solved,” he said. “If we don’t get busy and do something, we’ll find this traffic is all going to be going across to Buffalo and that part of Canada. I don’t think that’s something that this part of the country wants to transpire.”
Norton visited Monroe Tuesday to attend a reception welcoming Scott Bentley, the new superintendent of River Raisin Battlefield National Park. Before the reception, Dr. Norton gave a speech to the Monroe Rotary Club, toured Monroe, and met with Dingell.
Dingell said besides the bridge, they discussed the River Raisin Battlefield National Park, The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, and other matters of shared concern.
“It was a very friendly discussion,” Dingell said.
“The offer of the Canadians on this bridge appears to be a very generous one and very much in the interest of the people of Michigan,” he said. “I hope that they will scrutinize it most carefully and sympathetically.”