The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 04, 2011

New bridge to Canada derailed by GOP, Dems

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – A key vote that would further the process of building a second bridge over the Detroit River failed Oct. 19 in the state Senate Economic Development Committee.

Two Republicans on the committee supported the measure and three voted against it. Two Democrats on the panel could have provided the votes to move the legislation along, but they abstained from voting, claiming that the bill didn’t do enough to protect residents in the Delray area of Southwest Detroit who could be negatively impacted by the span.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who has expressed support for building the bridge – called the New International Trade Crossing – was downbeat following the vote. “Maybe there’s a phoenix bird we don’t know about and there could be a rising coming up in the future,” he told Gongwer News. “At this point in time I would say it is dead.”

Gov. Rick Snyder, also a champion for building the bridge between Detroit and Windsor, called for a “cooling off period” before re-examining the issue. Richardville could move the bill to a different committee for a vote, and there’s even speculation that Snyder could sign off on the bridge without legislative approval. Or, the state could try to move the process to the jurisdiction of the federal government.

The two Democrats on the Senate Economic Development Committee, Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) and Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), were blamed by Richardville for the bill’s defeat. The two lawmakers presented a last-minute substitute bill that Republicans on the panel said they didn’t have enough time to review.

“We are deeply disappointed in the Senate committee’s failure to move the New International Trade Crossing legislation to the full Senate for a vote,” said a statement from a coalition of labor groups and businesses supporting the New International Trade Crossing. “A majority of Senators on the committee support the building of the NITC, they just have to craft a piece of legislation that everyone can agree to. We urge the governor and the legislature to continue to work to find a compromise that a majority of Senators can support. We encourage the legislature to put partisan politics aside and put the economic interest of our state and our workers first.”

The bridge is proposed to be constructed about a mile down river of the Ambassador Bridge. It’s in an area that’s desirable to Windsor because the span can easily connect to the 401 highway and keep traffic from the downtown area. And apparently with some compromises, the Delray site can be made to work on the Detroit site. Virtually all of the approvals for the new bridge have already been granted by governments on both sides of the river, with the exception of the Michigan legislature and governor.

The owner of the Ambassador Bridge, the Maroun family, has spent millions on television advertising and lobbying to defeat legislation that would approve the government-backed bridge. The Marouns have said they see a need for replacing the aging Ambassador, which opened in 1929, but they want to privately fund and own the replacement span.

Local, state, provincial and federal officials in both the Canadian and American governments, however, question the wisdom of constructing a second span and putting both in the hands of a private operator. In addition, there are fears that a terrorist attack could easily take out both bridges since they would be so close together. Even though traffic has dropped during the Great Recession, the Ambassador Bridge is still the nation’s busiest crossing with Canada.

To move the process along, the Ontario government has offered to front the State of Michigan’s $550 million share of the cost of the $1.3 billion bridge. They would be repaid over time through bridge tolls.

“Detroit is home to the busiest border crossing in North America based on trade volume, with a value of almost $500 million in goods crossing daily,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. “ To compete as a world-class community, we strongly support the construction of any new crossings to improve traffic flow and reduce or eliminate congestion.  We also need this crossing to be built expeditiously.  For these reasons we support Michigan’s New International Trade Crossing.”