Michigan and Canada plan new bridge
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WINDSOR, Ontario -- A long-awaited second bridge connecting Canada and Detroit will become a reality, promised Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed a deal in Detroit hours after making the announcement in Windsor on Friday.
"We shall launch a truly visionary project," Mr. Harper said in making the announcement -- drawing thunderous applause and cheers from Canadian and U.S. dignitaries.
While the span itself will cost $1 billion (in U.S. dollars), the accompanying projects, including Canadian and U.S. inspection plazas, an I-75 interchange and the Windsor-Essex Parkway connecting Canada's Highway 401 to the bridge, are expected to push the entire cost to $4 billion. The project is likely to take about four or five years to complete.
The prime minister called the bridge an investment in the future of the North American economy.
"It's a sign of our determination to move forward during the difficult time in the global economy, and of course it's a celebration of the friendship that exists between Canada and the United States," Mr. Harper said.
"Once this bridge is complete, congestion will be reduced and trade will be accelerated in both directions," Mr. Harper said in English and French.
Under the deal, Canada will pay Michigan's $550 million in construction costs and the money will be recouped through tolls on the bridge, which will stretch between Brighton Beach in Windsor's west end to Delray, just northeast of Zug Island, in Michigan.
Canada also will pay for land acquisition on both sides of the border and will pay to connect the bridge to I-75 between the Ambassador Bridge and the Rouge River Bridge. Tolls will be charged on the Canadian side only, to reimburse that country's government.
The deal does not require approval by the Michigan Legislature but is subject to approval by the U.S. secretary of state.
Canada will be responsible for design, construction, finance, operation and maintenance, but Michigan will have significant control through an international authority. Three members would be appointed by Canada and three by Michigan.
"I'm proud to say the Detroit-Windsor crossing is the busiest trade crossing on the border -- 8,000 trucks a day, at least, going back and forth," he said. "But we're also the biggest bottleneck on the Pan-American highway. So we're also impeding commerce, and trade, and growth, so it's relatively clear we need to build a new crossing."
The governor said the jobs created by the project are crucial. "We need more and better jobs."
After the formal announcement, Mr. Snyder said it was not clear how many jobs would be taken by Canadians and how many by Americans.
He referred to a recent study by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor that estimated 12,000 jobs would be created for each of the four to five years of construction and more than 8,000 permanent jobs would be created in southeast Michigan once the bridge is open.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called Mr. Snyder a "man of vision" for his commitment to the bridge project.
"It's a big deal for both of our countries, but it's a particularly big deal for people who want to go to work, for people who are bridge-builders, for people who know how to build roads, for people who need a job," Mr. LaHood said. "That's what this is about."
Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., said congestion on the Ambassador Bridge has been a problem for automobile makers.
"Any time you get hung up, it costs you time and certainly costs you money," Mr. Ford told reporters. "This will be a huge boost to us as we send parts, powertrains and vehicles back and forth across the border."
While design of the bridge is not finalized, it is anticipated to be six lanes wide to better accommodate traffic flow. The length of the bridge is undetermined as of now, but, for comparison's sake, the Ambassador Bridge is about 1.4 miles long.
Among the speakers who addressed a crowded room at Cobo Center just before the signing ceremony was John D. Porcari, U.S. deputy secretary of transportation, who said "Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky -- the whole I-75 corridor will benefit from this project."
In addition to the 84-year-old, privately owned Ambassador Bridge, there are two tunnels under the Detroit River -- one for passenger vehicles and one for trains.
A new bridge has been more than a decade in the making and is still controversial.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 2002 said a new bridge costing $300 million would be built to supplement travel between the two countries, but the project was never started.
In 2004, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin said he would build a bridge, but again it did not happen.
Recently, the project seemed imperiled after it was reported that Canada had an interest in using cheaper Chinese steel. Officials Friday said there would be no Chinese steel in the bridge.
Michigan State House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said the state Legislature plans to carefully review plans for the bridge.
"It appears Gov. Snyder's plan does not involve any action by the Legislature, so it seems he has found a way to accomplish his goal of a new bridge while addressing our chief concern of protecting taxpayers," the speaker said in a statement.
Mr. Snyder said legislative approval was not needed because the project won't use taxpayer money and no state appropriation is required to pay it off.
Manuel "Matty" Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, has been fighting the construction of a publicly owned bridge for years and is still trying to block its construction. His company is pushing a November ballot proposal that would require voters' approval to build an alternative bridge.
Mickey Blashfield, director of the People Should Decide ballot committee, said in a statement Friday that he welcomes Mr. Snyder "out into the public debate" about a bridge.
First Published June 16, 2012 12:02 am