Detroit’s Big Three auto makers and major American unions have thrown their weight behind a campaign to secure White House funding that could clear a key sticking point in efforts to build a second bridge between Windsor and Detroit.
Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are asking President Barack Obama to find the necessary cash for a U.S. customs inspection plaza that would be located on the Detroit side of a new publicly owned crossing between the United States and Canada.
The auto makers as well as the United Autoworkers International Union and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations have sent a joint letter to the White House asking for a signal that Washington will fund the customs plaza and set wheels in motion for its construction.
“Without assurances of funding from the U.S. government for the plaza, this project will be significantly delayed,” they warned the U.S. President.
The Canadian government has so far failed to move the Obama administration to make this commitment, despite the fact that Canada has put up nearly all the public money necessary for the bridge project.
A business coalition of signatories, including the auto makers, who regularly ship goods between Canada and the U.S., told Mr. Obama that truck traffic between the United States and Canada is expected to more than double in the next 30 years. They pointed out that one-fifth of two-way Canada-U.S. trade, or $131-billion, flowed between Detroit and Windsor in 2012.
“This is not just a federal issue or just a Michigan issue. The impact on many U.S. states is just as significant. Canada is the principal importer of goods for 38 states in America,” the authors warn.
The Detroit International Trade Crossing is a top infrastructure priority for Ottawa, which is trying to broaden Canada’s most-vital trade conduit.
In May, Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt even signalled Ottawa might pay for the U.S. customs plaza, including possibly locating it on Canada’s side of the bridge, if this was the only way to proceed with bridge construction.
The U.S. federal government appears to be balking at paying the cost of the $250-million U.S. customs structure on the American side. Mr. Obama’s $3.9-trillion 2015 budget sent to Congress in March failed to allocate funds for it.
The bridge will be financed and built by a private contractor – yet to be selected – but Canada is shouldering the majority of upfront costs to build related infrastructure, such as extension roads approaching the bridge. This reflects the fact the deal was arranged over the wishes of the Michigan legislature. Legislative supporters of the existing Detroit-Windsor crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, repeatedly opposed the project and took action to ensure the government of Michigan could not spend money on the project or collect tolls.
Canada will be repaid for covering much of the U.S. share of infrastructure through toll revenues.
The new bridge will offer an alternative route for trucks at Canada’s busiest commercial border thoroughfare.
Canada and Ontario have jointly committed $1.4-billion to building a road that will connect Highway 401 to the new bridge. The Herb Gray parkway is expected to be finished this year.