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In this aerial photo, a freighter passes by the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit on the right and Windsor, Canada on the left on Thursday June 14, 2012. (ROMAIN BLANQUART/AP)
In this aerial photo, a freighter passes by the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit on the right and Windsor, Canada on the left on Thursday June 14, 2012. (ROMAIN BLANQUART/AP)

Canada could foot the bill for U.S. customs plaza Add to ...

Canada is open to funding or hosting a U.S. customs plaza, a sticking point in efforts to construct a vital second bridge between Windsor and Detroit, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says.

The Detroit International Trade Crossing is a top infrastructure priority for Ottawa, which is trying to broaden Canada’s most vital trade conduit with the United States.

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Ms. Raitt said Canada’s strongly preferred option is that the United States fund its own custom plaza.

“But this is a vitally important project for us and I would encourage us to have open dialogue with the United States on any of these options, quite frankly, to make it go forward,” she told a Canadian American Border Trade Alliance conference in Ottawa Monday.

Canada has put up nearly all the public money necessary for the project and the U.S. federal government appears to be balking at paying the cost of a $250-million U.S. customs structure on the American side. U.S. President Barack Obama’s $3.9-trillion 2015 budget sent to Congress in March failed to allocate funds for it.

Ms. Raitt said the future of this plaza is a hot topic between both countries right now. “Officials are having discussions, politicians are having discussions, the ambassador to the U.S. from Canada is having discussions, all on this area. This is a very important topic for us,” she said.

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.

Ms. Raitt said she believes it would be a first if the United States left it to Canada to fund the American customs structure.

“This has never happened before – in terms of the United States not paying for their own U.S. customs plaza,” she said Monday. “We’ve made that point very strongly at all of our levels of engagement, all of our levels of engagement – the importance of having the U.S. come to the table.”

The new bridge, currently known as the Detroit River International Crossing or the New International Trade Crossing, will offer an alternative route for trucks at Canada’s busiest commercial border thoroughfare – one that carries one-quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the United States each year.

About $120-billion (U.S.) worth of goods cross the border at the Detroit-Windsor crossing annually, carried mainly by the 2.7 million trucks that cross the existing Ambassador Bridge every year. Truck crossings are expected to more than double by 2035.

A Canadian government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Canada’s willingness to discuss covering the cost of a U.S. customs plaza – or host it – could in fact galvanize Michigan to lobby Washington to pony up the cash or miss out on local economic benefits and jobs of building the structure.

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.

Ms. Raitt said the federal government is “redoubling our efforts to open up our lines of communication” with Washington on the customs plaza.

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