Michigan’s new Governor is throwing his support behind a new Detroit-Windsor bridge, striving to break a political impasse in the state legislature that is preventing the $5.3-billion (U.S.) megaproject from being built.
The surprise endorsement from Rick Snyder, a Republican sworn in as Governor on Jan. 1, breathes new life into a long-delayed bridge proposal backed by Ottawa as a solution to costly delays at North America’s busiest commercial crossing. Goods worth $150-billion – or one-quarter of the merchandise trade between Canada and the United States – flow across the congested Ambassador Bridge every year.
But the new Detroit River International Crossing, which Ottawa would support with a $550-million loan to Michigan, has been mired in controversy. Many Republicans argue that a new taxpayer-financed crossing isn’t needed.
The government-backed crossing would be three kilometres southwest of the Ambassador Bridge, which is privately owned by Michigan businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun. He has fiercely defended his property, filing lawsuits against critics and acquiring large tracts of land on both sides of the border to build another span next to his bridge.
Now, with the Governor siding with Ottawa, the government plan has awakened from near-dead to strong contender. If Mr. Snyder gets his way, he will make converts of skeptical Republicans and finally get the megaproject started. The stakes are high, given how fragile the Detroit-Windsor crossing is, especially when winter storms can bring crucial international trade slowing to a crawl.
Canadian Transport Minister Chuck Strahl said Ottawa is eager to assist Michigan to forge ahead. Last year, Ottawa offered to lend money to Michigan to jump start construction, and Mr. Strahl is hoping politicians in the Michigan state House and Senate will pass “authorizing legislation” to clear the way for the new project. Political observers say Republicans’ refusal to allow a vote on the Senate floor last month effectively froze the new crossing.
The Ontario government is set to collaborate with Ottawa and Washington on the project, which has been in the design phase since 2005.
The megaproject could cost $5.3-billion, including roads and other infrastructure. Michigan is not only in a position to receive loans from Ottawa, the state has also lined up $550-million in matching funding from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. Ottawa expects to gradually recoup its money through bridge tolls.
“This new bridge will create jobs, strengthen our economy and help establish Michigan as a hub for global commerce,” Mr. Snyder said in an address Wednesday night to the state legislature in Lansing. He is seeking to win over Republicans who favour plans for the Ambassador Bridge twin span.
While former Michigan Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm is a strong proponent of the government-backed bridge, Mr. Snyder declined to reveal his policy position during his election campaign.
In his State of the State address, however, he emerged as a cheerleader for the plan, saying the public-private partnership would pave the way for Michigan’s return to prosperity. “This project isn’t just a Detroit issue. Every farmer and manufacturer in our state can tell you why it’s important to have world trade,” Mr. Snyder said.
Ed Arditti, a Windsor lawyer and blogger who has been tracking the rival bridge plans, said Thursday that Mr. Snyder still has much political arm-twisting to do if he wants to persuade Republican lawmakers to get onside. Mr. Arditti said any attempts to outmanoeuvre Mr. Moroun won’t be easy, given his stranglehold on truck traffic on the Ambassador Bridge.
Proponents say the huge project would generate more than 30,000 construction jobs in the Detroit-Windsor region, including workers for the Windsor-Essex Parkway – a proposed thoroughfare to the new crossing from Highway 401, a major artery in southern Ontario.