With one of North America’s most dramatic bridges as a backdrop, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder launched a new push to build another span connecting Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, a structure that would boost his state’s economy and be a major corridor for international trade.
From the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Snyder said a coalition of business, labor and political officials agreed the time had come to construct the New International Trade Crossing as a publicly owned toll bridge linking Windsor and Detroit.
He pointed to the nearby Mackinac Bridge that connects the main part of Michigan to its Upper Peninsula region, and is the largest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
He said skeptics once questioned whether it would be worth the cost or could maintain itself with tolls. “The Mackinac Bridge has been a shining example of what a modern bridge can do for our state,” Snyder said. “It has lived up to its expectations. Now it’s time to build a new bridge to Canada that will provide efficient and reliable infrastructure to the largest trading partner of Michigan and America.”
That same day, the majority leader in the state Senate, Republican Randy Richardville, introduced legislation that would allow Michigan to pocket up to $550 million Canada has offered to contribute for the state’s costs in the multibillion-dollar project, to be repaid out of toll receipts.
While trucking would be the most immediate beneficiary among cargo modes, others are watching as well. Another Detroit-Windsor bridge could add cargo volume for regional intermodal hubs in Ohio with their cross-country rail service, and logistics parks in the region where shippers use air as well as ground transport.
Richardville said the project also would bring other practical benefits to the state’s road system. The partnership with Canada, he said, “would allow Michigan to capture $550 million to maximize federal matching dollars and invest nearly $2.2 billion in our roads. This isn’t about one bridge in Detroit; it is about investing in our transportation infrastructure statewide.”
But a second bridge across the Detroit River for passenger cars and commercial trucks would compete with the Ambassador Bridge. That privately owned toll facility is the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada, and handles more than 25 percent of surface trade between the two industrial giants.
Ambassador Bridge owners have beaten back earlier efforts to build a second Detroit-Windsor bridge. They and other opponents are mobilizing against this one.
“Both economies are deeply connected and heavily reliant on the free flow of trade through the Detroit-Windsor corridor,” Snyder said. For Michigan alone, 49 percent of its exports are sold in Canada, he said, and “building the bridge will generate an immediate demand for 10,000 Michigan construction jobs.”
It would be one of the biggest infrastructure efforts in the U.S., and would come at a time when spending is winding down for transportation projects out of the 2009 economic stimulus package.
Congressional committees are trying to shape legislation to give highway and other construction projects new life before current programs expire in September, but a tightening legislative calendar in Washington and a tough environment for tax or fee hikes has some industry officials doubting lawmakers will get much done at the federal level.
Many states, meanwhile, are struggling with infrastructure issues. New GOP governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, elected last fall, rejected federal funds for passenger rail systems over cost concerns, and Iowa has yet to pin down state support to nab a $230 million federal grant.
Illinois is building out its rail corridors and making other big infrastructure investments, but Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn warned last week that lack of action in his state’s Legislature could force a halt to many projects and throw 52,000 construction workers out of jobs this summer.
By contrast, Snyder’s latest push for a second Detroit-Windsor bridge came with support from automakers that ship parts and finished vehicles to and from factories in both countries, plus other manufacturers and farm-related businesses.
If the bridge is built, backers say it could improve and expand the flow of goods throughout a broad part of the U.S. Midwest and nearby areas of Canada.
Brent Case, vice president for international business services at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, was tracking Snyder’s June 1 announcement from an Airports Council International conference in Arlington, Va.
Shippers around Lansing, in central Michigan, already benefit from connections to two major international crossings, at Port Huron on Interstate 69 and the Ambassador Bridge on I-96. But Case said, “We see the new bridge as a way to increase and speed up the flow of commerce for international businesses in greater Lansing, and throughout Michigan.”
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.