After years of planning and negotiation, the Canadian government and the state of Michigan on Friday announced they had agreed to collaborate on the construction of a new $950 million, six-lane bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, to support growing volumes of trade and travel between the United States and its northern neighbor.
The primary link between downtown Detroit and Windsor is the four-lane, privately-owned Ambassador Bridge, the largest commercial truck crossing in the world and the busiest traffic crossing on the U.S.-Canada border. The 83-year-old facility currently handles a quarter of all U.S.-Canada trade. There are frequent backups at the bridge and traffic must wind through city streets in Windsor to get to the 401 highway, adding to congestion.
U.S., Canadian and state officials have long desired a second, publicly owned crossing to provide sufficient capacity to handle projected growth in cross-border trade and travel between the trading partners, as well as a transportation alternative that adds redundancy should anything happen to shut traffic at the existing bridge. The economies of states and provinces along the border are closely tied together because U.S. and Canadian companies frequently rely on companies on the other side as suppliers and ship back-and-forth components needed for finished goods, many of which are then exported to the United States or Canada, and vice versa.
Trade of goods and services between the two nations exceeded $680 billion last year, $70 billion of which involves businesses in Michigan.
government is taking the measures necessary to facilitate trade and investment
between Canada and the United States in order to generate jobs, economic growth
and long term prosperity,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said. “This new bridge will
reduce congestion at this critical Canada-U.S. border crossing, support the
creation of new export related jobs and investment opportunities along the
Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, increase the competitiveness of the North
American manufacturing sector, and provide thousands of construction jobs in
Ontario and Michigan.”
The project includes customs inspection plazas on both sides of the bridge and an interchange with Interstate-75 on the U.S. side. The total cost of the project is estimated at about $3 billion. Construction is expected to take four to five years, according to a Canadian government news release.
The customs stations are expected to include more dedicated lanes allowing faster processing of pre-certified truckers with cargo from shippers that have met U.S. and Canadian security standards.
The new international crossing "will help Michigan farmers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers get their goods to market faster, as well as develop new customer bases. It also prepares southeastern Michigan to become a global transportation hub when coupled with the region’s other assets," Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said.
Canada is taking the lead on funding the project.
The agreement allows for the creation of an international authority to oversee the letting of bids to privately design, develop, finance, construct and operate the new bridge for 40 to 50 years. Canada and Michigan will each appoint three members to the bridge authority. The Canadian government will make annual "availability payments" to the concessionaire for making the bridge available to users according to specified terms and conditions and will charge tolls to recover its costs. No tolls will be charged on the Michigan side.
The U.S. government is responsible for building the inspection station on the U.S. side. Canada is also contributing $550 million for land acquisition in Canada and Michigan and to construct the interchange to I-75. The province of Ontario and Canada will jointly fund the Windsor Essex Parkway, which will connect Highway 401 to the new bridge.
Last year, the Republican-led Michigan legislature refused to fund the state's portion of the bridge project. Under the agreement, Canada is essentially subsidizing Michigan's contribution.
Further design work and property acquisition on the U.S. side must be completed before construction can begin. The deal also includes a provisions that only Canadian or American steel and iron can be used to construct the bridge, according to the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
Canada has taken a strategic approach towards infrastructure investment to capture more trade through port gateways on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. A new Detroit River bridge supports the government's Continental Gateway, a north-south trade lane between the United States and Ontario and Quebec, that connects to road and rail arteries extending from the Pacific and Atlantic gateways.
The Obama administration has worked closely with the Canadian government to better integrate the U.S. and Canadian economies. Among the goals of an action plan signed by both governments in December is to enhance critical cross-border infrastructure.
The Maroun family that owns the Ambassador Bridge has aggressively fought another bridge, which it views as competition and conflicts with its plans to build a second span. A new bridge is broadly supported by businesses in Michigan, but billionaire businessman Matty Maroun's heavy lobbying and political contributions have contributed to the Michigan legislature's opposition. Maroun is likely to take further legal action to try and block the new project from moving forward, officials say. Maroun says the international bridge crossing should be put to a public referendum and is trying to gather enough signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. - Eric Kulisch