Better Roads Staff
Well, thankfully for the folks at the State Capitol in Lansing, there’s a rainbow that extends a couple of hours east into Canada. Authorities in the neighboring country will loan up to $550 million for the Michigan-side improvements, “to the joint venture itself, not to the state,” says Calley.
“And this is not without precedent. Back when the first Bluewater Bridge was built (at the mouth of Lake Huron, linking Port Huron to Sarnia), the roles were reversed. Michigan was interested in having a crossing at that location, the Canadians didn’t have the money to do it, and so Michigan fronted the money. And the tolls from the Bluewater paid back Michigan.
“It would be the same thing this time: The tolls after the developer is paid go to pay Canada for the Michigan-side improvements to connect the bridge.”
Calley emphatically challenges the suggestion that this arrangement would provide an unfair advantage to any new competitor in the Detroit-Windsor crossing market. “We, the taxpayers of the State of Michigan, spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an I-75 rebuild, redesign and interchange for the Ambassador Bridge,” he says. “The only difference between our project and their project is that the Michigan taxpayers subsidized the Ambassador Bridge owners to connect their bridge and Michigan taxpayers won’t have to subsidize the new bridge.”
Despite the freshness of the Snyder Administration, elected this past November and inaugurated on New Year’s Day, there’s clearly murky water under the bridge when it comes to the feelings about the Ambassador and its staunch 84-year-old owner, Moroun, who bought the iconic structure in the late 1970s. The Detroit-Windsor Bridge is the only privately-owned border crossing between the U.S. and Canada. Even that shiny new Michigan-side Gateway Project has left controversy, “because the bridge company contracted by the state reneged on the contract and put a gas station in the middle of the plaza, creating a new bottleneck,” says Lt. Governor Calley. That will, he says, be rectified through court action. “In the meantime, Michigan employers suffer yet again at the hands of the bridge company owners.”
Pay It Forward?
If and when Governor Snyder’s plan receives authorization from the Michigan legislature – “and people across the street have been willing to look at this proposal with a fresh set of eyes,” says Calley – obtaining the Presidential Permit for the border crossing should not pose a problem. “The Obama Administration has made it clear that expanding exports over the next 10 years is a priority.”
The go-ahead won’t, says Calley, be the only benefit coming out of The District for Michigan. The Great Lakes State’s gas tax revenue is declining to the point that, he says, next year the state is projected to leave federal matching dollars on the table. However, when the proposed joint venture with the Canadian authority spends the funds required for the Michigan-side interchange and plaza projects to accommodate a new border crossing, it will count as the state spending on federal-qualified roads, securing the federal match moving forward and drawing down about $2.2 billion for road-and-bridge projects throughout the state. “With the gas tax, we have been a donor state forever,” says Calley, “and now is the time to close that gap.”
On the Michigan side, construction jobs during the actual bridge project would total about 10,000, he says, but the longer-term effect of an expanded international logistics hub is exactly the type of foundational restructuring the region needs. “It makes a statement about southeast Michigan, and Detroit in particular. Our goal is to set Detroit on a different path, a path to success. We believe in the future of this state and we believe in the future of Detroit with the proper leadership,” he says, “and this project will be a real boost.”
Beyond there, “I’m truly excited about the prospect of Michigan actually taking a piece of the benefits from global trade. Over the years, we have been more of a victim than a beneficiary of such things,” says Calley. “This really gives us an opportunity to profit from, to benefit from, to grow jobs from international trade, reversing this trend that we’d seen in the last generation.”
A bridge to the future, if you like.
Little Time to Wait
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley talks passionately about the global opportunities a new Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) could create for his state. But, he is quick to remind, this is also a local issue.
Indeed, to truly comprehend what border crossings mean to the immediate populace is to understand that people on one side of a river will line up every single day just to head off to work, to shop, to socialize, to even just go to a ball game on the other side. They may be from different countries, with different cultures, but there is a common community for folks on both sides.
In southeast Michigan, for instance, there is such a nursing shortage that hundreds of nurses drive across from the Windsor side every single day, says Calley. A massive snowstorm last winter shut down Highway 402, the Canadian freeway that runs to the Bluewater Bridge at Sarnia-Port Huron, shifting even more truck traffic than normal further south to the Ambassador Bridge and thus heavily backlogging the crossings in the Detroit-Windsor area. Hospitals in Michigan depending on the 24-hour care provided by nurses were left in a near-crisis situation as many of those nurses sat snarled in traffic.
The same storm caused a U.S. auto plant to temporarily shut down – its production parts stuck at the border. “That’s a big deal,” says Calley. “The impact of these crossings is far and wide. Our economies are so intertwined that as far as I’m concerned there’s not an interest for Michigan that is substantively different than the interest Windsor and really that whole side of the bridge has. Our destinies are tied together.”
One in eight jobs in the immediate southeast Michigan region depends on trade with Canada, and incredibly that rate jumps to one in seven a few hours away in western Michigan. A new bridge will not only secure future growth by removing a trade barrier, says Calley, but will protect the 230,000 current jobs in the state that depend on cross-border trade. “We’re in a very risky situation where we have one bridge that handles so much of that now. If there was anything that even for a short period of time shuts down the Ambassador Bridge, there would be a catastrophic economic collapse.
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