Canada May Pay Mich.’s Share of Bridge

Sat May 08, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Kathy Barks Hoffman - ASSOCIATED PRESS

LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan wouldn’t have to put up a penny toward a new $5.3 billion international bridge crossing if Michigan accepts Canada’s offer to pay for improvements on the U.S. side, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said April 29.

The offer from the Canadian government is intended to ease some Michigan lawmakers’ concerns that the state, which faces a $1.7 billion deficit next budget year, can’t afford to put $100 million into building a plaza and connection to Interstate 75. The new bridge would span the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The Canadian government is offering to cover the $550 million cost of improvements leading up to the bridge on the U.S. side, which would have been split between Michigan and the U.S. government. The bridge itself is expected to be built by a private investor.

The Canadian government would recoup its investment by taking a larger percentage of the collected tolls.

Officials from Michigan, Canada and major businesses — including U.S. automakers — said the bridge is needed to avoid future bottlenecks and provide adequate security at one of the U.S’s busiest border crossings.

“This is a terrific step in the right direction for jobs in Michigan,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference, noting that building the bridge will employ 10,000 construction workers in the United States.

Dan Stamper, president of Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge that already provides a link between Detroit and Windsor, had a different take.

“If Canada’s putting in the money up front, and wants to get it back in tolls later, you can bet that the employment is going to come from Canada to build this bridge,” he said.

Canadian officials have refused to give the owners permission to expand the existing bridge, saying they want to avoid more traffic to downtown Windsor.

Lawmakers face a June 1 deadline to approve bills allowing Michigan to join the project, which is opposed by Ambassador Bridge owners.

A House committee approved the measures April 29, but they’re likely to be changed before the full House votes. Some Republicans favor expanding the Ambassador Bridge instead, which could make it hard for the bills to pass the GOP-led Senate.

Canada’s offer removes the financial risk for Michigan in the project, while allowing a new connection with Michigan’s biggest trading partner, Granholm said.

Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council president, said Canadians would work on the Canadian side while 10,000 jobs would go to workers in the United States. He urged lawmakers to pass the bridge agreement so his unemployed and underemployed members could get to work.

“There’s nothing prettier from an ironworker’s perspective than building a bridge,” Gleason said.

Stamper took a dig at Granholm, who was born in Canada, saying she “has offered to sell the Michigan border to Canada.” Granholm called the charge “absurd.”

“This action today is all about 10,000 jobs,” she said. “How could we possibly turn that down when it’s so good for Michigan?”

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