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Windsor-Detroit Crossing Funding Sparks Concerns

Canadian officials are accusing the federal government of "dropping the ball."

Wed May 07, 2014 - Midwest Edition
Lori Tobias

The proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) would feature a six-lane bridge over the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor.
The proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) would feature a six-lane bridge over the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor.

The absence of funding in President Obama’s $3.9 trillion fiscal 2015 budget for a joint international border crossing project is sparking concerns on both sides of the border that the proposed project could be in jeopardy. But proponents say they are pushing ahead to get the money allocated, however, getting Congress to approve funding for any project these days is difficult and takes time.

The proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) features a six-lane bridge over the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor. The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction and land acquisition of the $2.1 billion budget, to be repaid by tolls. The United States was to fund the proposed $250 million customs plaza on the Detroit side of the bridge.

President Obama’s omission touched off criticism by Canadian officials, who, according to CBS News “accused the federal government of dropping the ball.” U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat representing Michigan 14th Congressional District, said that failing to fund the plaza would be a “grave mistake.”

But while there are concerns, it’s much too soon to say the project is in jeopardy, said Tatiana Winograd, communications director of Peters.

“We’re in an political environment where it’s hard to get any spending passed,” said Winograd. “Even things for military families. The deficit is high. We’re trying to reduce spending where we can. We all see this as a positive thing for the state of Michigan. But it’s a process. Passing spending legislation takes time. We’re gathering support.”

In February, Peters introduced legislation that would prioritize funding for trade crossings with the highest trade volume by value of shipments, including exports and imports. The Detroit-Windsor crossing and Port Huron crossing rank number two and four, respectively, in trade volume for land ports of entry in the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently accepted Peters’ invitation to visit Michigan to discuss “the importance of constructing proposed customs plazas at high volume trade crossings like the Detroit-Windsor border,” Winograd said.

While Obama’s budget did not specifically call for funding of the Windsor-Detroit crossing, there is $480 million in the budget for Customs Border Protection, Winograde said.

“That money could be used to build a plaza at any one of the locations. The president did not say no we’re not building border crossings, he just didn’t specify what projects the money should be used for.”

A spokesman for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office also denied that the project has hit a roadblock.

“We’ve missed no deadlines to my knowledge,” said Ken Silfven, manager of communications coordination. “The project is right on track, according to the timeline set forth in the crossing agreement between Michigan and Canada. Again, just because there aren’t “shovels in the ground” doesn’t mean the project isn’t on track. There’s a lot of preliminary work that needs to be done first. That work is moving forward and we’re pleased with the progress.”

The anticipated start date of work is 2016 according to Silfven.

In addition to the plaza and six lane bridge, the project would include an interstate connector with I-75 on the Michigan side of the crossing, a Canadian inspection station and a Canadian access road connection to Highway 401.

The project would be of “tremendous” value not only to Detroit, but all of Michigan and beyond, Silfven said. It is expected to lead to the creation of 12,000 direct and as many as 31,000 indirect jobs related to construction.

“Certainly, the city will benefit from some jobs directly related to the project, as well as spin-off jobs and additional customer traffic for existing businesses. But project jobs will come from all areas of the state, and the access to international markets will benefit manufacturers, farmers and entrepreneurs statewide, as well as in Detroit.

“From a national perspective, an additional span enhances our nation’s economic security. We found out the importance of having more than one span when, in December 2010, a severe storm forced the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron to suspend commercial vehicle traffic. Trucks were rerouted to the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, causing significant backups. In turn, those traffic tie-ups led to several manufacturers (auto suppliers, etc.) to lose production. So this project will have a tremendous impact on the economic futures of Michigan, the U.S. and Canada.”

Other benefits, according to Gov. Snyder’s office include:

• “Allowing Michigan to use Canada’s generous contribution of $550 million as eligible matching funds for U.S. federal aid to support the state’s highway projects.

• “A new direct connection between I-75 in Michigan and Highway 401 in Canada that eases traffic congestion at the border and allows trucks to bypass residential communities. The existing bridge at the Detroit-Windsor crossing is the No. 1 traffic bottleneck in the entire Pan-American Freeway System.

• “Reducing costs to job providers, particularly the auto industry. Estimates show that border regulations and delays now add significant costs to vehicle production.

• “Minimizing the likelihood of an economic disaster for Michigan or Windsor should one of the other border crossings sustain lengthy shutdowns.

• “Additional border-crossing capacity to meet the long-term demands of our growing economies.

• “New investment being attracted to Michigan by this modern infrastructure.”

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