New Windsor-Detroit bridge gets Obama's OK
Presidential permit seen as one of the final hurdles before bridge construction can start
A presidential permit that will allow construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., has been signed by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the announcement Friday in Detroit.
Snyder spoke at the James Group International, a logistics company on West Fort Street, near the site where the new bridge will be built. James Group International has been a long-time supporter of a new bridge, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The official announcement was met with a long, loud round of applause.
"That’s the kind of excitement I like," Snyder said. "This is one of those situations where you should just be happy."
Michigan applied for the permit June 21, 2012, days after Snyder signed the historic crossing agreement with Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The permit is considered one of the final hurdles that needed to be cleared in order for the bridge to be constructed.
According to Snyder, the new bridge "hinged on Michigan’s ability to secure a presidential permit."
Canadian officials, including Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, were also on hand for the announcement.
Later Friday, Francis told CBC's Hannah Thibedeau that "everybody that's been involved in this file from day one just breathed a tremendous sigh of relief" when news of the permit was released. "We've been waiting for a long time for this to proceed," the mayor said.
Raitt said Ottawa wants the bridge finished "as soon as possible."
Estimates suggest the bridge could be built and open by 2020. The permit means the Michigan government can start acquiring land for the bridge on the U.S. side of the Detroit River.
Raitt, who toured Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant before arriving in Detroit on Friday, said the bridge will benefit Canada’s auto industry.
Every day, Chrysler moves more than 1,300 component shipments; 2,000 cars and trucks; and makes more than 1,600 customs entries in Windsor-Detroit.
"Today marks a significant milestone on the road to building the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Canada," Chrysler said in a statement.
The bridge is to span from Brighton Beach in west Windsor to the Delray neighbourhood in west Detroit.
"This is all about jobs for today and tomorrow," Snyder said. "This is a major construction project that is expected to create 12,000 direct jobs and as many as 31,000 indirect jobs. Getting Michigan-made products to more markets faster will enhance our economic competitiveness in the future and help our state create more jobs."
A study released by the Center for Automotive Research last year projects construction of a new international crossing between Windsor and Detroit will create thousands of jobs for southeast Michigan.
According to the study, approximately 6,000 jobs will be created in each of the first two years of construction of the bridge. An additional 5,100 jobs will be created in each of the final two years of construction.
"This project is important for the future of Michigan, the United States and Canada," Snyder said. "I appreciate the U.S. State Department’s thorough review, as well as the continued support of our Canadian partners."
Jobs estimates for Canada have varied. However, Robert Petroni, the business manager for the Labourers' International Union of North America, which represents skilled trades workers, said the project will keep 1,000 Windsor workers employed.
"The good news is we have 1,000 workers working now. We need to sustain that work for the next number of years," Petroni said. "With this announcement, workers will go from the parkway project to the plaza and bridge projects without interruption. "I don’t think it will increase the membership, but it will keep the membership very busy."
Snyder called the project "vital" to enhancing the $70 billion US in annual trade between Michigan and Canada.
In addition to the new six-lane bridge, the project includes state-of-the-art inspection plazas.
Canadian politicians approve
"Canada and the United States are each other's most important trading partners," Raitt said. "The presidential permit represents an important step towards a new bridge which will be needed for growing trade and traffic at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing with over 8,000 trucks crossing each day.
"This project will create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border both during the construction period and in the years to come."
The federal NDP's border critic and Windsor West MP Brian Masse called the permit "a next good step."
"I'll be satisfied when we can actually walk across the new bridge and celebrate together. This is a good accomplishment," he said.
Windsor Coun. Ron Jones, in whose ward the bridge will be built, said it's about time the permit was signed.
"Certainly for the west end itself, taking trucks out of the neighbourhood, I think, is very, very important for the safety of the people," Jones said. "It's going to mean jobs for the people. It's going to mean industry is going to improve in this particular area. The tens of thousands of trucks that pass over this border daily will do so in a more efficient and effective way."
There are currently two land crossings between Windsor and Detroit. A tunnel that is used mostly by commuter traffic and the Ambassador Bridge, which is North America's busiest commercial land border crossing.
Snyder called the Ambassador Bridge "the No. 1 traffic bottleneck in the entire Pan-American freeway system."
The $1.6-billion Herb Gray Parkway in Ontario and the new bridge will create a direct connection between Ontario's Highway 401 and I-75 in Michigan.
The two projects will ease traffic congestion at the border and allow trucks to bypass residential communities on both sides of the border, Snyder's media release said.
"It’s phenomenal news for us," said Petroni, whose members are working on the parkway right now. "It’s something that will change the face of Windsor and Essex County forever."
Canada is paying the entire cost of the bridge's construction, including Michigan's $550-million share. Canada will recoup the money through toll revenue.
Essex MP Jeff Watson, a Conservative, promised "only Canada and U.S. steel will be used" in construction of the bridge. There had been speculation by bridge opponents that cheaper, Chinese steel might be used.
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The new bridge has been nearly 15 years in the making already.
It's something Harper's two predecessors could not accomplish.
In 2002, Jean Chrétien and then Ontario Premier Ernie Eves signed a memorandum of understanding and committed $300 million over five years as part of a joint investment to upgrade existing infrastructure on the Ontario approaches to the Windsor-Detroit border crossings. However, a new bridge was never concretely part of the plan.
Two years later, Chrétien's successor, Paul Martin, vowed to "fix the border" during his term as prime minister. He didn't.
New bridge also opposed
The permit comes shortly after Manuel (Matty) Moroun, private owner of the Ambassador Bridge, filed several lawsuits in an effort to stop construction of the new crossing.
Moroun claims in his lawsuit that his company has an "exclusive franchise right" to own the only bridge between Windsor and Detroit. His claims have not been tested in court.
Moroun spent millions of dollars trying to convince Michigan voters to block the bridge in a referendum last fall.
Canada’s Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer said the project has had "a partnership in democracy."
In November, Michigan voters rejected Proposal 6, which, if passed, would have put any new international bridge to a statewide vote.
"There was a vote a few months ago. It was David versus Goliath, Norton and Snyder versus Goliath, and David won," Doer said.
Francis said he understands the opposition to the new bridge.
"I may not agree with the opposition, but I understand it," the Windsor mayor told Thibedeau on CBC's Power & Politics.