Proposal for second Detroit-Windsor bridge gets a new name and a key new supporter

Stateline Midwest Vol. 20, No. 3: March 2011


Prospects for a new bridge being built between Detroit and Windsor greatly improved in January when Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder strongly endorsed the idea in his first State of the State address.

The bridge, which the governor and business leaders now refer to as the New International Trade Crossing project, would provide additional lanes over the Detroit River and alleviate the bottlenecks that slow travel and trade over the Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned span that was built more than 80 years ago.

In his address to the Legislature, Snyder noted that Michigan trade with Canada totaled $44 billion in 2009 and accounts for 237,000 jobs in the state. Previous efforts to build a new bridge have failed, in part due to concerns that taxpayers might have to pay for some of it, even if the bridge is operated under a public-private partnership.

Last year, the Michigan House passed legislation authorizing the state Department of Transportation to create a joint public authority with Canadian government officials to operate what was known then as the proposed Detroit River International Crossing. The Senate, however, did not take up the legislation before adjourning. Under the proposal, this joint public authority would have entered into a partnership agreement with a private contractor, which would run the bridge in exchange for toll revenue.

Opponents of a publicly owned bridge believe public-sector involvement is not needed, since owners of the Ambassador Bridge have promised to build and pay for a second span. However, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the government of Canada have rejected the company’s permit applications to build a new bridge. The Coast Guard recently terminated the application due to an unresolved land dispute between Detroit and the bridge owners.

Snyder has now negotiated a deal with the U.S. government that could break the impasse over a new bridge.

The Canadian government had previously offered to pay for Michigan’s $550 million share of the expenses for the bridge crossing. (Canada would then be repaid its share with toll revenue.)

Snyder has received approval from the Obama administration to count this $550 million toward Michigan’s federal match for road funds. As result, the state will be able to leverage approximately $2 billion in federal highway funds for other road and infrastructure projects in the state.

Detroit-Windsor is the highest-volume trade route along the U.S.-Canada border; goods valued at more than $500 million cross the U.S. border in trade every day.

“We saw firsthand how fragile the current system is when Highway 402 in Sarnia [Ontario] was forced to close in December 2010 due to severe weather,” notes Ken Silfven, deputy press secretary for Snyder. “It shut down trade across the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron [Michigan] and caused major backups at the Ambassador Bridge.”

Overall traffic on the Ambassador has been down since 2007, but it has begun to rebound this year with improvements in the economy.

In the weeks following his State of the State address, Snyder secured support for the New International Trade Crossing Project from four former Michigan governors and auto industry leaders.