2011-02-12 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Benefits From Detroit-Windsor Bridge
By George Weeks

Largely missing in media coverage of the politically charged controversy over building a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor is the span’s importance to outstate Michigan, including Up North.

“It’s a big, big deal” beyond Detroit, Democratic 1983-90 Governor Jim Blanchard, President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Canada and one of all four of the living ex-governors to support a new public span, told me in a call arranged by aides of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

In his January 19 State of the State address, Snyder supported the public span - as opposed to a private one proposed by owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge - and revealed that he had secured federal agreement that promised $550 million in loans from Canada toward paying Michigan’s share of connecting roads for the project could be used to leverage other federal funds to repair state roads.

The Canadian loan would be repaid by bridge tolls.

It was an impressive deal that was struck by Snyder, in his first days on the job, for the public Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge that supporters say will create 10,000 construction jobs.

But why would Canada put up a half-billion dollars for a public bridge when Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun proposes to build a private second bridge not far from his current span and already has spent more than $500 million for related upgrades (and made sizable contributions to state lawmakers who have opposed DRIC)?

Detroit-based Canadian Counsel General Roy Norton, in a call to me prompted by Blanchard, said that’s because there is going to be a surge of imports from four of his nation’s improved Atlantic ports that will be trucked westward through Michigan, and there are “real limitations” on going through congestion of Windsor.

Limitations like the 17 traffic lights that confront the 10,000 trucks that daily cross into Detroit. A freeway approach downriver from the Ambassador Bridge would expedite traffic across North America’s busiest international border crossing.

Ebullient diplomat Norton, who represents Canada’s interests in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, as well as Michigan, said, “prospects are great” that Michigan “can become a logistics hub” for transit of U.S. trade.

As Snyder told the Legislature, “The new bridge will create jobs, strengthen our economy, and establish Michigan as a hub for global commerce.”

Snyder’s director of strategy, Bill Rustem, said DIRC could, in effect, help give Michigan ports what it does not have in reality.

Beyond talk of hubs and ports, Canada’s Norton said DRIC would facilitate the U.SCanada economic ties that are important in cities where there are Canadian-owned businesses in such northern cities as Petoskey, Alpena, Boyne City, and East Jordan.

That’s an inter-dependence message that Norton has touted, or will tout, in speeches in more than a dozen outstate cities, including Escanaba, Marquette, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, and Holland.

Norton has appearances scheduled in Traverse City February 24 before the Chamber of Commerce and May 31 before the Rotary Club. He’s scheduled to speak June 1 in Sault Ste. Marie, which, along with Port Huron, also has a bridge crossing with Canada and can benefit from more trucking with Canada’s enhanced port at Halifax and elsewhere.

Joining Blanchard in the exguvs parade of DIRC promoters were 2003-10 Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who supported the project while in office, and Republicans 1991-2002 Gov. John Engler and 1969-82 Gov. William G. Milliken.

Granholm said “universal support for the bridge should make final approval of this project a nobrainer for state lawmakers.” It remains to be seen how universal is the support.

Engler said the bridge “will open trade and open markets, which is exactly what Michigan needs right now.”

Milliken said, “Michigan’s long-time partnership with Cana- da is one of our state’s most important economic assets, and this crossing builds and strengthens it.” A native of Traverse City, he said the new link is important to northern as well as downstate Michigan.

Friday at the White House, President Barack Obama, in a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stressed need for “free flow of goods and people” between the two countries.

Obama, who on Thursday in Marquette is to make his first visit to the Upper Peninsula as president, said the United States and Canada are perhaps woven together better than “no other countries in the world.”

Yet another bridge might help further weave the bond.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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