Will Michigan ballot amendment kill new Detroit Windsor crossing?

by Canadian Shipper

WINDSOR, Ont. — The proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) connecting Windsor and Detroit is critical to automotive logistics. Yet it could be in danger, again.

The November 6 US election ballot will ask Michigan residents to vote on an amendment that would prevent the state from spending any money or resources on “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” unless approved by the voters.

The move comes after Michigan governor Rick Snyder along with the Canadian government this summer saved years of plans for the new six-lane bridge with special lanes for pre-approved freight and carriers from being laid waste by political wrangling and lobbying. They did so by signing an “interlocal agreement” that would allow the crossing to go ahead. Since the state had no authority to pay for the bridge, Canada agreed to pay for building the bridge by itself and to also finance Michigan’s $550M portion of the project. Canada plans to make back its investment through tolls.

Manuel Maroun, the owner of the four-lane, 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, however, continues to doggedly fight any plans that would allow the construction of the new public bridge and cut into his toll revenues. He has spent millions on a campaign against the new bridge, proposing that he privately build a new bridge alongside his existing one instead.  And he has now managed to force the question on to the state ballot. The measure was put on the ballot through the efforts of a group called The People Should Decide, which  was created and funded by Maroun and his family.

For his part, Michigan Gov. Snyder says it was within his constitutional authority to sign the deal with Canada and that the new bridge will go ahead regardless of the election outcome since the agreement has already been signed.

The complex automotive supply chains see some car components crossing the border up to seven times. Windsor’s two largest employers are Chrysler and Ford. The latter estimates it has as many as 600 trucks a day crossing the border on the current bridge. It’s estimated that 1.3 million trucks trips are made annually over the Ambassador Bridge and one study found that about one-third of our exports to the US are composed of goods previously imported from the US. The bridge is by far the busiest commercial crossing in North America and congestion when the economy was booming left both shippers and carriers complaining.

 So it’s no surprise that the automotive industry is concerned about being so reliant on aging infrastructure in private hands and that the industry is solidly behind proposals for the new bridge.

Constructing the new bridge, will not only better secure access for Canada to its primary market but is also expected to create considerable growth for Michigan. The new bridge will create 6,800 permanent jobs and contribute $630M each year to Michigan’s gross state product, according to a recent study by the Centre for Automotive Research. The state’s three largest employers’ organizations have also lined up in support of the project.

It remains to be seen if this wave of support will be enough to get bridge construction started.

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