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May 25, 2022 5:39 PM, EDT

Buttigieg, Canadian Official Discuss Takeaways From Bridge Shutdown

An empty border crossing to the Ambassador Bridge Feb. 9An empty border crossing to the Ambassador Bridge Feb. 9. Protests over the vaccine mandate in Canada blocked the bridge, leading to its shutdown. (Galit Rodan/Bloomberg News)

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra discussed February’s seven-day blockage of the Ambassador Bridge during a supply chain meeting May 24 in Washington, Alghabra said.

“It certainly highlighted in a real tangible way how integrated our economies are,” Alghabra told The Detroit News. “We all knew that intellectually, but we felt it when the Ambassador Bridge was shut down how dependent both of our nation’s jobs are on the free flow of goods between our two countries.”

A protest over COVID-19 restrictions and a trucker vaccine mandate halted traffic on the bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, drawing international attention and significantly disrupting international trade.

Trucks wait on Interstate 75 for the reopening of Ambassador Bridge

Trucks wait on Interstate 75 in Detroit on Feb. 8 for the reopening of Ambassador Bridge. (Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg News)

The bridge is the conduit for around 25% of all trade between the U.S. and its northern neighbor and is a major supply route for the automotive industry. By some estimates, the auto industry lost nearly $300 million in wages and production during the bridge shutdown.

The two transportation leaders talked about how important it is to continue work on the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which has been under construction since 2019 and is expected to open to traffic at the end of 2024, Alghabra said. When completed, the bridge will offer a publicly owned alternative to the privately owned Ambassador Bridge.

“That bridge will offer an important link between our two economies that will add redundancy and resilience to that trade corridor,” he said. “There’s always room for figuring out what other red tape we can cut, how we can harmonize the flow of goods. So we discussed those as well.”

Alghabra came to Washington to talk with Buttigieg about solutions to supply chain issues and the countries’ responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Canadian official said. He also met with members of Congress, the CEO of Amtrak and White House Senior Adviser Mitch Landrieu.

International supply chains have been under strain throughout the pandemic, as shortages and disruptions across the globe repeatedly impact production elsewhere. It’s prompted a renewed focus on reshoring or “ally-shoring” manufacturing of critical components such as semiconductor chips, a shortage of which has caused billions of dollars of losses to the U.S. economy.

The two transportation leaders discussed digitizing and sharing supply chain data, identifying trade corridors that could become bottlenecks, and coordinating investments at border crossings as potential solutions to supply chain challenges. They also talked about mutual needs to further electrify government fleets and build up infrastructure for electric vehicle charging.

Buttigieg’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the discussion May 25.

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