February 7, 2011 4:30 AM, EST

Second Bridge Linking Detroit, Ontario Key to Michigan Economy, Gov. Says

By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Feb. 7 print edition of Transport Topics.

Rick Snyder, Michigan’s new governor, is forcefully pushing to accomplish what his predecessors failed to do — building a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, the busiest freight crossing in the United States.

Snyder did not say during his campaign whether he would support the proposed, publicly owned crossing known as the DRIC, or Detroit River International Crossing.

However, he said at his State of the State address on Jan. 19 that a new bridge is integral to his plan for an economic turnaround in the state.

“Every farmer and manufacturer in the state can tell you why it is important to have world trade,” Snyder told legislators. “This new bridge will create jobs, strengthen our economy and help establish Michigan as a hub for global commerce.”

The existing crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, is owned by Matty Moroun, who has fought back attempts by previous governors to get the publicly owned bridge built.

“I do know that, for any governor, it’s not a slam-dunk that he’s going to have everybody marching in line,” said David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association and a DRIC supporter.

“But from the get-go, this thing had such support from the business community, politically in Michigan. I mean, the opposition was pretty narrow,” said Bradley. “So, I think that, with a new set of folks, with new leadership, hopefully, we’ll get it done this time.”

Tom Shields, spokesman for the business, labor and industry coalition formed last year to press state legislators to approve DRIC, said: “Nothing is ever certain, [but] we were optimistic that the governor would decide to support the project.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation estimates that truck traffic at the border crossing — about 650,000 trucks per quarter in 2010 — will double by 2035.

Ford Motor Co. executives, who favor a second bridge, have said that about 600 of their trucks go back and forth across the border each day.

The governor also announced that he negotiated a deal with the U.S. Department of Transportation under which DOT will allow Michigan to receive federal matching road funds, based on the $550 million the Canadian government is giving the state.

The $550 million gift is to cover bridge construction costs on Michigan’s side of the river. Canada will be repaid with toll collections after the bridge is built.

The U.S. government’s agreement to count the gift as road money the state raised means Michigan could receive as much as $2 billion to spend on other road projects.

“He did a nice job, a Republican governor walking into the Obama administration and was able to do that,” Shields said.

Snyder has followed up his State of the State address with speeches around the state in which he links DRIC to the economic turnaround he hopes to foster.

He recently recruited four former governors — Jennifer Granholm, James Blanchard, William Milliken and John Engler — to issue a joint statement Jan. 27 touting the economic importance of DRIC.

However, Snyder must convince state legislators to pass a bill to allow a three-way partnership of Canada, the United States and a private financial consortium to build and operate a new bridge. Michigan has no legal mechanism for public-private partnerships, known as P3s.

Lobbying by DRIC backers failed to save a P3 bill for the DRIC in the 2010 legislative session. Moroun and his family members lobbied hard to stop the bill.

Calls made by Transport Topics to the Moroun-owned company that operates the Ambassador Bridge were not returned.

The GOP leadership that controlled the state senate last year killed the DRIC bill but, as Shields pointed out, Snyder, a Republican, took over from Granholm, a Democratic governor, and the GOP now controls both chambers.

Also, most of the legislators in office last year are no longer there because Michigan has term limits, Shields said.

“So, I think that there is a sense from the Republicans in the legislature that they want to be a part of this turnaround that the governor’s initiated,” he said.