December 9, 2009
There has been a lot written in the papers recently about the alleged dueling bridge proposals. The bridges are not mutually exclusive – at least that is my position. Let’s examine the situation. The Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) has proposed to construct a new bridge adjacent to the existing Ambassador Bridge and then take the existing bridge out of public service – essentially providing a replacement bridge. Given that the current bridge is over 70 years old, this makes some sense. DIBC has completed drafts of required environmental documents and transmitted them to the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal agency of record and we should be working towards the construction of the replacement span.
While this has been going on, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Province of Ontario, and Transport Canada have been involved in an exhaustive study to identify the best location for an additional crossing between the two countries. The location of the proposed crossing, called the DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing) has been identified, the required planning and environmental analysis has been completed and approved by the required agencies on both sides of the border, and it should be time to move forward on construction.
But – wait a minute – neither bridge is moving forward. Why? This is where it gets complicated. Let’s take one at a time. First, the DIBC replacement bridge. In a letter to the DIBC, the U.S. Coast Guard identifies several issues that they feel have not been adequately addressed. They have asked DIBC to go back and address the issues before they can move forward with the permit process. But, that is only one part of the problem. The other? Well, the Canadian officials are not real keen on the proposed location because it will continue to funnel large trucks through downtown Windsor on Huron Church Road. This contributes to backups on Huron Church that sometimes go for miles! They have concerns and have not issued a permit to DIBC at this time.
The DRIC also has its hurdles to overcome. There are many in the state legislature that question the need for an additional crossing at a time when crossing volumes have declined. Many in the legislature also do not seem to understand that the DRIC and the DIBC replacement bridge are not competing projects – but complementary projects. Instead, many believe that the DRIC bridge should not go forward and we should just wait for DIBC to build its bridge – despite the fact that the Canadians don’t want it on Huron Church, the Coast Guard has problems with the proposal, the DRIC study identified a location that both countries agree is the best place to build a new bridge ,and despite the fact that both bridges will be built and paid for exactly the same way – bonds repayed from tolls collected at each facility!
The SEMCOG elected leadership supports both proposals in Direction2035, the region’s long- range transportation plan. It is time for the legislature to do so as well. The reason for an additional crossing should not just be based on volumes, but on security and safety and local and international impacts as well. A recent SEMCOG report identifies that U.S. trade with Canada averages $1.5 billion a day! Trade between Michigan and Canada exceeded $67 billion in 2008! Shouldn’t we be protecting and growing this trade over time, trying to guarantee that it stays right here in our state and region? Why are we fighting between bridge options when we should be supporting both proposals? Wouldn’t the jobs created to build both spans put people to work and add a boost to our slumping economy?
Both bridges are needed if our region and state are going to continue to be a player in the global freight world. It is not an either /or – it should be both!