The United States — especially southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio — and Canada have everything to gain by building a planned bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, the sooner the better. So it’s distressing that the latest delay in the project is evidently the fault of one of its strongest supporters: the Obama Administration.
The border crossing that spans the Detroit River is the nation’s biggest and most economically important one. Yet heavy freight now can move only across the antiquated Ambassador Bridge, built in 1929. That limitation leads to traffic congestion and bottlenecks, and lost time and money.
For Canada, the need is so great that it is willing to front Michigan’s $500 million share of construction costs for the bridge, and to wait for eventual repayment until years from now, when the bridge starts generating tolls. Support in this country for the bridge project is bipartisan: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, is an enthusiastic backer; President Obama, a Democrat, signed a permit to build the bridge last year.
But an obstacle remains: Congress must appropriate an estimated $250 million to build a customs plaza at the bridge because it is at an international border. The Obama Administration has yet to ask lawmakers to approve that spending.
Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, says he thinks the delay is caused by Obama Administration officials who think Canada should pay for the American customs plaza too. That position understandably irks Canadian officials, who are taking on the main share of bridge expenses even though their country’s population is about one-tenth that of the United States.
A streamlined customs plaza would more than pay for itself. More important, while the new bridge would clearly benefit Ohio and Ontario, Michigan stands to be the biggest winner once construction starts.
Washington is allowing Michigan to count Canada’s contribution to the U.S. share of bridge construction as federal highway matching funds. Once construction is under way, that will give Michigan $2.2 billion in badly needed dollars for road and bridge projects, anywhere in the state.
President Obama should make the bridge a priority. Michigan’s members of Congress should lobby their colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to approve the final step in a development that is vital to this region’s — and the nation’s — economy.