Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, left, listens as Gary Doer, ambassador of Canada to the United States, announces a key State Department permit to build a second bridge in Detroit linking the United States and Canada.
LANSING — Michigan won approval Friday to build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada, a key step toward starting construction on the $3.5 billion government project intended to relieve congestion and speed up trade at the busiest northern U.S. border crossing.
A permit awarded by the U.S. Department of State allows Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, to move forward with the span over the Detroit River.
Construction of the bridge could start in 2015 and the entire project could be finished by 2020.
The presidential permit is a requirement for all U.S. border-crossing projects with Canada and Mexico and comes 10 months after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper struck a deal calling for Canada to pay for the span.
Mr. Snyder estimated the construction projects will create 12,000 construction jobs and as many as 31,000 indirect jobs.
“Getting Michigan-made products to more markets faster will enhance our economic competitiveness in the future and help our state create more jobs,” Mr. Snyder said.
The bridge is expected to be a boon to Ohio commerce with Canada as well.
Ohio sells more to Canada than the next 14 countries combined, according to the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments.
Roy Norton, the consul general of Canada in Detroit, told The Blade that millions of U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada.
“Since one-quarter of all U.S. trade with Canada crosses the Ambassador Bridge ... 2 million U.S. jobs depend on the Ambassador Bridge,” he wrote.
He said the number of Canadian jobs reliant on the Ambassador Bridge “is comparable,” so that would be another 2 million jobs.
Mr. Norton’s region includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky.
In an Oct. 16, 2011, column on The Blade’s Pages of Opinion, he wrote that almost 20,000 of those jobs are in Lucas, Wood, and Hancock counties.
“Exports from Ohio to Canada increased [in 2010] by more than 20 percent over 2009,” Mr. Norton wrote. “As it has for many years, Ohio continues to enjoy a significant trade surplus with Canada. Modern border infrastructure linking the Midwest to Canada is essential to moving existing and future trade.”
He said in 2011 that building a second Detroit River crossing is Canada’s top national infrastructure priority because of the corridor’s importance to U.S.-Canada trade.
Kim Hill, associate director of research for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, told The Blade in 2012 that there could be an economic benefit to the Toledo region from building a new span.
“With the CSX yard there in Wood County and [Toledo] looking to be an intermodal hub, trying to enhance the movement of freight ... I would suspect if there is a second crossing, that folks who are in shipping, … that a second bridge could play into that and make the probability of that higher.”
The Center for Automotive Research estimated that 12,000 jobs would be created for each of the four to five years of construction of the bridge and more than 8,000 permanent jobs would be created in southeast Michigan once the bridge is open.
Companies in Ohio that have Ontario operations or customers also are expected to benefit from faster, more reliable travel times.
In issuing the permit, the State Department said the New International Trade Crossing will “serve the national interest.”
“The NITC will help to meet future capacity requirements in a critical travel corridor, promote cross-border trade and commerce, and advance our vital bilateral relationship with Canada,” the agency said.
Though Canada has agreed to cover the cost of the span, Mr. Snyder anticipates Canadians working on the Ontario side and Americans working on the Michigan side, and hopes to train Detroiters so they are hired for skilled jobs.
But hurdles remain to building the bridge two miles south of the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge.
Lawsuits challenging the bridge have been filed by a lawmaker and the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the lone bridge between Detroit and Windsor.
In a federal lawsuit, bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun claims a “perpetual and exclusive franchise right” to operate the bridge free of competition from another span and questions the constitutionality of a 1972 law giving the State Department authority to approve international bridges.
State Rep. Fred Durhal (D., Detroit) has sued in Ingham County, challenging Mr. Snyder’s authority to forge the agreement with Canada contrary to state laws approved in recent years.
The Snyder administration calls the suits a delay tactic.
Construction of the government bridge is estimated to cost about $950 million. Canada has promised to take on Michigan’s $550 million portion with revenue from future tolls paying off the debt.
The total cost of the bridge is $3.5 billion, including work on freeway interchanges. Canada also will pay for an interchange linking the span to I-75 on the American side.
The United States will pay for its customs plaza.
Initial steps will include identifying which properties on the U.S. side of the river need to be seized and bought under Michigan’s eminent domain power. Canada will pay for the land, some of which was strategically purchased by the Moroun family to make it more difficult to start construction, Mr. Norton said.