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Canada eyes buying land in Detroit

Move would be first step in process for new bridge


Officials hope to open the New International Trade Crossing over the Detroit River by 2020. If so, it would compete with the Ambassador Bridge, above.

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DETROIT — The Canadian government plans to start buying land in Detroit for the U.S. portion of a new bridge linking the nations, a Canadian official said, a move that bypasses the project’s opponents even though the U.S. government hasn’t yet allocated money.

The $2 billion-plus project to add a second span across the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, is too important to delay, Canadian Consul General Roy Norton said.

Canada is paying most of the project’s cost on both sides of the border. It plans to recoup the cost with tolls in both directions. Officials have said they hope to open the New International Trade Crossing in 2020.

“We’re about to proceed with land purchases some time in the next few months, and we’re going to do that whether there’s been an indication from the U.S. government on a commitment to the customs plaza or not,” Mr. Norton said.

“That involves a little bit of risk on our part, obviously, but we’re so confident that this ultimately will be built that it’s prudent to do that,” he said.

Last month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder complained about the Obama Administration’s failure to commit $250 million for a border inspection plaza. “The U.S. government has largely taken a position that they don’t think they should pay anything for a facility for the United States government. In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to see the rest of the bridge held up over what you might describe as a somewhat difficult-to-understand attitude.”

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun has been one of the project’s most determined opponents, proposing a span be added to his own bridge.

The Moroun family continues to pursue lawsuits to try to block the new bridge, which is likely to draw traffic and toll revenue away from its privately owned bridge. Suits are pending in courts in Michigan, Washington, and Canada.

If Canada’s land purchases begin this year, officials hope most of the about 1,000 parcels will be acquired by the end of 2015.

Condemnations of parcels that owners refuse to sell may stretch into 2016, but that wouldn’t necessarily delay construction because Michigan law lets the government take possession and settle on the sale price later in court.

Eventually the U.S. government should come across with the money for its side of the plaza, Mr. Norton said. “For people to muse about Canada paying for it really is preposterous,” he said. “We’re paying for fifteen-sixteenths of this project. It’s silly.”

Canadian officials continue to lobby U.S. officials over the need to commit to pay for the plaza.

Canada Transport Minister Lisa Raitt will meet with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in Washington this month. The visit is planned “to impress that this is something that should be a priority, [and] that it’s not a done deal,” Mr. Norton said.

Canada also has begun a search for a chief executive officer of the new Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority that will oversee the bridge’s construction and operation. Work has begun on relocating utilities on the Detroit side.

The moves indicate a strong desire to keep the project on track despite questions of when or whether the U.S. government will pony up the money.

Canadian officials have called the new bridge their most critical infrastructure priority and essential to the growth of commerce in both nations.

An automotive industry expert told The Blade in 2012 that with the construction and permanent jobs, a new bridge would be a spark for the Michigan economy.

After the construction jobs needed to build the bridge, the state would be left with permanent jobs, such as toll-booth operators and maintenance workers, said Kim Hill, associate director of research for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

On top of that, the state can expect ancillary jobs, he said. “There could be employment from new private investment that could result from a new bridge, such as shipping businesses and logistic companies that may say, ‘It is twice as easy to get across the international crossing,’ so there could be additional business that flows.”

Mr. Hill would not say how many jobs could be created.

Ohio sells more to Canada than the next 14 countries combined, reported the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, which sponsored a conference in 2011 at the University of Toledo’s Dana Conference Center.

Mr. Norton indicated in a 2012 email to The Blade that 8 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada. “Since one-quarter of all U.S. trade with Canada crosses the Ambassador Bridge, therefore 2 million U.S. jobs depend on the Ambassador Bridge,” he wrote.

Mr. Norton, whose region includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, has urged transportation interests in the region to support a new crossing.

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.”

Mr. Hill added it is conjecture that there could be an economic benefit to the Toledo region from building a new span, but he acknowledged it is possible.

“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.”

Mr. Norton said Canadian officials are hoping President Obama will include money for the plaza in his new budget that he is expected to unveil this month or next.

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