Canada to purchase land for new Detroit bridge before U.S. funding set

By Robbie Webber

Determined to keep the New International Trade Crossing moving forward, Canada has announced they will begin purchasing property in the distressed Delray neighborhood of Detroit. While Canada is already planning on paying for almost the entire bridge, including the approaches and connections to the interstate in Michigan, it has been waiting for U.S. funding assurances for the customs plaza on the Detroit side. Frustrated by a lack of a commitment by the U.S., consul-general Roy Norton told the Detroit Free-Press that Canada feels the project is too important to delay any further.

There is no question that both the U.S. government and State of Michigan support construction of the new $2-billion-plus NITC, which will be just downriver from the current Ambassador Bridge, the busiest international crossing in North America. Besides being crowded and narrow, the Ambassador Bridge is aging and does not currently connect directly with interstates, leading to truck traffic winding through local streets in Detroit.

However, besides a presidential permit issued in April 2013, there has been no government action to move the NITC project forward. Canada has already agreed to pay for all expenses up front except for the U.S. Customs inspection plaza, which is expected to cost about $250 million. Canada will be repaid through bridge tolls collected in both directions. Under an agreement announced in June 2012, Michigan has no financial obligation for the bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge is owned and operated by the Moroun family, and patriarch Manual “Matty” Moroun has spent considerable money and energy both filing lawsuits and lobbying against the new bridge, including a losing state referendum to force a statewide vote on any new international connection. It is the busiest crossing between the U.S. and Canada and carries 25 percent of all trade between the two countries. However, the operation of the Ambassador Bridge has been controversial for years. Lawsuits against the Moroun family finally came to a head in March 2012, resulting in a ruling allowing MDOT to take over a long-stalled project to connect the current bridge to I-75.

With land purchases in Detroit moving forward, all parcels are expected to be acquired by the end of 2016. The current schedule is for the NITC bridge itself to open in 2020. However that timetable relies on Congressional approval of money for the customs plaza. While Canada is determined to keep the project on track, they are still worried that D.C. gridlock could threaten the construction of this important international connection.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.