After idling for years on the planning books, a new Detroit River International Crossing is shifting into high gear, bringing thousands of jobs with it.
On Friday (June 15), Canadian and Michigan officials signed a New International Trade Crossing (NITC) Agreement to jointly build a publicly owned $2.1 billion crossing between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit.
|The six-lane New International Trade Crossing will be publicly owned, unlike the four-lane Ambassador Bridge (background), which dates to 1929.|
The project has five elements:
• A new Detroit River bridge;
• Inspection areas (plazas) on each side of the river; and
• Direct connections to the highway systems in each country.
“Reinventing Michigan to become a world trading center means developing an infrastructure that will meet the modern-day demands of an international economy,” said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a longtime supporter of the project.
The NITC will compete directly with the privately owned, 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, the busiest North American border crossing and the No. 1 traffic bottleneck in the entire Pan-American Freeway system.
The 7,500-foot suspension bridge has a monopoly on commercial truck traffic; bridge owners also own a nearby store that has a monopoly on duty-free fuel.
The Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge, has spent years and millions of dollars fighting construction of a competing span. Company owners want to build their own new bridge and have logged countless hours in court—and even a few behind bars—fighting the Michigan Department of Transportation on a related project.
Indeed, DIBC owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun has already launched a petition drive to demand a public vote Nov. 6 on the new crossing, but Michigan officials say the crossing agreement has language to nullify such a move.
Authority and Funding
The crossing will use a private-public partnership for design, construction, finance, operation and maintenance. The U.S. federal government will cover the federal portion of the U.S. plaza. Canada will pay for the plaza and roadwork on its side of the border and will pay up to $550 million to cover Michigan’s share of the costs.
Canada will charge a toll on its side of the bridge, but no toll will be charged in Michigan.
The project will be directed by a nonprofit, six-member International Authority, which will not have the authority to condemn property or impose taxes.
Documenting the Need
The new crossing has been discussed for decades. Official efforts date to 1998, when Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation issued a study looking at cross-border freight activity.
In 2000, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and Transport Canada formed a Border Transportation Partnership that also included Michigan DOT and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
|The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest trade crossing in North America and the biggest bottleneck in the Pan-American Freeway system, officials say.|
In January 2004, the Partnership produced a final Planning/Need and Feasibility (P/NF) Study Report, identifying a long-term strategy to meet the needs of the transportation network serving the border between Southeastern Michigan and Southwestern Ontario.
The same year, an Economic Impact Study built the case for a new crossing to support more than $1 billion a year in Canada-U.S. trade. More than 70 percent of that trade moves by truck, the report said. The U.S. automotive industry is particularly dependent on goods from Canada.
In 2002, one truck crossed that border every 2.5 seconds, the report said.
Location and Environmental Approvals
By the end of 2005, the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) team had rejected twinning the Ambassador Bridge and had narrowed the location for a new river crossing.
After years of back-and-forth proposals, a location about two miles downstream from the Ambassador Bridge was finalized in 2008. A final Environmental Impact Statement was completed later that year.
At that time, officials estimated that construction would begin in 2010 and be completed by 2015.
All environmental approvals on the Canadian side were completed in 2009. On the U.S. side, FHWA has issued a Record of Decision approving the U.S. portion—the last step under the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to gain project approval.
MDOT continues to conduct preliminary design activities as part of the DRIC project; further action awaits approval by the Michigan Legislature.
As currently planned, the six-lane span would be constructed between Detroit’s industrial Delray neighborhood near Zug Island and Windsor’s Brighton Beach area and would link Ontario’s Highway 401 and Michigan’s I-75.
The new crossing will create about 13,000 direct construction jobs during its four-year construction and an additional 8,200 permanent jobs once it’s in operation, according to a new study by the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research.
The CAR study predicts that more than 33,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created in Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S. during construction of the bridge between 2013 and 2016.
MDOT’s studies also have said a new bridge would preserve or create 25,000 to 40,000 other jobs once the span is complete.