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U.S.-Canada bridge deal announced Friday

3:42 PM, Jun 15, 2012   |    comments
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LANSING, Mich. - Michigan will get all the benefits of a new international bridge but bear none of the cost or other risk under a long-awaited deal announced Friday, the state's lieutenant governor said.

"This really is a no-brainer," Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said. "This is the type of project which gives us the ability to have our cake and eat it, too."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ambassadors, one of President Obama's cabinet members and a host of other officials from both countries announced the deal for the New International Trade Crossing at news conferences in Windsor and Detroit.

About $120 billion worth of goods cross the Detroit River each year, including many auto parts from the Windsor area that go to assembly plants in metro Detroit.

Calley said details of the plan, which Snyder has been negotiating with Canada in secret since soon after a state Senate committee rejected his bridge bill last fall, include:

•Michigan taxpayers won't pay any of the costs. Canada will front the state's $550 million share and recover the money from bridge tolls. The provision refutes persistent claims from critics that taxpayers would be left holding the bag, Calley said.

•Canada bears all of the risk if bridge tolls don't raise enough revenue to make scheduled repayments to the private contractor chosen through competitive bidding to finance, build and manage the bridge.

•Michigan and Canada will be equally represented on a six-member international bridge authority and a bridge that's half owned by Michigan and half owned by Canada.

•All tolls for traffic crossing in both directions will be collected in Canada.

The lieutenant governor repeated earlier pledges that the $550 million Canadian contribution will count as state road spending, allowing Michigan to secure about $2 billion in federal money over the life of the bridge project through a formula that matches each $1 Michigan spends with $4 in federal money.

The plan is sure to face continued opposition from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun. He sees it as unfair competition to his span about 2 miles upstream from the planned site for the new bridge.

Calley said the project is needed to clear a bottleneck that has truck traffic crawling through miles of residential streets in Windsor before reaching a freeway.

Preliminary work could start soon on a project that would take at least five years and create about 10,000 construction and construction-related jobs, Calley said. Once a 40- to 50-year contract with the bridge contractor expires and Canada's $550 million is repaid, bridge tolls would be split evenly between Canada and Michigan.

Among the obstacles faced by the bridge project is a ballot initiative backed by Moroun that would require a public vote for the project to proceed.

"I'm sure that (the governor) found a way to completely blindside and ignore the Legislature, but I'm not sure it makes it right, or received well by the people," Ambassador Bridge government relations director Mickey Blashfield said earlier this week.

Calley said the wording of Moroun's initiative is so flawed it would require a referendum to build any Michigan bridge -- not just one to Canada.

The U.S. government also is expected to contribute about $264 million to the new Customs plaza in Detroit, and the U.S. secretary of state must sign off on the international agreement. But the expected presence today of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood suggests the Obama administration supports the project.

By Paul Egan and John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press

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