Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 24, 2012

Snyder to talk up new bridge in Canada


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---- — DETROIT (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder is returning to Canada to discuss the plans for a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, nearly six months after signing a deal to build the Canadian-financed span and three weeks after getting a vote of confidence from Michigan residents.

The Republican governor is scheduled to talk Monday in Toronto about the New International Trade Crossing, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said. He'll be at a at a conference on public-private partnerships, and is expected to announce a pact with Great Lakes governors on a virtual Canada trade office and meet with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Snyder returns to Ontario's capital with an Election Day victory: Voters rejected a proposal backed by Ambassador Bridge owner and billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun to give Michigan residents a say on whether state funds could be used to build international border crossings. Moroun and his allies spent millions on advertising, court challenges and other efforts aimed at obstructing the competing bridge.

Still, hurdles remain to building a new bridge some two miles south of the existing Ambassador Bridge. Lawsuits are expected to be filed challenging Snyder's authority to forge the so-called interlocal agreement with Canada without state statute and cite a 1920s congressional act that gave exclusive franchise of that stretch of the Detroit River to the Ambassador's private owners, said John Mogk, a law professor at Wayne State University.

Moroun spokesman Mickey Blashfield told The Associated Press earlier this month that he doesn't believe state officials' actions have been credible.

Mogk said he expects legal counterarguments to follow, including one that cites another congressional resolution "that could be interpreted to give the Executive Branch the authority to build another crossing." "There's doubt in the minds of many that the franchise that was granted to the (Ambassador) bridge company that originally built the bridge was exclusive," Mogk said.

The bridge battle is an extension of Moroun's recent court tussles with Michigan's Department of Transportation that landed him in jail earlier this year for violating a judge's order to complete work on a $230 million freeway-to-bridge project. A competing bridge certainly would cut into toll profits enjoyed solely by Moroun for years.

Moroun's camp has said his plan to double the more than 80-year-old Ambassador Bridge would cost less to build and will be financed with private dollars. His Detroit International Bridge Co. still is waiting on permits from the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian agencies to move forward with the project.

Mogk said passage of the ballot proposal would have strengthened Moroun's arguments.

"Even if it weren't a matter of law, it would have been a matter of policy persuasion," he said.

Colby Spencer, a senior analyst with the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group, agreed that voters' rejection of the proposal boosts the state's case.

"The citizens of Michigan have clearly stated, 'This is not something we need to be deciding,' " said Spencer, who was part of an independent 2011 study looking at the construction of a new commuter bridge between Detroit and Canada. "Your regular citizens of Michigan are saying, 'Yeah, go for it.' It's a nice good-faith gesture."

Construction of the bridge is estimated at about $950 million, according to the New International Trade Crossing website. 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 would be $3.5 billion, including work on freeway interchanges, customs plazas in both countries and infrastructure work.

Spencer and Mogk said the state still needs to acquire land in southwest Detroit that's needed to build the bridge and connect it to the freeway.

"They're really going to have to do a big push on community relations (and) ... making sure these communities are take care of and well-compensated," she said.

Mogk expects challenges over land acquisition and eminent domain, but he believes Michigan will finally get its way.

"The bridge will be built," he said.