Masse Comments on U.S. pushing ahead with new bridge

IDNUMBER 200901160004
PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2009.01.16
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A1 / FRONT
ILLUSTRATION: Photo: Windsor Star / BRIDGE PROPOSALS: Artist renderings ofthe DRIC border crossing project show a suspension bridge, in photo at left, and a cable-stayed bridge in photo at right. ; Photo: Matty Moroun ; Photo: Eddie Francis ; Colour Photo: Jennifer Granholm ; Colour Photo: Mary Ann Cuderman ;
BYLINE: Dave Battagello
SOURCE: Windsor Star
WORD COUNT: 987

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U.S. pushes ahead with new bridge

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A new bridge that will link Windsor and Detroit crossed a key hurdle late Wednesday when the U.S. government gave final environmental approval for the multi-billion-dollar project.

The decision allows the State of Michigan to begin property acquisitions and design work.

"It's a key milestone to ensure this project moves towards construction," Doug Hecox, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Thursday. "This signifies, as far as the U.S. government is concerned, all environmental reviews have been completed," Hecox said. "This has been a pretty rigorous process. What this decision does is indicate everything looked at is fine."

The bridge will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach, in Windsor's west end, and Delray.

Construction of the bridge, plazas and roads to Highway 401 on the Canadian side and I-75 in Detroit is expected to cost about $5 billion. It will create an estimated 12,000 jobs on the Canadian side.

The Detroit River International Crossing project still needs state, provincial, local and Canadian government approval before construction can begin.

The Ambassador Bridge -- which has a competing proposal to build a twin span -- has said it may take court action to block the new crossing.

Bridge president Dan Stamper could not be reached Thursday for comment, but told the Star last week he believes the DRIC process has "fatal flaws."

"We have no information on that and generally don't comment on litigation," Hecox said.

He said the bridge should not be looked at as a replacement for the Ambassador Bridge since there will be plenty of traffic for both crossings.

"This has been a long time coming and will help improve traffic flow in the Detroit-Windsor area. It can't come soon enough," Hecox said.

"It will augment the area so people won't have to wait as long to cross. Waiting is something economically on both sides we can't afford anymore."

Construction of the bridge is expected to begin in 2010 and be completed by 2013.

The approval by Washington turns over the lead on the DRIC bridge project to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck said property purchases on the Detroit side are unlikely to begin until summer.

Preliminary indications are that 257 residential dwelling units, 43 active businesses, and nine non-profit entities will need to be bought out.

"This is extremely positive," said MP Brian Masse (NDP -- Windsor West) whose riding includes the site for the new bridge. "I didn't know it was this advanced. It's a signal Washington is very serious about getting a span built through this process. It's reassuring that on their side there are no hiccups.

"Over 75 years ago, they created a rail tunnel, vehicle tunnel and Ambassador Bridge at a time when there were no transport trucks or as many commuters. But they had the foresight to lay the groundwork that helped make this a manufacturing base for decades.

"We need this to happen for the sake of the next 50 to 100 years. If we fail there will be negative consequences for decades. This is our opportunity to seize and make it a reality."

A Transport Canada official called the environmental approval "another significant milestone" for the DRIC partnership.

"It's critical because this is an end-to-end solution that will need approvals from all levels of government," said spokesman Mark Butler.

The DRIC process is in the midst of a 32-week review by Ontario's environment ministry and a parallel review by federal environmental authorities, he said.

The two sides are hoping to issue a joint approval sometime this summer. A key hurdle will be whether the city can iron out differences with the Ontario government over how much of a new $1.6-billion feeder highway in Windsor should be tunnelled.

"The final decision will either say 'go ahead,' or 'no it can't go ahead because of significant adverse effects' or it will be referred to a tribunal or mediator," Butler said.

Mayor Eddie Francis said the city has been working closely with Ottawa because the feds must acquire city property in Brighton Beach for the bridge and plaza.

"We are very comfortable with those discussions taking place," he said. "We hope soon the federal government can make a similar announcement."

TWIN SPAN PROJECT

The fate of Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun's twin span proposal remains uncertain. The U.S. Coast Guard station in Cleveland was assigned as lead authority on whether a federal permit will be issued to the billionaire transportation mogul in the U.S.

But a top Coast Guard official in Cleveland said Thursday the application was recently taken over by Coast Guard authorities in Washington and would not comment on its status. Moroun has been lobbying the Bush administration heavily to also give him final approval before he departs on Tuesday. One source suggested the administration may do that.

Lindsay Boyd, chairman of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has worked closely with counterparts in Detroit to push DRIC forward.

The local chamber supports DRIC and Moroun's proposal, he said.

"If we have two, what's to stop this region from being the next Chicago or Boston?" Boyd said. "But (the DRIC bridge) would be the biggest single shot in the arm we need to start in terms of the jobs it would bring, getting us past this downturn and giving Windsor time to reinvent itself economically.

"This is excellent news and brings it that much closer to the reality of getting shovels in the ground. There is one less thing to worry about now with the federal approval given in the U.S."

State transportation director Kirk Steudle said construction on the Michigan side is expected to create 10,000 jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs.

"This is a significant milestone," he said. "Once built, the new crossing system will boost U.S. and Canadian trade by expanding the busiest trade corridor in the western hemisphere.

"We will be building the most modern border crossing system in the world."

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson -- who joined with Francis last summer on Detroit's waterfront to lend his powerful political support in favour of the DRIC bridge over Moroun's proposal -- also applauded the decision in Washington.

"This great news could not come at a better time," he said in a statement. "Construction of this new crossing will be a huge stimulus to our sagging economy. The green light has been turned on. Let's get going."

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IN THEIR WORDS

"The new border crossing system empowers Michigan's economic recovery and revitalization .... An expanded Detroit-Windsor border crossing system will benefit every traveller who relies on safe, efficient border crossings." - Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm

"It makes me feel wonderful. I know there are a lot of obstacles to come, but I think governments will do the job on this in these economic times. I thought the waiting period would be longer ... but it looks like it went through with flying colours" - Activist Mary Ann Cuderman