Why the bridge matters to West Michigan business

August 20, 2011
| By Rick Baker |
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Look around. Just about everything in your office or workplace was once on a truck.

Reliable, efficient transportation routes make our lives possible and are a critical component to trade and in deciding where businesses set up shop.

To ensure West Michigan companies can compete, they need the infrastructure to connect them to the marketplace. That is why the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is strongly supporting the New International Trade Crossing, the proposed bridge to link Detroit and Canada.

The chamber’s mission is to develop businesses and communities. The new bridge will support 109,000 jobs in West Michigan. That’s right: not Detroit, West Michigan.

The new bridge is important to the Detroit area, but one in seven jobs here is directly linked to trade with Canada. Jobs generating $2.4 billion in wages and taxes. A well-functioning border with Canada is vital to retaining and growing these jobs that support our West Michigan communities.

Here are the facts on why we need another bridge:

  • Michigan-Canada trade grew 43 percent last year over 2009.

  • Trade between Canada and the United States increased more than 20 percent in 2010.

  • Ambassador Bridge traffic was up 11 percent last year over 2010.

  • Over the long term, traffic and trade between Michigan and Canada has been increasing. As we recover economically, traffic will increase.

  • The global economy demands and relies upon just-in-time delivery. Delays put our companies at a disadvantage.

  • Without another bridge, in the event of catastrophic failure, terrorism, or a tragic accident, literally millions would find themselves out of work.

The new bridge is not about getting rid of the Ambassador Bridge; it is about ensuring that our strong trading relationship grows even stronger to support jobs in West Michigan.

So how will we pay for it?

First, the commercials you may have seen are simply untrue. The legislation before the Senate could not be clearer. The Michigan taxpayer is not, nor ever will be, liable for any of the costs of construction or operation of the bridge. If the bridge never generates sufficient revenue, it is Canada that would be on the hook, not Michigan.

Private companies will bid on construction and operation of the new bridge. Through a governance agreement, Canada has agreed to pay Michigan’s share of the project — $550 million — to connect I-75 to the new bridge.

If that isn’t enough, Gov. Snyder successfully negotiated with the U.S. Department of Transportation to leverage Canada’s investment to secure $2.2 billion for transportation projects throughout the state, including significant projects here in West Michigan.

And if that still isn’t enough, our state will own half the bridge. Once it is paid off, we will begin collecting toll revenues estimated at $50 million a year.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

The reason Canada is being so generous is simple. The construction of a new bridge at Windsor-Detroit is Canada’s No. 1 national infrastructure priority. Why is it so important to them? They know what’s at stake. Eight million jobs in the United States, and a similar number in Canada, depend on trade between the two countries.

Twenty-five percent of all U.S.-Canada trade is handled by the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, more than $350 million every day. Ensuring capacity and redundancy at the Detroit-Windsor crossing is a matter of critical economic security. That is why Canada is willing to take all the risk to see that it is built.

Seeing the New International Trade Crossing built should be just as important to Michigan, and that is why businesses across the state support it. Half of everything that Michigan sells to the world, and 30 percent of everything grown in this state, is sold to Canada.

So why is this so controversial? My answer is that when you have a private company with a monopoly over such an important asset, they will fight to protect it. The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge does not want competition. This would not be allowed in another industry, and we should not let them stand in the way.

The New International Trade Crossing is one of those crucial decisions that will dramatically impact Michigan’s future. It is a tremendous economic development project that will benefit Michigan, and our children, for decades to come. It’s a deal we should not turn our backs on. Join the chamber in urging our legislators to pass Senate Bills 410 and 411.

Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

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