West Michigan exporters see green light at bridge to Canada
West Michigan exporters could see an economic boost now that the Obama administration has given the International Trade Crossing project in Detroit its stamp of approval to move forward.
The projected $3.5 billion, six-lane bridge — spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Canada — received the presidential permit last week approving construction.
Michigan-Canada trade totaled $70.2 billion in 2011, representing 11.7 percent of overall U.S. trade with Canada, according to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
Grand Rapids jobs tied to exports
Rick Baker, president and CEO of the chamber, said one in seven Grand Rapids area jobs are tied to the export industry with Canada, which is why the chamber has advocated the bridge.
Canada is Michigan’s largest trading partner, he said, and when businesses are able to trade more openly, it benefits the local businesses involved in the supply chain.
“There’s a great potential for increase for jobs in West Michigan as you open access to your largest customer,” he said. “It has a ripple effect, allowing for companies to grow and to hire more people. We could see economic growth.”
The bridge would have significant impact on growing statewide infrastructure for West Michigan, allowing local businesses to move products out, said Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs for the chamber.
Although the presidential permit is a major step, there is still a long way to go for the development of the bridge, Baker added, as steps are taken to look into the utility work, design completion and environmental precautions of a new international bridge.
“We’re going to be putting about 10,000 constructions workers on this project. I think they’re going to hire as many as they can from Michigan,” Johnston said. “We’re probably looking at six to seven years before we have trucks on the bridge. It’s important we get moving on it. It’ll be a few years, but it’ll have a real long-term impact on economic growth.”
Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications at The Right Place, said the permit is a big achievement in the project's progress.
“In collaborating with the Chamber of Commerce on this initiative, there are a vast number of businesses in West Michigan that export products to Canada, as well as overseas to Europe," he said. "This trade crossing will increase the export flow out of the U.S. and out to Europe, and it will speed imports."
“There are a number of companies in West Michigan that are supportive of this trade crossing and much of it is because their business is supported by efficient trade flow. . . . Right now, we do not have that. Businesses thrive on one thing, and that is consistency.”
Although lawsuits challenging the bridge were filed by the Detroit International Bridge Co. on behalf of Manuel “Matty” Mouroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, currently the only bridge between Detroit and Windsor, the permit, awarded by the U.S. Department of State, allows Michigan and Canada to legally move forward in the construction process of this second bridge and connecting the two countries with a speedier trade bridge.
“We worked hard to defeat Proposal 6 in 2012, a proposal that would have amended Michigan’s Constitution to block the project. The Chamber also led a fly in with statewide partners to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the permit,” Johnston said. “This is an exciting day for West Michigan business, and we look forward to seeing the bridge built.”
Strengthening the link to Canada and jobs
The state department said the bridge “would serve the national interest,” by helping “meet future capacity requirements in a critical travel corridor, promote cross-border trade and commerce and advance our vital bilateral relationship with Canada.”
Governor Rick Snyder, who has been a vocal backer working to secure the project, praised the approval from the federal government, saying the bridge would create jobs in Michigan, as well as put Michigan products into the market with more speed.
No taxpayer cost
The new bridge is expected to cost Michigan taxpayers nothing, as Canada has offered to pay for Michigan’s $550 million portion for the bridge and an interchange linking drivers to Interstate 75 on Michigan’s end.
Canada plans to pay by utilizing revenue take from future tolls.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.