Warehouse logistics group supports NITC bridge

October 9, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The Michigan chapter of the International Warehouse Logistics Association is unanimously in support of Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to build the New International Trade Crossing, a second bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario.

Almost 500 companies in the U.S. and Canada are members of the IWLA, which has represented the third-party logistics and warehouse services industries for more than 100 years.

Jim Cavanagh, senior counsel at Warner Norcross & Judd and the state lobbyist for the Michigan chapter of the IWLA, said the association has been supportive of another span across the Detroit River, but until recently it did not want to take sides in the ongoing debate over whether it should be an addition — a “twin” — next to the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, or an entirely new bridge at another location, under different ownership and built with public and private funds.

But Cavanagh said people in the logistics business are “very, very interested” in seeing another span or separate bridge built because it is “very important for their businesses.”

“They transport a lot of goods back and forth across the border, and a lot of times they have to wait — and time is money, literally,” said Cavanagh.

The NITC proposal, concluded the IWLA, is “a practical solution — really, the one that has the best chance of coming to fruition,” he said.

Cavanagh said a presentation to the group by Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley at the annual meeting of the Michigan IWLA in August was the clincher.

“He made a compelling case for the New International Trade Crossing that would be located about two miles downriver from the Ambassador Bridge,” said Cavanagh, adding that the IWLA members “were convinced it would not put Michigan taxpayers on the hook for the bridge construction. Canada proposes to put up about $550 million.”

At least one industry executive, however, does not believe the NITC is the way to go.

“I believe that the facts about the existing bridge should be stated more clearly,” said John E. Nieuwenhuis, COO of Van’s Delivery Service Inc. in Grand Rapids. “It is an extremely well-run operation; it is run as a business. They have not taken advantage of their monopoly, and I believe they should be allowed and encouraged to build a new span. I am not convinced that a governmental agency can do as good a job as private enterprise,” Nieuwenhuis said.

Van’s Delivery Service is a family owned full-service trucking, warehousing and logistics firm in business in Grand Rapids since 1925. It operates in 32 states east of the Rockies.

Cavanagh said the NITC, endorsed by the governments of Ontario and Michigan, would make possible a direct connection of Ontario’s Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, also known as Highway 401, and as I-75 in Michigan.

Trucks using the Ambassador Bridge now have to pass through downtown Windsor “and hit a number of (traffic) lights,” which delays them, according to Cavanagh.

Some auto parts, in the course of their production, are trucked back and forth repeatedly between factories in Michigan and factories in Ontario, he said.

A new bridge could also become part of longer-range proposals to expand transportation infrastructure in southeast Michigan, according to Cavanagh. Those ideas include high-speed rail and a possible new tunnel under the Detroit River between the U.S. and Canada.

Cavanagh said the IWLA sees “tremendous potential” in southeast Michigan “that would really help their business interests, and so that’s why they voted to support it.”

The Ambassador Bridge Co., now owned by native Detroiter Manuel J. “Matty” Moroun, has been waging a major advertising campaign against the NITC or public-private bridge proposal supported by Snyder. The Moroun family maintains that a new bridge built with public and private funds could default, and Michigan taxpayers would then be responsible for the debt.

In September, the Willow Run Tea Party of southeast Michigan paid for a commercial now running on YouTube, “A Bridge (Gone) Too Far,” that implies that Snyder’s support of the NITC is a deal with Chinese business interests. The narrator says Chinese firms “have already funded and run state-sponsored programs in New York, Texas and South Carolina. Not only did California hire the Chinese to rebuild the Bay Bridge, they sent their governor over there to thank the Chinese workers. Now Rick Snyder is going to China, calling his trip ‘long overdue.’ If ‘made in Michigan’ still means something to you, tell him he works for the people of Michigan — not the People’s Republic of China.”

Business Leaders for Michigan said in late September that a survey it had commissioned of 600 Michigan voters shows that those who understand the financial structure of the proposed NITC project “support the initiative by a strong margin.” The survey states that “Canada has offered to provide all the funding to build a new bridge over the Detroit River, and bridge tolls would be used to pay Canada back for building the bridge, meaning Michigan would not use any taxpayer dollars to build the new bridge.”

With that understanding in mind, 61.5 percent of survey respondents said they would support the NITC; 32.5 percent were opposed.

“It’s clearly a case of making sure people are well-informed about this issue,” said Doug Rothwell, president/CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.

Cavanagh noted that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce recently endorsed the NITC, following the path already taken by the chambers in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Holland and others.

“It’s not only short-term construction jobs,” said Cavanagh, it’s also long-term jobs “and really, logistics jobs.”

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