Michigan Gets a Free, Some Say Unnecessary, Bridge to Canada

The New International Trade Crossing, which got federal approval on Friday, will span the Detroit River into Canada. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder touts the project as a job creator, as trade between the two countries is expected to increase. But others call the bridge unnecessary and say it will displace a number of minority residents in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood.

Artist’s rendering of the New International Trade Crossing. Credit: MDOT

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The state of Michigan got federal permission on Friday to build the New International Trade Crossing, a $3.5 billion bridge that would span the Detroit River into Canada.

In a press release, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said that the bridge and its construction would create 12,000 direct jobs and 31,000 indirect jobs, split evenly between the two involved nations. Through these employment gains and a projected increase in trade between the U.S. and Canada, many hope the NITC will boost the state’s economy, which as of February had an 8.8 unemployment rate.

Michigan technically isn’t paying for the land or anything having to do with the construction of the bridge. According to the June 2012 Crossing Agreement signed by Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Canada has agreed to cover Michigan’s portion of the bill, amounting to roughly $550 million, a number that the U.S. Department of Transportation will match.

Essentially, Michigan gets a free bridge.

But not all agree that the building the NITC will benefit their community. The U.S. portion of the bridge would sit in the Southwest Detroit neighborhood of Delray, an area with a large Hispanic population. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be in charge of acquiring land here over the next two years, mostly through legal purchases. Yet it’s possible that MDOT will resort to eminent domain; and although this new bridge will not incur any out-of-pocket costs for Michigan taxpayers, it is still going to displace a number of minority residents.

Not to mention the environmental impact of diesel-burning trucks, an estimated 8,000 per day, rumbling through what is now a mostly residential neighborhood. While a partnership consisting of MDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, Transport Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has conducted extensive studies on the environmental impact of construction and eventual bridge use, environmental justice and air pollutants remain a concern for many.

Furthermore, there is widespread debate over whether a new bridge is even necessary. A 2010 MDOT study conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates concluded that a new bridge was required to account for the projected traffic increase across the border. Yet traffic in the region has been steadily decreasing since 1999. There were more noticeable dips in international traffic during the 2007-2009 recession. According to regional Detroit business journal DBusiness, truck traffic on the existing Ambassador Bridge in 2008 was more than 33 percent lower, and passenger traffic was 53 percent lower, than a Detroit River International Crossing study (also managed by MDOT) had assumed.

Nonetheless, with the feds signing off on the NITC project, construction can begin as early as next year, with completion scheduled for 2020.

Currently, there are only two ways to get across the Canadian border in Southeast Michigan: The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. The Ambassador, completed in 1929, carries over 25 percent of all international trade between the U.S. and Canada and brings in more than $13 billion dollars annually. In 2009, it underwent a $250 million renovation that directly connected it to I-96 on the U.S. side and to Highway 3 on the Canadian side, easing the amount of truck traffic through residential areas.

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Tags: infrastructurepublic transportationdetroittransportation spendinggentrificationbridges

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