Canada’s Baird Sees Consensus for Public-Owned Detroit Bridge

Canadian Transport Minister John Baird said an “unprecedented consensus” has emerged over the need to build a new government-owned bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit.

“Every single person who’s involved with this, every single person without a financial interest, 99 percent have fallen behind the two governments,” Baird said in an interview today in Bloomberg’s Ottawa office.

The Detroit River International Crossing, a joint project of the U.S., Canadian, Michigan and Ontario governments, is planning a $5.3 billion second bridge linking the two cities. Baird says a new crossing is required to ensure a terrorist attack on the existing Ambassador Bridge doesn’t hobble trade between the two nations. The Michigan legislature is due to vote on the plan by June 1, according to Baird.

“The Ontario economy and Michigan economy would be on their knees within a matter of days if not a matter of hours if that bridge went down,” Baird said.

A new bridge is also needed to accommodate an increase in expected traffic, which Baird said may triple in 30 years. Baird said the plan is to have the bridge designed, built and operated by private businesses, while owned by governments.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing also back the plan, Baird said, which has pitted U.S. and Canadian officials against the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Manuel Moroun, who says falling traffic over the past decade and existing capacity don’t warrant construction of a competing bridge. Moroun has proposed to build a replacement to his 80-year-old bridge adjacent to the existing structure.

Financing Help

Baird has offered to help Michigan finance as much as $550 million of its costs to help win support for the project.

“It was clear Michigan’s financial problems were a major hurdle for them to be involved,” Baird said in the interview. “I have a mandate to make things happen, and we have a mandate to think outside of the box.”

Baird said any delays in the Michigan legislature could set back the project for years because of state elections this November.

“Both houses are term limited, and they are aggressive term-limited. There’s heavy turnover,” Baird said. “You really have to start all over again.”

The trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada is the largest in the world, and Detroit-Windsor is the busiest crossing point along the border. About C$130 billion ($121 billion) in annual trade moves between the two cities, with the majority over the Ambassador Bridge, Baird said.

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