Needed: A New International Trade Crossing

The fortune spent to oppose an international crossing between Detroit and Canada shouldmake our blood boil. It insults the intelligence of every person in the state. It is an unfettered attempt to squelch Michigan business access to international trade and global customers. At the same time it limits the potential for state transportation improvements to a trickle of funds as Michigan can no longer match federal transportation funds. And for what? To preserve the cash cow of one family at the Ambassador Bridge.

For twenty years groups in Mexico, the United States, and Canada have been working to create a Super Corridor to move goods and services in the continent. The logical route follows I-35 in the United States from Laredo to Kansas City to Chicago. It has long been thought that the northern terminus for the U.S. portion of the corridor should be Detroit, connecting eventually to Halifax.

If Michigan turns its back on this opportunity to ease the flow of goods with the United States' largest trading partner – Canada – and allows those investments to happen in places like Buffalo, it will have missed a once in a millennium opportunity to capture North America's "River of Trade" for the businesses and residents of the state.

Opponents argue that traffic on the existing Ambassador Bridge does not justify the construction and expense of a new crossing. That is nonsense given that traffic loads are being viewed in the vacuum of recession and the economic trends of globalization. The argument ignores future growth and a self-fulfilling prophecy of trade finding the most direct, least complicated route.

Others claim this is Governor Snyder's "pet project." Again, nonsense. This project grew from needs identified at least during the Engler administration. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm was first to actively pursue a new trade crossing at Detroit. It has been politics and greed, not the lack of a business case that has stalled efforts to build the new bridge.

Some argue the bridge should be built by the private sector. In an era of increased need for homeland security and, given the enormous up-front cost of a new bridge, why would we shy away from a public-private initiative? The bridge can be built faster, cheaper, and be maintained properly for less money than a private initiative could produce. Of course maintenance costs could be reduced if a private operator deliberately chose to defer maintenance.

Finally, it appears there may be more stomach in Lansing and among bridge opponents for a tax increase to pay for Michigan's road needs and to match federal funds than to build a bridge. This in spite of the fact money for the bridge – from Canada – could be used to match federal funds for projects throughout Michigan. There is also an apparent appetite to let Michigan's construction workers leak away and close businesses here rather than put to work tens of thousands of women and men necessary to build the new bridge.

The Northern Michigan Regional Chamber Alliance supports a new international crossing in Detroit. It joins nearly every other major business group in the state in this regard. It is time for our legislators to join Governor Snyder and get this done.

Luciani is president & CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

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