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Snyder, Canadian officials: "Let's get a bridge going"

Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian officials have vowed to forge ahead with plans to build a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

Snyder and Canada’s Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt, announced appointments to the International Bridge Authority in Windsor on Wednesday.

Three representatives from Michigan and three from Canada will sit on the IBA, which is charged with monitoring key steps in the construction process –including purchasing land in Detroit needed for the project.

The group will oversee the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a non-profit Crown Corporation that acts as an arm of the Canadian government.

“They are entrusted with construction of one of the largest federally funded infrastructure projects in Canada … indeed, one of the largest that Canada has ever undertaken,” Raitt said.

The WDBA will directly oversee the bridge construction, including hiring contractors, managing a concession agreement with a private operator, and setting and collecting tolls.

Canada is paying for almost the entire $6 billion project, though it’s asked the U.S. government to pay for its own customs and toll plaza.

Despite heavy lobbying from both Canadian and Michigan officials, that federal support hasn’t been forthcoming.

Raitt said Canadian officials still hope the U.S. will come through – but is committed to completing the project by 2020 regardless. “Our government won’t let financing disagreements get in the way of construction timelines,” she said. “We are going to be building a bridge. 

Gov. Snyder called the U.S. stance on the customs plaza “inappropriate,” and praised Canada’s willingness to “get it done.” He said facilitating the flow of goods between the two countries benefits everyone.

“It’s critically important to the expansion of our economy that we have access to one another,” Snyder said. “And all you have to do is look at the current crossings and see the back-ups, and the delays. That’s only holding us up in terms of future job growth, in both Michigan and Canada.”

Snyder also promised the Detroit community that sits on the American side of the bridge it will get promised benefits – eventually.

Residents and business owners in the Delray neighborhood have pushed for years to attach a legally binding community benefits agreement to the bridge plans.

“We’ve given strong assurances to the residents that there will be community benefits,” Snyder said, but added that it’s too soon to make a formal agreement.

“The challenge is it requires some patience, because it has to wait for the appropriate stage of the project,” said Snyder. “Which is really when we get to the point of getting a proposal from the concessionaires, to actually build the physical facilities.

“So that’s still some time out. But there will be community benefits.”

The Detroit City Council was supposed to vote this week on whether to sell about 300 Delray properties in the bridge’s path to the Michigan Land Bank.

But the vote was pushed back to next month at the request of emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

Orr and Mayor Mike Duggan said city negotiators will use that time to try and get some benefit guarantees from state and Canadian officials.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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