July 30, 2014 at 1:50 pm

New authority to oversee Detroit-Windsor bridge

Windsor — A six-member international authority will oversee the construction of a public bridge between Detroit and Windsor and a CEO was appointed to lead the bridge authority, officials announced Wednesday.

The appointments to the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and the International Authority were announced by Gov. Rick Snyder and Canada’s Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt, during a news conference about the New International Trade Crossing at the Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor.

“It represents so many things. It’s a physical structure, but to me it’s much more than that. It’s about economic development,” Snyder said. “It’s critically important to the expansion of our economy that we have access to one another. And how we can do great commerce. And all you have to do are look at the current crossings and see the backups. And the delays. It’s only holding us back in terms of future job growth in both Michigan and Canada.”

Raitt said the goal of having the crossing built by 2020 will go forward because Canadian officials are concerned about the “viability and the vulnerability” of billions of dollars worth of trade “and the jobs that it sustains” over an 85-year-old, four-lane bridge. She was referring to the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, which would be about two miles north of the NITC.

“So to ensure the fluidity, and to prevent the disruption in trade and manufacturing production, we are going to build this important new Detroit-Windsor crossing,” Raitt said. “The new bridge is needed. It’s needed for growing trade and for growing traffic at Canada’s busiest U.S. commercial border crossing. And the project will create thousands of jobs and also opportunities on both sides of the border.”

Raitt said no conflict or battle — one example being whether the U.S. will pay for the $250 million toll plaza on the Detroit end of the bridge — will delay building the bridge. Snyder, who said federal officials don’t want to pay for it or rent it, said “that’s not a rational position to take and I think it’s something that’s inappropriate.”

“To be blunt, I think the U.S. federal government needs to do a better job,” the governor said.

The Obama administration has yet to try to budget money for the plaza.

Snyder said the next steps for these boards would be looking at land acquisition and engineering work that would lead to the building of the bridge.

“It’s moving along. If you look at the last year or so, we’ve got the presidential permit, we’ve gotten environmental permits from the Michigan side, and recently we’ve got a permit from the United States Coast Guard to go ahead with this,” he said. “So we’re on a time line to get this bridge built.”

Canada appointed Kristine Burr and Genevieve Gagnon to the International Authority while Michael D. Hayes, Birgit M. Klohs and Matt Rizik were appointed by Michigan. Burr will serve as the chairwoman of the authority. Officials said a third Canadian member will be selected soon by the new Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, which also had appointments announced Wednesday.

Burr recently served as assistant deputy minister of Policy for Transport Canada; Gagnon is president of XTL Transport Inc.; Hayes is president and CEO of the Midland Center for the Arts; Klohs is the president and CEO of the Right Place Inc.; Rizik is the chief tax officer for Rock Ventures LLC.

The International Authority will oversee and approve key steps in the procurement process for the crossing. The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will manage the procurement process for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the bridge through a public-private partnership. It will also oversee the work of the public-private partnership, manage the concession agreement and payments, and set and collect tolls.

The new president and CEO of the bridge authority is Michael Cautillo, a Canadian who has been involved with the planning of the new crossing in his job as a partner with Deloitte, the prime project and financial advisory contractor for the new bridge. That authority will report to the parliament of Canada through the country’s minister of transport.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who has been involved in discussions with Canada and U.S. officials about a new bridge, said Tuesday the bridge is making progress.

“This is about jobs. We can’t move goods. We can’t compete internationally without infrastructure,” Stabenow said in an interview in her Capitol Hill office.

The bridge will be owned by a Canadian “crown corporation” placing Canadians in charge of the day-to-day operation of the bridge, but oversight and ownership will remain joint between the two countries.

Douglas George, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, said his country and Michigan are “proceeding with the necessary steps to oversee the construction and running of the bridge.”

“I think the underlying message is that this is an infrastructure project that will be a benefit to both sides of the border,” George said. “The Canadian government has made it clear what the process is. We’re moving to the next step.”

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Gov. Rick Snyder gives his opening remarks during the press conference. / Clarence Tabb Jr / The Detroit News