Bridge plaza deal likely within days
Washington — U.S. and Canadian officials are expected, as early as Wednesday, to announce a deal to pay for a U.S. Customs plaza at a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, American and Canadian officials briefed on the plan said Tuesday.
The issue is one of the largest lingering hurdles for the $2.1 billion bridge over the Detroit River. The deal is expected to include a commitment by the Obama administration to staff and equip the plaza, which is estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million.
The Canadian government has offered to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the U.S. share through toll revenue. The public-private partnership overseeing the bridge is expected to announce it will pay for construction of the customs plazas on both sides of the border and that the United States will staff, operate and maintain the customs plaza in Detroit.
It was not clear Tuesday how much the U.S. government will contribute.
The Detroit News first reported this month that an agreement was close after several months of talks. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told The News that a deal between the two countries on funding the customs plaza was close.
The publicly financed bridge is scheduled to be built two miles south of the privately financed and operated Ambassador Bridge.
Gov. Rick Snyder's spokeswoman, Sara Wurfel, didn't comment Tuesday on any deal. But she reiterated "how strongly we feel about what a critical infrastructure project this is for the state of Michigan, the city and region, our country and Canada."
"Discussions are ongoing between Canada and the United States. Transport Canada will not speculate on the outcome of the ongoing discussions," said Transport Canada spokesman Mark Butler.
In January 2004, a joint U.S.-Canada study concluded that additional border-crossing capacity was needed for reasons including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns. The State Department approved a permit for the new bridge in 2013.
Manuel "Matty" Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge, has been fighting efforts by Michigan and Canada to build the bridge, insisting it will harm the Ambassador's business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Saturday negotiations have centered on the Canadians fronting money for construction of the plaza and then be repaid by tolls.
"My focus right now has been to ensure that … when the plaza is built that it is fully staffed" with customs and border patrol agents, Peters told The Detroit News.
He expressed frustration that the Obama administration and Congress have resisted appropriating tax dollars toward building the customs plaza to be "a partner in this border crossing."
"To me, it's an embarrassment to the United States government," Peters told The News.
Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.