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The future of Detroit's second bridge now hangs on the Obama administration

Jack Lessenberry

So whatever happened to the New International Trade Crossing Bridge?

For years, an epic battle raged between those who knew we needed a new bridge across the Detroit River, and MattyMoroun, the 86-year-old man who owned the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge, the only game in town.

Moroun held up a new bridge for years, mostly by buying off Michigan legislators with bribes thinly described as campaign contributions, but that ended when Rick Snyder became governor.

Snyder found a way to bypass the lawmakers and conclude an agreement with Canada. That was almost two years ago, however, and ground has yet to be broken.

So what’s happening?

This time the culprit is not Matty Moroun, but, bizarrely, Barack Obama.

President Obama has been supportive of a new bridge. There was no difficulty gaining a presidential permit to build it. Money was not a problem, because our friends the Canadians are paying for almost all of it. They are advancing Michigan’s share of more than half a billion dollars, which we don’t have to pay back until the bridge is up and tolls are being collected.

All that remains is one missing piece: A customs plaza.

This is, after all, an international border crossing. Only the U.S. government can build one, and it would cost an estimated $250 million. The problem is that the Obama Administration has not pushed for it.

Canadian officials wanted the president to say something about it in the State of the Union, or make it a priority item in the budget. He did neither.

Before leaving Detroit for a new assignment, Canadian Consul General Roy Norton told me administration officials indicated that Canada should offer to pay for the customs plaza too.

Ottawa balked at that.

They felt they were already paying 15/16 of the cost of a project that will benefit the United States as much as their country.

Now, however, there may be a chance to break the logjam. U.S. Congressman Gary Peters, D-Michigan, has introduced a bill to fund the new customs plaza. More importantly, he has successfully invited Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to visit Michigan.

We need to hope Secretary Johnson gets it, and that he has the President's ear.

Actually, Detroit is not the only place that needs a customs plaza. A new one is also needed at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.

Peters, a Democrat, and Gov. Snyder, a Republican, are political opposites, but are united in the hope that this visit will get both projects moved up on the priority list – especially the New International Trade Crossing.

Johnson has been on the job as Homeland Security Chief for less than four months, but is highly respected. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called him “the finest lawyer I ever worked with in government, a plain-speaking man of great integrity with common sense to burn.”

We have to hope that common sense leads him to prioritize this bridge project. Peters’ bill will get nowhere in Congress. Republicans have no intention of making him look good in an election year.

Our best hope lies with the administration. We need to hope Secretary Johnson gets it, and that he has the president’s ear.

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