CHICAGO — The Michigan Department of Transportation says a report released this week confirms the need for a proposed $2.3 billion, bond-financed bridge spanning the busy trade route between Detroit and Canada.
Traffic at the border crossing has declined steadily over the last decade and is expected to grow less than earlier projections, though it is still sufficient to justify a new bridge, the report said.
The Michigan Legislature ordered the study and will use it to decide whether to move forward with the Detroit River International Crossing, or DRIC, as the proposed bridge is called.
Public officials are divided over the plans, and have said they want to make a decision by June 1, ending years of debate over the controversial proposal.
The so-called investment-grade traffic study is a 230-page report of traffic patterns over what is one of the busiest trade routes in the country, designed for investors who might be interested in buying the bonds that would be used to finance the bridge, officials said. The bonds would be backed by tolls.
The DRIC is a joint project by the governments of Michigan, Ontario, the U.S., and Canada. It would be located about two miles down river from the existing Ambassador Bridge, which is owned by Detroit businessman Manuel Maroun.
Maroun is moving forward with his own plans to build a $1 billion span across the river to replace the 80-year-old Ambassador Bridge. His long battle against the government's new span includes a recent federal lawsuit and the purchase of a piece of land in southwest Detroit that reportedly is necessary for the new bridge.
The Detroit-Windsor corridor features three border crossings: the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel crossing, both of which are high-volume crossings at the Detroit River, and the Blue Water Bridge over the St. Clair River in the Port Huron-Sarnia region.
All three crossings have seen average traffic declines of around 6% over the last decade, according to the new report. But the growth that is projected through 2035 justifies a new crossing, said the report, which was by transportation and infrastructure consulting firm Wilbur Smith Associates.
"This new study not only confirms the importance of the existing international crossing but also reaffirms the need for a new crossing in the Detroit-Windsor corridor within the next five to 10 years in order to support trade between the United States and Canada," said Michigan transportation director Kirk T. Steudle.
The report projected that a fourth crossing would not threaten the profitability of the two main existing crossings, which are located near the downtowns of Detroit and Windsor and are expected to continue to capture most of the future traffic growth.
Local reports quoted Maroun's spokesman as saying the new report was "nothing more than an attempt to steal away the business of the Ambassador Bridge, using money that would be better spent on repairing and maintaining the thousands of roads and bridges the state of Michigan already owns."
MDOT last week issued a request for proposals from private companies that are interested in entering into a public-private partnership to build the bridge, a plaza, and related infrastructure. The state will submit the responses to the Legislature by May 1.