CHICAGO — A long-planned $3.5 billion, largely bond-financed bridge between Michigan and Canada that supporters say is key to Michigan's future has won final approval from President Barack Obama.
The New International Trade Crossing will mean a second over-water crossing of the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, the busiest trade crossing in the U.S.
The presidential permit was the final piece of permitting required for the border crossing project. Construction could start as early as 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder announced Friday at a press conference with Canada officials.
It comes after years of planning — and roadblocks — by both Michigan and Canada. The project is structured as a public-private partnership, with Canada taking on nearly all of the financial risk. The final agreement calls for Canada to make availability payments to the private firms, with the expectations that tolls will provide most of the revenue.
An intergovernmental authority will likely issue the tax-exempt debt for the bridge and related construction. The agreement calls for Canada to spend $2.3 billion, the private partners to invest $950 million and U.S. federal government to provide $237 million. Canada will pay Michigan $550 million that the state can use as local matching dollars for more than $2 billion of federal funding.
The project bitterly divided Michigan legislators for years. Snyder has repeatedly promised that no Michigan taxpayer money will be used for the bridge and that investors will no recourse to the state's coffers if — as critics predict — toll revenue proves insufficient to pay off the debt.
Michigan businessman Manuel "Matty" Maroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge, currently the only trade bridge, filed a federal lawsuit in February to block the project, saying it violates his "exclusive franchise right" to operate his span free of competition.