DETROIT (AP) — The Obama administration and Canada have agreed on financing a key piece of a planned $2.1 billion bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, the two governments announced Wednesday.
The agreement involves a funding mechanism for a toll plaza on the U.S. side of the international crossing, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. It says a "public-private partnership" will pay for the plaza's construction, with reimbursement from bridge tolls.
Both governments have said the new bridge will create thousands of jobs and further stimulate the $658 billion annual trade between the nations.
"This agreement clears one of the final hurdles to building this hugely important bridge. Both Michigan and the entire nation will benefit," U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement.
Authorities have said the limited capacity of the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge and the 85-year-old Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, which is too tight for tractor-trailers, is an increasing impediment to trade.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow called Wednesday's deal "a critical step forward" for the project, long stymied by opposition from owners of the nearby Ambassador Bridge who seek to add a new span of their own across the Detroit River. That opposition has blocked the needed U.S. funding for the plaza. The bridge itself already was to be built without U.S. funds.
Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said the agreement ensures "that the new publicly owned bridge between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, can proceed without further delay" and that the project "will ultimately be delivered through a public-private partnership."
U.S. lawmakers said it remains crucial for the Obama administration and Congress to appropriate the funds that will be needed to operate the U.S. Customs plaza.
Officials have said they hope to open the bridge in 2020.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a supporter of the new bridge, said he "will continue to encourage the U.S. government to provide the necessary resources to fund U.S. customs facilities" at the bridge and at the Blue Water Bridge that links Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, about 55 miles north-northeast of Detroit.
Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun had paid for a campaign to get a proposal on the November 2012 Michigan ballot seeking to block any new cross-border bridges or tunnels without holding a referendum first. Voters defeated the proposal.
The Associated Press left a message Wednesday seeking comment from the Moroun family-owned Detroit International Bridge Co. The company's website includes statements and videos criticizing the new crossing.
"The best outcome is to continue with the success that we as a region have had with southeastern Michigan border crossings for the last 80 years, especially with the Ambassador Bridge, where no taxpayer resources or government resources have been used whatsoever," Vice Chairman Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the family-owned Detroit International Bridge Co., says on the site.