DETROIT — The omission in the federal budget for funding specifically for a border inspection plaza in Michigan is not expected to delay efforts to build a commuter bridge connecting Detroit with Canada, state officials say.
Land acquisition for the New International Trade Crossing could start this summer on the U.S. side of the Detroit River, with bridge construction scheduled to begin in 2016. The project would be completed in 2020.
The span would compete for the lucrative cross-border toll revenues in Detroit and Windsor, Ont., mainly being captured by the privately owned Ambassador Bridge.
"This infrastructure project is of utmost economic significance to both Michigan and the entire U.S. and our largest trading partner, Canada," said Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, who supports the project.
Still up in the air, however, is how work on the Detroit customs plaza will be funded.
President Barack Obama's proposed fiscal year 2015 budget includes $486 million for Customs and Border Protection construction and facilities management nationwide. But none of that money is directly pointed toward the Detroit plaza, which will cost about $250 million.
"The plaza is still down the road — not the first or next thing that does need to be done or built," Wurfel said.
The 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge is an integral part of the $70 billion-a-year trade relationship enjoyed by Michigan and Canada. The Ambassador Bridge's annual gross revenue is about $60 million, a spokesman for owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun said in 2012.
The new government bridge project also is critical to the state's economy in terms of jobs and exports, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters said last week.
"The Obama Administration needs to work with Congress and leaders in Michigan and Canada to move this project forward," Peters said in a statement. "The decision to not prioritize this project in the budget was a grave oversight."
Canada will cover $2.3 billion of the $3.5 billion New International Trade Crossing project, including $550 million in infrastructure costs on the Michigan side.
More than 8 million jobs in the U.S. and 2 million more in Canada depend on trade and investment between the two countries, said Mark Butler, a spokesman for Transport Canada, which is responsible for transportation policies and programs in the country.
"A new bridge is needed for growing trade and traffic at Windsor-Detroit," Butler said. "This project will also create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border. It will also provide a much-needed crossing alternative at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing."
Opposing that project is Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Co.
The Obama administration's decision not to include funding for the trade crossing plaza in the budget "is a huge blow" to the government bridge, said Dan Stamper, Detroit International Bridge Co. president.
"There was a lot riding on that funding and commitment," Stamper said. "I would say they've had a bag full of bricks with the bridge from the beginning and that bag is getting heavier instead of lighter."
Meanwhile, Moroun is moving forward with his plan to build a twin span adjacent to his Ambassador Bridge.
Stamper said the project has received approval of environmental assessments from Canada and now needs a navigable waters permit from the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada.
The Ambassador Bridge twin span is expected to cost $400 million and will be privately funded. Customs plazas are being tied into the existing bridge's infrastructure, Stamper said.