The economic security of two great trading partners, the United States and Canada, depends on an efficient border-crossing network on the Detroit River. Can our region afford to lose 150,000 jobs? How about more than $13 billion in annual production?
The answer is clearly no. Yet that’s precisely what the Detroit-Windsor region faces if no improvements are made by 2030 to border-crossing capabilities in the Detroit River area, according to a 2004 study commissioned by the Border Transportation Partnership.
Twenty-five years might seem like a long time, but the challenge we face is here and now. Statistics Canada, for example, recently revealed that the number of same-day car travelers from the United States in July tumbled to its lowest monthly level on record, the byproduct of a number of factors including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, spiraling gasoline prices, confusion over new passport requirements and perceptions about border backups and hassles.
Sobering statistics like those form the backdrop for the bi-national Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) Study, which will assess the environmental impact of a new or expanded Detroit River crossing and its associated roadway connections on both sides of our northern border. Originally, the study considered three locations for a new border crossing: Downriver Area, Central Area and Belle Isle Area. In October 2005 the study area was narrowed to the Central Area.
The process now continues to the next stage – an environmental review by the Michigan Department of Transportation. MDOT is preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement with input and participation from a number of agencies representing the United States, the State of Michigan and Canadian and Ontario governments. Other participating agencies include members of the Border Transportation Partnership formed in 2003 to conduct a comprehensive assessment of mobility needs in the Detroit-Windsor border-crossing region, the Federal Highway Administration (U.S.), the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Transport Canada.
The purpose of the Detroit River International Crossing project is two-fold:
From a purely economic point of view, the study is critical. The United States and Canada have the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world. In 2004, the total U.S. trade with Ontario alone was $407 billion. Approximately 28 percent or $113.3 billion of surface trade passes between the United States and Canada at the Detroit-Windsor border. As a direct result of NAFTA and similar trade agreements, the volume of U.S./Canada trade is expected to continue to increase at the annual rate of 11 percent.
This flood of goods and services currently flows across the Detroit River at four points in the Detroit-Windsor area: the Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the Detroit-Canada Rail Tunnel and the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry.
Given the importance of our shared border to our national and state economy, and the need for the smooth and efficient flow of trade, the DRIC Study is charged with reviewing and recommending border alternatives that:
The DRIC study will examine both bridge and tunnel options along with such collateral issues as potential plaza sites and freeway interchange locations on each side of the Detroit River. “The study has been very thorough in its investigation, to protect communities, the environment, ensure proper traffic flows and, very basically, to make smart decisions,” said Richard E. Blouse Jr., president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “We are pleased, though, that the options for a crossing corridor have been narrowed, and that the process is beginning a next chapter. Our economy -- including businesses and jobs -- depend on decisions made through the DRIC process.”
A number of other factors will also come in to play, of course, and many of them are virtually certain to provoke intense debate and controversy. These include such issues as maintaining air quality, protecting neighborhoods and cultural resources, improving regional mobility and protecting the environment.
Ultimately, the DRIC Study process will result in development of a recommendation for the preferred border-crossing alternative, and the result is likely to affect our region for generations to come.
While an offshore shipment of 4,000 vehicles is required to give 24-hour advance notice and endure a single security check prior to rolling off a ship and proceeding to various North American dealerships, U.S.- and Canadian-produced vehicles will have crossed the Canada-U.S. border an estimated seven times during production, with finished vehicles crossing the border one truckload at a time. The automotive industry in North America is so integrated that the production of 4,000 vehicles in North America may involve over 28,200 customs transactions. The bottom line is that these additional reporting, compliance and delay costs translate into an estimated $800 per vehicle.