Canadian official chides auto execs on stalled bridge
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Canadian government is expressing increasing frustration with politics on the U.S. side of the Detroit River that are stalling plans to build a new bridge for U.S.-Canada auto trade.
Speaking to an auditorium of auto industry executives here at the 2012 Management Briefing Seminars today, Canada's Consul General Roy Norton urged U.S. executives to exert their influence to move the project ahead.
He claimed the controversy in Michigan over proposals to build a new Detroit-to-Canada bridge was the target of a "cynical and manipulative campaign" to kill the plan.
"Where is the counter campaign?" Norton chided the audience.
Building a new bridge is particularly important to the Canadian auto industry, which is concentrated in southern Ontario and relies heavily on the 83-year-old privately-owned Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River.
Norton said that bridge conveys the bulk of the automotive trade that goes on between the United States and Canada, which he estimated accounts for a quarter of all the economic trade between Canada and the American Midwest.
Canada produced 2.16 million light vehicles last year, up 4 percent over 2010, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Canadian auto production rose 18 percent to 1.46 million vehicles through Aug. 4, according to the data.
"An 83-year-old bridge is a pretty fragile reed to hang this trade on," a clearly peaved Norton warned the American audience.
He called the Ambassador Bridge a "chokepoint" in U.S.-Canadian automotive trade growth. Both sides believe border activity will become even greater in the next two years as the industry returns from recession.
But the proposal for a reliever bridge has been snarled in lawsuits and Detroit political fighting for years. The owner and operator of the existing Ambassador Bridge, Detroit transportation billionaire Manuel Moroun, has complained that it is unnecessary and should not be built, and has waged a legal and media campaign to block it.
To bypass U.S. politics, Canada has offered to pay the necessary $550 million for a new interchange on U.S. soil, linking U.S. Interstate 75 in Detroit to the bridge.
"Canada is willing to fund the project," he said. "This project is not controversial in my country. We're not in the habit of making irresponsible financial commitments."
He said the power to get the project moving "rests largely in the offices of the people attending this conference."
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.