The Detroit News12:11 a.m. EST February 19, 2015
While officials are lauding a newly announced deal paving the way for Canada to pay for a U.S. customs plaza to be built for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller is seeking more support for another effort at Michigan’s other main access point in Port Huron.
The Harrison Township Republican has been proposing a public-private partnership to speed up completing a customs and border plaza at the Blue Water Bridge — a project that’s been waiting more than a decade, she said.
While in Congress, Miller has worked to secure funding to finish the plaza on the U.S. side of the bridge. The estimated cost of the finishing the work is about $165 million, but Congress hasn’t budgeted the money.
In a statement Wednesday, she referred to a 2011 agreement that President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed that she said “singled out the Blue Water Bridge plaza project as a priority to be addressed and funded by the U.S. government.”
Miller cited upgrades spelled out in the agreement that included customs plaza replacement and redevelopment; more primary inspection lanes and booths; expanded or new secondary inspection facilities; and expanded or new connecting roads, highway interchanges and bridges.
“At that point, it seemed that, after over a decade of planning, condemnation of private lands — which reduced the tax base of the city of Port Huron — and other serious disruptions, progress would finally be made in moving forward the long-overdue Blue Water Bridge plaza project,” Miller said in a news release Wednesday.
“Now, nearly four years after that agreement was signed and over a decade since the project started, over 50 acres of land has been razed, and the people of Port Huron are still waiting for the allocation of needed funding or innovative ideas to make this promised plaza happen. …”
Miller also said she was frustrated that, although more a year ago she suggested in letters to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Gov. Rick Snyder that a public-private partnership be used to fund the Blue Water Bridge plaza project, “we still have no forward movement” while a similar arrangement appears to be supporting the construction of the new bridge over the Detroit River.
“Over a decade is too long for the people of Port Huron to wait for a solution. In 2011, President Obama made a commitment to Port Huron and the Blue Water Bridge in the Beyond the Border Agreement, and that commitment is still unfulfilled,” Miller said in her statement. “If a P3 is good enough for a bridge that does not exist in Detroit, then a similar action should be taken to finish the job in Port Huron. I once again call upon this Administration to act.”
Under a deal announced Wednesday, a Canadian public-private partnership overseeing the new Detroit-Windsor bridge project, dubbed the New International Trade Crossing, will pay for building the customs plazas on both sides of the border and the United States will staff, operate and maintain the Detroit customs plaza.
The Canadian government has agreed to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the building of the plaza through toll revenue. Then congressional approval will be needed for an estimated $100 million the first year and $50 million annually afterward to operate and staff the plaza.
The Obama administration has refused to propose funding and the Republican-led House declined to add funds for years.