WINDSOR, Ontario — A second international bridge will span the Detroit River at no cost to Michigan, U.S. and Canadian leaders announced Friday, hailing a project they said will create thousands of jobs and stimulate trade between the nations.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the "truly visionary project" will "mean both jobs and growth" in each country.
Under the terms of the agreement, Michigan isn't obligated to pay any of the costs of the bridge, which Gov. Rick Snyder said will cost $950 million. Both countries would be represented on a bridge board, and a Canadian entity would handle design, construction and operation of the bridge.
Business officials in northern Michigan sang the praises of the new bridge deal, contending the new span will help commerce across the state.
"The ripple effect across Michigan is significant," said Doug Luciani president and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. "This is a Michigan bridge, not a Detroit bridge."
Luciani cited several local businesses that will benefit from the new border crossing — from fruit processors that rely on Canadian blueberries, to auto parts suppliers with customers in southeast Michigan.
Brian Mitchell, president of Cherry Growers Inc. in Grawn, said Canada is a growing market for Michigan's agricultural products and a new bridge should help growers and food processors.
"We definitely know that Canada is a huge trading partner when it comes to finished agricultural products," Mitchell said. "I think the agriculture community should be pleased with the increased abilities to trade with Canada."
Federal matching dollars also will go to help fix the state's aging transportation infrastructure.
"We're talking more than $2 billion that can be used from Watersmeet up in the U.P., to Benton Harbor to Detroit," Luciani said. "To be on this North American 'river of trade' — from Halifax to the southern tip of Mexico — is really a good analogy. Now we'll have all kinds of access to goods and the opportunity to move along this river. The relevance cannot be overstated."
Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley joined Harper and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at Friday's event in Windsor. A signing ceremony on the New International Trade Crossing agreement was held later in the day at Detroit's Cobo Center.
Harper said he makes a lot of important announcements, but that this is "the single most important" international infrastructure project he will undertake as prime minister. He said it will also be one of Canada's best investments.
"The revenues generated by this project will pay for this project," he said.
The cost to build Michigan's half of the bridge would be repaid through tolls collected on the Canadian side of the bridge, but Snyder wouldn't estimate how long that would take.
Staff writers James Russell and Bill O'Brien contributed to this report.
Canada's government would fund the purchase of land in Canada and Michigan, as well as the cost of building roadways to connect the bridge to Interstate 75 in Detroit. The governor said he expected construction would be finished in fewer than 10 years.
Snyder called the new bridge, which would cross the Detroit River south of the existing Ambassador Bridge, vital to enhancing the $70 billion-a-year trade relationship between Michigan and Canada.
Manuel "Matty" Moroun, the private owner of the Ambassador Bridge, has fiercely and publicly opposed the Canadian-financed span. His Detroit International Bridge Co. wants to add a span of its own.
As of mid-May, Moroun's company had spent $1.6 million this year on TV ads opposing the new bridge, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
The advertising and lobbying campaign has influenced a number of Snyder's fellow Republicans in the Michigan Legislature. On Thursday, the GOP-controlled state House approved a supplemental budget bill that bars the governor from spending state money on a U.S.-Canada bridge.
State House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said Friday the Legislature plans to carefully review plans for the bridge.
"It appears Gov. Snyder's plan does not involve any action by the Legislature, so it seems he has found a way to accomplish his goal of a new bridge while addressing our chief concern of protecting taxpayers," Bolger said in a statement.
Moroun's company also is pushing a November ballot proposal that would require voters' approval to build an alternative bridge. Mickey Blashfield, director of The People Should Decide ballot committee, said in a statement Friday that he welcomes Snyder "out into the public debate" about a bridge.
"Beyond a press event, the governor needs to make his best case for his government bridge," Blashfield said. "The Michigan Legislature, after reviewing all the facts, was not convinced. ... We believe the people want and deserve to have a vote about such an important issue."
Detroit International Bridge had no comment on Friday.
Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford said after the signing ceremony that the bridge would help the Michigan-based automaker "enormously."
"Ford alone sends about 600 trucks a day across the bridge and they get hung up often, particularly on the Windsor side. Any time you get hung up like that, it costs you time and certainly costs you money," he said. "This will be a huge boost to us ... "
Snyder has said a separate bridge between Detroit and Windsor is needed, even if Moroun carries out his plans to add a second span.
"I still believe we're in a crisis," Snyder said, even as the state benefits from falling unemployment and rising auto sales. "There's no time to wait."