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Updated: Tue, 04 Mar 2014 07:42:05 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Windsor-Detroit border project needs $250M from U.S.



Canadian politicians and border critics want U.S. President Barack Obama’s budget proposal to include $250 million US for a new customs plaza in Detroit. Courtest Detroit River International Crossing

Canadian politicians and border critics want U.S. President Barack Obama’s budget proposal to include $250 million US for a new customs plaza in Detroit. Courtest Detroit River International Crossing

Canadian politicians and border critics want U.S. President Barack Obama’s to include $250 million US in his next budget for a new customs plaza in Detroit.

It's one of the biggest and most critical pieces of infrastructure needed in a new international crossing between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich.

Canada has pledged to pay for the entire $1-billion span and property acquisition in Detroit, but wants the U.S. to pay for and build a new $250-million customs plaza in Detroit.

Last month, Ottawa dedicated $630 million for property acquisitions in Detroit and preparatory construction work.

Roy Norton, Canada's consul general in Detroit, said “all of the other hurdles have been overcome” in moving forward with a new bridge.

Last year, Obama issued a presidential permit for the bridge. Only America's commitment to a new customs plaza is lacking.

“There’s no formal commitment on the part of the U.S. government to fund that customs plaza,” Norton said.

Governor, congressman also want money

Earlier this month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had failed to commit to funding for the plaza on the U.S. side. He called it a major hurdle in the construction of the crossing.

In an effort to force the funding, U.S. Representative Gary Peters introduced the Customs Plaza Construction Act of 2014. It calls on Washington to commit $250 million to the new plaza.

"This budget could be a logical opportunity to do that,” Norton said.

Bill Anderson, the director of the Cross-Border Institute in Windsor, said it's "not"absolutely critical" the money be earmarked in today's U.S. budget.

"That money wouldn’t be spent until some time in the future. But people would like to see a commitment on paper," Anderson said. "This would be a good opportunity to make that commitment. It’s about time we see something on paper."

Brian Masse is the Windsor West MP and the NDP's border critic. He told CBC News he will be "watching closely the release of the U.S. federal budget."

"This will be an opportunity to measure the strength of the commitment of our U.S. federal partners for a project that the Harper government has repeatedly indicated is its top infrastructure priority," Masse said.

In February, two senators and five members of U.S. Congress sent President Obama a joint letter asking for his support of the project.

“We are writing to urge your prompt attention to an important infrastructure project proposed to be constructed along the northern border, a project vital to our nation’s security and economic future which will create thousands of jobs in Michigan,” the letter reads, in part. “Given the importance of this project to international trade and to the economy of Michigan, it is our hope that the groups involved can come together to resolve the funding concerns about the U.S. Federal Plaza.”

'Offline' commitment also acceptable

Norton said he would accept a commitment “offline” and outside the budget. He also said a pool of money, dedicated to ports of entry and not specifically for the new bridge, would also be a positive.

“If the commitment isn’t there, as in if the money isn’t in the budget, but if there is otherwise a commitment enunciated, that would be fine,” Norton said. “We are prepared to take the U.S. government on good faith.”

In 2010, Norton was appointed consul general in Detroit with a mandate to “get the bridge.”

A year later, he told CBC News, “I think the bridge will be authorized and underway well before I leave Detroit."

Norton’s tenure in Detroit ends March 7.

The bridge has been authorized, but construction is not underway and completion is a long way off. It was to be completed by 2020.

“We should be able to stick to the timetable,” Norton said. “We’re where we want to be.

“The actual plaza doesn’t have to be built and operational until the span is built and operational. But we need to know there will be a customs plaza.”

The crossing is one of Canada's top infrastructure priorities. In addition to the new six-lane bridge, the project will include state-of-the-art inspection plazas and an interchange with Interstate-75 in Michigan.

One quarter of all U.S.-Canada trade crosses at Windsor-Detroit, making it the busiest border crossing in North America.

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