What's up in Windsor?
What’s up in Windsor? That’s a question I get with much regularity, and I figured that it was high time that I answered it.
It has been about six months since the Federal government appointed me as Chairman of the Board of Directors of its newest Crown Corporation: the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. To answer another question: no, I’m not moving there as part of the role, although I’ve enjoyed the chance to visit the Windsor area with much more frequency.
After seven and a half years of toil as a government rep on the Board at PortsToronto, I was prepared to hang up my spade for a bit. Until, that was, when Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told me about the challenge and opportunity that this project represented to the country, and the vital importance that the Windsor trade corridor represented to Canada’s economy. Over 14 years, lots of necessary and useful work has been done on the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), yet construction still remained in the offing. One speech writer to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien told me that he drafted a couple of paragraphs for his boss on the topic more than a decade ago — that gives you a sense of how long a process it has been. And the honour it is of being given the chance to help make it finally happen.
According to the Feds, the project is the largest and most ambitious binational border infrastructure project along the Canada – United States border. The project includes a new six-lane bridge across the Detroit River, associated border inspection plazas, and connections to the freeway systems in Ontario and Michigan. When completed, this project will provide an essential new alternative crossing.
With $120 billion of annual two-way trade at that small corner of Ontario, and one-third of all U.S.-bound Canadian trucks crossing between Windsor and Detroit, you can easily appreciate the Harper government’s tireless focus on building the new $4 billion crossing. As job-creators know across Ontario and the U.S. Midwest, the majority of regional trade depends on one 85-year old bridge to get to market. Legislatures in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, even Alabama, have passed Resolutions calling for the (DRIC) to proceed; Lawmakers know how vulnerable their trade with Canada is to the risk that one very old (yet proud) bridge, for which there is no real redundancy, could at some point become horribly inefficient.
Building the new bridge will create ten to fifteen thousand jobs in our two countries during the 4-year construction period. It is also expected that thousands of jobs will be created in businesses that will supply goods and raw materials for the construction project. Most importantly, the new bridge assures the security of the current jobs of millions of workers in Canada and the United States.
The WDBA will manage the procurement process for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the new bridge through a public-private partnership (P3) and will also oversee the work of the public-private partnership, manage the concession agreement and payments, and set and collect tolls. At the end of the concession term, the private consortium will transfer the bridge back to the public sector. The underlying goal of all P3s is to combine the best capabilities of both the public and private sectors for mutual benefit. The fact that we utilized a P3 structure at PortsToronto to undertake the pedestrian tunnel project to connect Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to the mainland has given me a wealth of practical insight into how P3’s actually function in real life.
That the tunnel project was first announced in 1935, yet only began under the PortsToronto Board’s leadership in 2012, shows that one can get things done if you put your mind to it.
The issue of “community benefits” has arisen in the City of Detroit, and has been a regular staple of meetings at City Council. It is clear that everyone understands the economic benefits of the bridge, and the WDBA recognizes the natural interest that all stakeholders have in this project. As partners with the State of Michigan, the WDBA supports all efforts to ensure that the State undertakes its responsibilities under the 2012 Crossing Agreement regarding Michigan Crossing Lands and/or Michigan Crossing Lands Activities. Under the Crossing Agreement, the State is expressly “responsible for the acquisition” of all U.S. lands needed for this important job-creating project. In addition, the P3 contract will require that the private sector operator establish and maintain mechanisms to understand and address community concerns.
In order to promote community benefits for the DRIC in the context of an innovative P3 arrangement, we will include in our Request for Qualification (RFQ) evaluation criteria that will benefit the local communities.
Project economics will dictate that local labour, supplies and suppliers be used to the maximum extent possible. Canada and Michigan will strongly encourage and reward the use of local resources, local supplies, and local job training initiatives through the procurement process.
There are many hundreds of items on the project’s critical path; any delay to the ultimate completion of this project simply prolongs the vulnerability of firms and their workers to that single 85 year-old link. Our Board of Directors has already met more than ten times since the July 30, 2104 announcement, and are doing everything possible to meet the stated goals of Canada and Michigan.
I won’t try to keep you posted on the project’s progress, since there’s plenty of media coverage on that front, but if you’ve been wondering why the blogging productivity has fallen dramatically since last summer, you’ve got your answer. At least in part (see prior post “Not so much a Blogging strike as a second guessing…” July 11-14).
(disclosure – this blog, as always, reflects a personal opinion and in no way represents the views of the WDBA, its Board/Staff or the federal government)