Bridge Crossing, I-75 offer potential for local benefits

by Dean Cousino
Monroe Evening News

Monroe County and local communities need to collaborate and be ready for the new international bridge crossing to Canada and the planned rebuild of the I- 75 corridor, or jobs and economic growth will pass them by.

That was the consensus of county commissioners and officials from the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments ( TMACOG) and Southeast Michigan Metropolitan Area Council of Governments ( SEMCOG) at a workshop Tuesday.

“If we’re not ready, it will bypass us,” Tony Reams, president of TMACOG, told about 25 people in the commissioners’ board room. “ We need to work together to make the whole region grow. If not, it’s all going to be lost, and you can’t play catchup.”

County administrator Michael Bosanac echoed those sentiments in noting that $160 billion in trade crosses at the Detroit-Windsor corridor each year, which represents about 30 percent of total Canada-U.S. trade.

“ You’ve got to be ready” to capitalize on the commerce and growth that will come, Mr. Bosanac said. “ It’s preparing our community, whether it’s at the top or city level. If we’re not proactive, then we won’t be ready for the opportunities that are there.”

Tim Lake, director of the Monroe County Business Development Corp., said strategy and incentives for luring new businesses aren’t as important for local communities as getting their infrastructure projects “shovel ready.”

“ We’re already at a disadvantage because of the weather factor,” Mr. Lake said. “By August, if you don’t have your ( foundations) in the ground by August, you cannot work inside” during the harsh winters.

He said local communities and stakeholders must collaborate on development plans to “ build some consensus along with tourism” for attractions like the River Raisin National Battlefield Park and Heritage Trail.

With plans to widen the Panama Canal, more ships will be coming to eastern ports along the United States, and the Ports of Monroe and Toledo will benefit, he said.

“ With 60 percent of the super tankers coming to North America, we’re sitting in a great hub,” Mr. Lake said.

Both Vice Chairman Al Potratz and Commissioner David Hoffman urged the 14 townships in the county to streamline their operations to make it easier for businesses to locate here.

“It takes an act of Congress just to get a permit for a sidewalk,” Mr. Hoffman said.

“ Townships — you need to be on board,” Mr. Potratz said. He also lamented the lack of infrastructure and road improvements in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio.

“ We’re way behind,” the vice chairman said. “ Who’s going to coordinate all these projects?”

The bridge is slated for completion in 2020, according to SEMCOG. Commissioner Mark Brant said the new bridge was not on anyone’s radar five to 10 years ago, but today it’s a reality. He asked if TMACOG had an economic impact study on the project. Mr. Reams said the I-75 corridor work and improvements to the Ohio Turnpike are in its 2020 vision plan, but not the bridge.

“ This bridge has changed the whole dynamic of planning,” Mr. Brant stressed.

An estimated 14,000 trucks a day travel on I- 75 between Detroit and Toledo, Mr. Reams said.

“ That’s a lot of trucks, but we can handle a lot more than that,” he said.

Monroe County already hasthree lanes of traffic in each direction on I- 75. Ohio is in the process of doing that by increasing capacity for three lanes from the Michigan border south to Findlay, he said.

“ We don’t want to just be a service station,” Mr. Reams noted. “ We want to be a trading post with value- added businesses in place and parts coming from each direction.”

He said TMACOG wants economic activity to happen along the border.

“ This is an opportunity to turn that access and capacity ( for more traffic) into an economic boost for the region. We’ve got to start now.”

J. Henry Lievens, board chairman, said the purpose of the 1½hour workshop was to discuss what is happening in the region and take advantage of that. He said agriculture, the road commission, community activists and other stakeholders need to be involved in the collaboration as well.

“ That’s the challenge we take away from this,” Mr. Lievens said. “ We look to our regional partners to help on some of the bigger geographic opportunities. But we need to look among our partnerships with local units to prepare key sites for economic development opportunities. I hope we leave inspired and motivated.”

The Ambassador Bridge, spanning the Detroit River and linking the United States and Canada, is seen from Detroit. Monroe County commissioners and officials from two regional planning agencies discussed the local impact of a new bridge to Canada Tuesday at a workshop.