LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan won approval Friday to build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada, a key step needed to start construction on the $3.5 billion government project to relieve congestion and speed up trade at the busiest border crossing between the two countries.
A permit awarded by the U.S. Department of State allows Michigan and Canada to move forward with the span over the Detroit River. Construction could start in 2015 or 2016 and be finished by 2020, though lawsuits challenging the project have been filed by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, currently the lone bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
The presidential permit — a requirement for all U.S. border crossing projects with other countries — comes 10 months after Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper struck a deal calling for Canada to pay for the bridge, and five months after Michigan voters rejected an Ambassador Bridge owners' attempt to slow down or halt construction.
The State Department said in a statement that the New International Trade Crossing will "serve the national interest."
"The NITC will help to meet future capacity requirements in a critical travel corridor, promote cross-border trade and commerce, and advance our vital bilateral relationship with Canada," the agency said.
Hurdles remain to building the new bridge some two miles south of the more than 80-year-old Ambassador Bridge. In a federal lawsuit filed in February, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun claimed a "perpetual and exclusive franchise right" to operate the bridge free of competition from another span.
Snyder has called the suit, and another pending in a Michigan court, a delay tactic.
Construction of the bridge is estimated at about $950 million, according to the NITC website. Canada has promised to take on Michigan's $550 million portion with revenue from future tolls paying off the debt. The total cost of the bridge would be $3.5 billion, including work on freeway interchanges, customs plazas in both countries and infrastructure work.