OTTAWA - The federal government says it has reached a funding arrangement for a major new bridge between Canada and the U.S. after years of sometimes-acrimonious delay.
Canada had already been planning to pay for 95 per cent of a new bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, and now there's an agreement that would cover the remaining portion for a customs plaza on the U.S. side.
The project won't cost Canadian taxpayers because the funds will be recouped through tolls and a public-private partnership, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt insisted Wednesday as she made the announcement in the House of Commons.
"I think it is important to note as well that the entire amount will be compensated," Raitt said.
The funding model would work one of two ways: the construction costs will either be covered by a private company, or the Canadian government will help finance the project with the expectation that it would be repaid in toll profits.
The U.S. announced Wednesday that it's committed to the project. The Department of Homeland Security said it expects to spend $50 million a year to staff the plaza with customs agents.
While construction has already begun on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, considerable steps still need to be taken to break ground on the American side.
Property has to be purchased on the American side of the bridge, which would link to a poverty-stricken Detroit neighbourhood with scores of abandoned houses.
The U.S. government also needs to provide technical specifications for its customs plaza — such as how many booths it will need, and what kinds of materials it would require.
One source — not authorized to discuss the details publicly and so speaking on condition of anonymity — said the goal is to have the new bridge operational in 2020.
The Canadian government had expressed frustration at having to wait for construction to start on the U.S. side of the estimated $4-billion project.
It even became the subject of a tongue-in-cheek segment on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," which explored the difficulties in getting U.S. approval for a bridge being paid for by Canada.
The Ambassador Bridge, the aging span that currently links Windsor and Detroit, handles one-third of all Canada-U.S. trade. The family that owns it has fought the new project in court. It has argued, unsuccessfully, that governments have no right to nudge them aside.
Detroit's Moroun family has been buying up properties on the edges of the existing bridge in an effort to expand the span with a new, privately-owned structure.
That has left neighbours complaining that the old bridge company had hurt property values in a historic Windsor neighbourhood, where it now owns a number of boarded-up homes.
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