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The Working Group Visits the U.S.-Canada Border

Article by Laura Collins August 11, 2016 //   5 minute read
Ambassador Bridge

Recently, the Bush Institute’s North America Competitiveness Working Group convened again to continue its policy work on North American economic integration. The Working Group toured sites in Detroit and Windsor, Canada that show our policy priorities in action in the real world.

The Detroit-Windsor area is the busiest commercial land border crossing in North America, handling 31 percent of U.S.-Canada trade carried by truck. Typical traffic includes the automobile industry, where car parts will typically cross the U.S-Canada border as many as six times before the finished vehicle is offered for sale to the public. Thousands of people cross daily as well, including the many Canadian nurses who staff Detroit-area hospitals. Over $100 billion in trade crossed here in 2014. With such a large volume of daily border crossings, reliable and efficient cross-border infrastructure is vital.

Detroit-Windsor currently has three main crossings—the tunnel, which hosts primarily passenger traffic; the rail tunnel, which hosts commercial cargo; and the iconic Ambassador Bridge, a privately-owned suspension bridge that can accommodate both passenger and commercial traffic. These border crossings are 86, 106, and 87 years old, respectively.

That will soon change with the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which is expected to be completed and ready for use by 2020. The procurement and construction process is overseen by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), a Canadian, not-for-profit, Crown corporation. The WDBA briefed the Working Group on the Gordie Howe, from the initial economic assessments that determined an additional crossing was warranted to the permitting process and the beginnings of construction.

This particular project is a study in two of our policy priorities—the need for additional, more efficient border infrastructure and streamlining the permitting process for cross-border projects.  The Gordie Howe started with a transportation study about traffic in Windsor.  

Currently, there are 17 traffic lights between the Ambassador Bridge and the main highway on the outskirts of Windsor.  With the large volumes of commercial traffic that cross via the Ambassador Bridge, trucks back up for miles along regular city streets, delayed by these traffic lights en route to destinations in Ontario and across Canada. But the study also found that there was enough capacity for another border crossing between these two cities, and that building another bridge would actually encourage even more cross-border traffic rather than disproportionately diminish the loads on the other bridge and tunnels. 

The bridge project began in 2000 but was delayed for years due to opponents who delayed the permitting process. The presidential permit needed in the U.S. to begin construction was finally awarded in 2013.  Despite being a cross-border bridge that will benefit both the U.S. and Canada, it will be built entirely with Canadian funds.

After crossing the border via the Ambassador Bridge, the Working Group proceeded to the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law for a briefing on its Dual JD Program with the University of Windsor. This unique program allows students to graduate in three years with law degrees from both institutions, giving graduates the ability to pursue legal licensure in both the U.S. and Canada. It is North America’s only three year dual JD program.

The Dual JD Program was conceived in the 1980s, pre-NAFTA, but it works nicely with the North America that has emerged since 1994. Lawyers are specifically covered by the TN visa created for temporary professional workers in NAFTA. Additionally, with many companies operating across borders, sometimes litigation arises in more than one North American country. Graduates of this program can fill these companies’ unique needs for legal representation that understands the differences in the U.S. and Canadian legal systems and can represent them in either country.

The needs do not end with corporate interests, however. Particularly in border communities like Detroit and Windsor, there are unique cross-border legal needs, from immigration to criminal law, from landlord-tenant issues to probating a will. Lawyers educated in this program are prepared to help with these unique issues.

The Dual JD Program is an excellent example of how institutions can reach across borders to develop the skills of the workforce across North America. Whether for highly skilled workers such as lawyers or middle skilled workers in manufacturing, all workers in North America need to be prepared with the skills needed to meet the changing economic demands of the next few decades. Programs like this are at the forefront of this effort.