Why the Ambassador Bridge is crucial to the economies of two nations
And the Ambassador Bridge, which separates the United States from its neighbor to the north, is perhaps the most economically important one-and-a-half-mile road in the Western Hemisphere. Until last week, it received very little attention for the crucial role it plays in the economies of both nations.
A total of $664 billion worth of goods moved between the two countries last year, according to data from the US Department of Commerce. The State of Michigan estimates that 30% of the total was moved on the private Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Approximately 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge daily.
But not last week.
The fact is that the economies of Canada and the United States are intertwined in ways that citizens of both probably don’t realize or take for granted.
Since goods usually cross the border with limited tariffs or other taxes, factories on one side of the border depend on suppliers on the other. Experts say there is no American-built car without Canadian parts, and vice versa.
In 2021, the United States imported more than one million completed vehicles from Canada, worth approximately $25 billion. Canada, which has about one-ninth the population of the United States, imported 750,000 American vehicles, worth about $14 billion during the same period, according to data from research firm IHS. markit.
“Essentially, automotive supply chains are treating this border as if it were a state border,” said Bernard Swiecki, research director at the Center for Automotive Research, a Michigan think tank. “Financially speaking, that international border might as well not be there.”
Plants as far apart as Toyota plants in West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama, as well as a Ford plant producing Super Duty pickup trucks in the Cleveland suburb of Avon Lake, Ohio, were forced to temporarily shut down or reduce their operations. So made a plant in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, Ontario that builds Chrysler 300s, Dodge Chargers and Dodge Challengers.
The Great Lakes separating the eastern United States and Canada limit the number of places where it is possible to cross the border by land between the eastern part of the two nations. Although there is a tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, it is generally closed to commercial traffic as it lacks the bridge’s customs facilities.
Another bridge connects Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, but the route involves a 150-mile detour, and it has had its own share of protests this week, which makes it risky for trucks to try to cross the border there.
Soaring 152 feet above the Detroit River, the 92-year-old Ambassador Bridge is just two lanes wide in either direction.
An alternative bridge is under construction about a mile away, but it is not expected to open for at least two years. It will have three lanes in each direction and will be named after Gordie Howe, the Canadian-born hockey superstar who played for the Detroit Red Wings.
Although the auto industry has captured the spotlight this week due to the industry’s concentration in Detroit and Windsor, it’s not the only industry dependent on the bridge.
“A lot of manufacturing, a lot of goods are dependent on the bridge. It’s not just automobiles,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal analyst at IHS Markit.
“Our supply chain is quite fragile right now,” Brinley said. “We don’t need another issue in the works.”
— CNN’s Miguel Marquez contributed to this report.