TRAVERSE CITY – Michigan’s economy and the auto industry in particular would benefit from a second border-crossing bridge between Detroit and Windsor, ON, Canada, Gov. Rick Snyder says at an automotive gathering here.

“The new international trade crossing is a great opportunity,” he tells attendees at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars.

But opponents of the proposed bridge across the Detroit River have collected enough signatures for a Nov. 6 ballot proposal that would require state voters to approve future international crossings.

Unable to get the state legislature to fund the project, Snyder earlier this year struck a deal with Canada, which has agreed to cover the entire construction cost in exchange for future toll revenues. “Hats off to Canada,” he says.

Most of Canada’s substantial automotive-manufacturing industry is in southern Ontario, and the privately owned 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge is busy with truck traffic carrying vehicles and auto parts between the two countries.

Supporters of the proposed bridge, estimated to cost $4 billion, say it would ease traffic congestion at the border and allow commercial trucks to bypass residential communities. The Ambassador Bridge often backs up with traffic, with more than 8,000 trucks a day crossing the Detroit-Windsor border.

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun is fighting a second bridge and financing the ballot campaign and $10 million in TV ads, many of them slamming the governor.

“There is no real controversy,” Snyder says during a Q&A session. “There’s one party that has a bridge and doesn’t want another. So they’re spending $10 million to call me names and say things that aren’t true.”

The governor seems averse to get into public tussle with Moroun. “I don’t fight with people; it’s a waste of time,” he says.

But preceding him as a conference speaker was Canadian Consul General Roy Norton who came out swinging. “Gov. Snyder has been the subject of a campaign of abuse by the monopolistic owners of a bridge,” he says, calling the effort to block a new crossing “cynical and manipulative.”

Norton is providing a “fact sheet” to the estimated 900 management conference attendees, and urging them to tell their workers and coworkers about the benefits of a new Detroit-Windsor bridge.

“A lot of people’s knowledge of this issue comes from the TV campaign,” Norton says. “Where is the counter-campaign against blatant lies and distortions? No one benefits more from this project than the auto industry. Michigan’s share of the cost would be zero. Its liability would be zero.”

Canada and Michigan are each other’s best trade customers, he adds.

CAR Chief Economist Sean McAlinden adds some levity to the controversy, saying, “There are so many engineers in this room, why don’t we get together and build a bridge?”

Serving his first term as governor of a state with a strong automotive presence, Snyder praises the industry’s post-recession recovery. “Thanks for the comeback,” he tells the conference crowd. “We’ve become the comeback state.”

He proposes new initiatives to attract new talent to the auto industry, emphasizing it offers “great opportunities” for everyone from engineers to plant workers.

Some people have misperceptions about modern auto plants, thinking they’re dirty, dismal and low-tech, Snyder says. “The auto industry is high-tech. Anyone who says it isn’t is out of touch with reality.”

The governor wants to change state liability laws so parents and their children can tour auto plants to see what they are like.

“A lot of people have an image of the old Rouge facility,” Snyder says, referring to an early 20th century Ford factory noted for its industrial grit. “But today’s plants are high-tech setups. You can eat off the floors.”

Snyder, a businessman before entering politics, uses the MBS setting to announce the creation of the Governors Auto Caucus, “formed to support a robust auto-manufacturing sector that is vital to the U.S. economy.”

Founding coalition members in addition to Snyder are the governors of Missouri, Tennessee and Illinois.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com