Jun 10, 2010

Senate Republicans find new excuse to hold up DRIC bridge and 10,000 Michigan jobs

LANSING – The Senate Transportation Committee hearings on the much-needed planned Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge over the Detroit River between Canada and Windsor is proving two things: Senate Republicans are the only people holding it up, and they will do just about anything to help GOP benefactor Matty Moroun keep his monopoly at the Ambassador Bridge.

Republicans all over the country and here in Michigan support building the DRIC bridge, and it seems that the only Republicans who don’t are in the Michigan Senate. The committee hearings on House Bill 4961 that would authorize Michigan to enter into a public-private partnership with Canada and a private sector developer/financier to build the DRIC bridge continued on Wednesday, and Republicans on the Committee raked Wilbur Smith Associates, the company that did the traffic study, over the coals for 90 minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to shake his numbers that we need a second crossing.

But they, apparently, did find something to latch on to, and it appears that is what Senate Majority Leader Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, is going to use to not allow a vote in the bill.

Apparently, unless the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) turns over revenue data on how much money the tolls from a new DRIC bridge would generate, the Senate will not vote on the legislation, according to subscription only Gongwer.

Bishop claims that when MDOT provided the traffic study last May, they should have included revenue data on tolls, but MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said he supplied what was called for and releasing the revenue data would worsen the state's negotiating position when hiring a concessionaire to participate in the public-private partnership that would oversee the new bridge.

“I did release the study on May 1,” he said in replying to a question from Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw.” As I have testified before, the State of Michigan will be at a disadvantage if I release that data.”

This is such a sham. I can tell you what will happen if the DRIC bridge does not get built. The federal money and 10,000 jobs will go to Buffalo “in a New York minute.”

“I don’t believe for a minute that New York would not hesitate to snap up this up,” Steudle said in Tuesday’s hearing.

Moroun is already in the process of building a second span next to the current one, even though he claims they don’t need a second span and he has also been ordered by the courts to tear it down because he has no permits. His second bridge will never get built for two reasons.

First, Canada does not want the second bridge to land next to the current bridge, and Moroun never get a permit from Canada, no matter how long Senate Republicans hold their breath and jump up and down. Second, when he sees a second span will not be built, he will abandon his current quest to build a second span, and just reap the profits from his 81-year old bridge with little maintenance and government oversight.

The fact is no Michigan taxpayer dollars will be expended on the DRIC bridge. The toll revenue from vehicles that cross the bridge will pay for its construction. In addition, the Canadian government has offered to fund the construction of the bridge plaza and the freeway connection on the U.S. side of the border.

It’s funny; I’m reading a book called “Michigan’s Economic Future” by Michigan State University Economics Professor Charles Ballard published in 2006 by Michigan State University Press. Although I’m only on the first chapter, it’s clear how important it is to Michigan to keep the bridge to Canada open.

He wrote “Michigan is one of the leading gateways to Ontario, the economic heartland of Canada. Trade with Canada is one of the central pillars of Michigan’s’ economy. Michigan has the eight largest economy of the 50 states, but we are the fourth largest exporting state.”

“In the after math of the events of September 11, 2001, heightened security led to considerable congestion at border crossings. Some of the congestion was relived by the opening of new U.S. Customs booths on the Detroit side of the Ambassador Bridge in 2004. Nevertheless, eventually, it will almost certainly be necessary to build a new bridge or tunnel in the Detroit area.”

That was written more than four years ago. That crossing could go to New York if Senate Republicans continue to stall.

The Senate Transportation Committee will again take up HB 4961 Tuesday June 15 at 1 p.m. in the Senate Hearing Room in the Boji Tower in downtown Lansing. The committee meetings are open to the public.

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