Jun 2, 2010

Senate Republicans say state does not need second span across the Detroit River to Canada

Despite widespread and bipartisan support for building the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge over the Detroit river between Canada and Windsor, it appears Senate Republicans will be the stumbling block.

The Senate Transportation Committee took testimony on House Bill 4961 Wednesday that would authorize Michigan to enter into a public-private partnership with Canada and a private sector developer/financier to build the DRIC bridge, but before any testimony was taken, the Committee chair, Sen. Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac, made it seem he was just going through the motions, and he does not think the state needs a second crossing. He should tell that to Ambassador Bridge owner and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun who is already building a second span next to the Ambassador Bridge despite not having a single permit.

“There is a lot of talk, especially in the newspapers, that this needs to get done quickly,” Gilbert said. “I am all for doing things quickly, but I am not going to risk a $5 million debt.”

Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, the Minority Vive-Chair of the Committee and a strong supporter of DRIC – along with former Governors Jim Blanchard and Republican John Engler, Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate – took exception to Gilbert’s claim that traffic does not support a second span.

“I am not an expert, but I have not heard one expert in this state say the traffic study done is wrong,” Basham said. “I hate to think we plan the future economy for my grandchildren on what’s happening today.”

Not a single Republican in the House voted for HB 4961, and one reason, besides going to bat for Moroun, is the claim that it takes away legislative oversight. Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, is one of the biggest critics of DRIC, as well one of the most conservative members in the House. He testified to that claim of a lack of oversight, but Basham debunked that claim.

“It sound like conspiracy theory; we always have control,” Basham said. “The Legislature can do lots of things; they can even repeal bills.”

Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint), sponsored HB 4961, and he said a public-private partnership was the best way to attract money for needed infrastructure improvements, and at the same time the legislation was structured to protect the state from incurring debt.

“It’s simple: if private investors don’t think there is a need for another bridge, they won’t invest,” he said.

The committee did not take a vote on the bill, and more testimony is expected.

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