Detroit River crossing bill voted down

| Friday, October 21, 2011

A Michigan Senate panel has voted down an effort to build a new toll bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The Senate Economic Development Committee voted 3-2 in opposition to the bill with two members passing on the opportunity to vote. Republicans on the panel were split on the bill. Two Democrats chose not to vote after a failed attempt moments earlier to amend the bill to require the bridge operator to protect residents in neighborhoods near the proposed span.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, sponsored the bill – SB410 – to authorize the state to enter a public-private partnership with Canada and a private group to build and operate the bridge downriver from the Ambassador Bridge – the busiest commercial border crossing between the U.S. and Canada.

Intended to relieve congestion on the existing structure, the $4 billion project appears to be in trouble. Richardville said immediately after the vote that he likely would not renew his effort any time soon.

Gov. Rick Snyder has made the New International Trade Crossing a priority since taking office. He says the bridge project is “critically important” to expanding trade.

The governor could still ask lawmakers to revisit the issue, but that is unlikely to happen shortly.

Snyder and other advocates of the new crossing included protections for Michigan residents they were hopeful would shore up bill support. Included was a provision to prohibit taxpayer money from being used to build the bridge. Also, a protection was added so the bridge could not add to the state’s debt.

Instead, a private group would bear the responsibility to finance, construct and operate the bridge.

To cover Michigan’s share of the cost, the Canadian government has offered the state $550 million. Canada and the private developer would be repaid for their investments from the bridge’s toll revenue.

Critics said they have doubts about the necessity to build another structure. They question whether delays on existing structures are tied to inspections and not bridge capacity concerns.

Sen. Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, said he is concerned about making the investment when truck traffic is not what it used to be.

“I am concerned that, due to the documented decline of truck traffic at existing crossings, it will have a negative effect on the viability of the NITC project specifically related to operating costs and debt obligations,” Hansen told lawmakers.

“Our desire to be a leading global trading partner should not be clouded by putting taxpayers at risk.”

Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun has spent millions of dollars opposing the state’s bridge plan. Instead, he is pushing to build his own bridge next to the existing structure, which is about two miles from the proposed NITC site.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Michigan, click here.

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