Michigan Governor to have plan for new toll bridge in Detroit "within weeks" despite legislature's bar and slight traffic

June 2, 2012

2012-06-01: Reporters hobnobbing with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at a three day Mackinac Policy Conference on a resort island in Lake Huron this week ended up reporting that a plan to bypass a resistant legislature over a new toll bridge (known by the initials NITC or DRC) will be announced shortly. The Detroit News Nolan Findley reported that "top officials" (read; The Governor?) " told me a deal is nearly complete to construct the long anticipated bridge without direct approval of the state Legislature, and they expect to complete the details within a few weeks."

The only remaining obstacle the top official told the Detroit News was US Government insistence that American-made steel be used for bridge. The Canadians are more free trade oriented and want to use the lowest cost steel - probably Chinese or Korean steel.

The Windsor Star's Chris Vander Doelen had a similar report apparently with input from top Canadian officials: "the New International Trade Crossing is going ahead within days or weeks despite opposition in the Michigan legislature, and it will move to the construction stage very quickly."

The reports suggest the state of Michigan and the central government of Canada will make coordinated announcements. Governor Snyder would cite his executive authority under a provision of the state constitution allowing him to make "Interlocal agreements" with neighboring jurisdictions. He is prohibited by current state transport funding law from spending any state money on the bridge, which the legislature has consistently opposed.

The Canadians have offered to loan Michigan money for approximately $550m for the I-75 interchange, approach roads and toll/border clearance plaza. They are already building their approach road, the Windsor Essex Parkway ($1,400m) from the H401 to the bridge plaza site. Canadian taxpayers apparently up for close to $2 billion even without the bridge itself.

The Canadians want to get back in tolls their $550m investment in US-side approaches. And tolls are supposed to fund the bridge proper - $1.100m approximately - as well.

On the steel origins/free trade vs protectionism a likely compromise is the use of high priced US steel over American waters and the most competitive steel over Canadian waters. The international boundary is in the middle of the river.

Lack of traffic & revenue the undiscussed problem

The biggest problem for the project will remain the rather small volume of traffic Michigan-Canada  - an average 45,000 vehicles/day already spread over three crossings with 12 lanes total (Blue Water Bridge 6 lanes, Detroit-Windsor Tunnel 2 lanes, Ambassador Bridge 4 lanes.) Present cause of delays is lack of border inspection staff especially on the US side, not bridge lanes.

The Canadians want to do a PPP for the bridge proper - the $1,100m part - and they want toll revenues to attract private investment in that. They also want tolls to fund recovery of the $550m to be advanced for Michigan approaches.

With total traffic so small  that three crossings are barely profitable the notion it can be stretched to support a 4th crossing and service $1,650m seems far fetched.

But Michigan Governor Snyder and the Canadians seem determined to try.


TOLLROADSnews 2012-06-01

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