Michigan legislators call for T&R study, prelim legal, engineering for 3rd Detroit crossing
By Peter Samuel
Michigan legislators have passed language in their budget for next fiscal year to prepare the way for concessioning a third toll crossing to Canada from Detroit. The budget contains $2.5m for the Michigan DOT to continue to advance preliminary legal, financial, engineering and environmental permitting to prepare for seeking a private sector toll concessionaire to finance, build, and operate the bridge. Ambassador Bridge lobbyists had worked to cut off the funding. The $2.5m will attract 80% federal matching funds, making a total $12.5m available. The project is often known as Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC).
The budget legislation specifically requires an investment grade traffic and revenue (T&R) study for submission by Michigan DOT to the legislature by May 1 next year. The budget language says the legislature intends to pass enabling legislation for a P3 concession, or establish a public toll authority in conjunction with the Canadians by June 1, 2010 if the project is a goer.
Existing fixed crossings are the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel (and there is a truck ferry that handles hazmat and large loads). Site for the third fixed crossing has been selected after some years of alternatives selection and environmental permitting. Difficult approaches on the Canadian side are designed in some detail, permitted, and funded.
The bridge is to be about 3km (2 miles) downstream of the Ambassador Bridge. The route makes for a more direct connection between I-75 south of Detroit and the Canadian Highway 401, avoiding congested roadways on the downtown Detroit end and commercial Huron Church Road, a procession of traffic signals, on the Windsor side.
The Detroit Windsor Tunnel connects strictly local streets on both sides.
Bridge owners make many enemies
The Ambassador Bridge owners strongly oppose the new bridge, saying the traffic numbers don't warrant extra capacity, so they have lobbied against state support for permitting a competitor.
But they have other problems.
They're accused of squatting on city land, and of construction without permits.
Michigan DOT further accuse the bridge company of contravening the terms of a contract of a Gateway Plaza project by refusing to build parts to which they were commited.
Also there is apparently an adverse safety report on the condition of the Ambassador Bridge, which the bridge owners are trying to keep under wraps.
They have built approaches for a modern span alongside their existing 1929 span. Making that new bridge pay will be difficult with the downstream bridge competing.
Of course the T&R study may dash the hopes of those wanting the third crossing. The Canadians have their own T&R study under way, so it may be a duel of studies.
Language in full
The language of the budget as passed yesterday:
"Section 384 (1) The department may continue with preliminary legal, financial, traffic and revenue study, permitting, engineering, and other ancillary work for the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) so that it can solicit from the private sector, requests for proposals for public-private partnership to construct the bridge, plaza, and related infrastructure. The department shall submit proposals to the legislature by May 1, 2010. Those activities associated with the DRIC project shall not bind the state in any way to construction.
"(2) The department shall submit an investment grade traffic study to the legislature by May 1, 2010 from a reputable traffic company with appropriate experience intended to provide a detailed traffic projection for the ensuing 10 years, taking into account projected infrastructure modifications, expansions and improvements announced.
"(3) The department shall not expend more than $2.5 million from state transportation revenue sources for activities enumerated in this section.
" (4) It is the intent of the legislature to fully adopt or reject authorizing legislation by the full legislative bodies by June 1, 2010 to:
* Construct a new international crossing jointly and in agreement with Canada
* Create an authorized tolling authority; and
* Create a public private partnership"
ENDS state budget language
The governor is considered certaint to sign the budget bill into law.
Safety issue said to be fuel dump
Local reports are the adverse safety report on the Ambassador Bridge - which the bridge company has gone to court to suppress - highlights a motor fuel dump below the bridge as a hazard to the bridge. We can't confirm that.
If that's all it is, it's difficult to see why the bridge owners would fight the report's release at such expense to their reputation. A fuel dump could easily be emptied and closed, and the hazard removed.