Michigan legislature moves to block rogue Governor on NITC bridge

June 13, 2012
By Peter Samuel

2012-06-13: There were moves in the Michigan legislature today intended to prevent a rogue state Governor doing his much predicted 'end run' around it on the new toll bridge Detroit to Windsor. A state house appropriations committee approved language explicitly barring use of monies of a Michigan Strategic Fund for a new bridge and barring the Fund from committing to any new contract related to planning or construction of a new bridge.

Governor Rick Snyder reportedly has negotiated an agreement with the Government of Canada to form a bi-national toll bridge authority that would attempt to find investors to finance the billion-dollar bridge in return for a toll concession. The Canadians will supposedly carry most of the costs of interchanges, approach roads, and inspection plazas on both the US and Canadian side.

Reports from the Governor's office in recent days suggested that the Michigan Strategic Fund could be tapped as part of Gov Snyder's 'end run'. Today state Rep Dave Agema (Repub, Grandville) chairman of the house appropriations transportation committee won a vote for an amendment in the larger house appropriations committee barring any involvement of the Michigan Strategic Fund in any new bridge.

Agema is quoted today: "(W)hat the legislature and particularly the appropriations committee does is we appropriate money for spending. Nobody has the authority, including the governor, to spend any money without the legislature and appropriations appropriating the money, so I just reinforced that concept when I put the amendment in."

Stopping Governor spending money not appropriated

He added: "My goal is to stop (Gov Snyder) spending money we did not authorize."

Agema says no one in the legislature knows exactly what's in the Governor's agreement with the Canadians but if today's amendment to the MSF derails the agreement, then the Governor should not have entered into those kinds of commitments in the bridge agreement.

In addition the senate majority leader Randy Richardville said today he was concerned about reported maneuvers by Governor Snyder and the Canadians to circumvent the legislature's bar on commitment of state funds for the new bridge.

Competition for 44k veh/day

The new bridge would compete for business with three existing underutilized crossings:

- Ambassador Bridge that last year carried a daily average under 20,000 (12,700 cars, 7,200 trucks)

- Blue Water Bridge 14,000/day (10,000 cars, 4,000 trucks)

-  Detroit Windsor Tunnel 10,400/day virtually all cars

Only at 30,000 to 40,000/day do bridge operators normally start to look to expand capacity beyond 4 lanes, since normally 10,000 vehicles/day/lane are accommodated without difficulty. Major bridges often carry close to 20,000 vehicles/lane/day.

Taking a mean number 15,000 vehicles/day/lane as a measure of capacity the 12 travel lanes of the existing Michigan-Ontario crossings have a capacity of 180,000 vehicles/day. At 44,000 actual traffic in 2011, or 3,700/lane/day the existing crossings are barely 25% utilized.

The new Michigan/Canada sponsored NITC bridge of 6 lanes would add another 90,000 daily capacity to three crossings now carrying just half that total.

The Ambassador Bridge company of course is leading the fight against the NITC bridge because it sees major losses of traffic to the new bridge and its financial viability jeopardized by all the extra capacity. But the Blue Water Bridge - a Michigan/Canada government enterprise stands to lose heavily too - and the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, though to a lesser degree.

But the biggest loss maker - if it ever gets financed - would probably be the new NITC bridge itself given its high as-new costs, and its location at a less favorable crossing site than the others.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-06-13

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