New Detroit International bridge on November ballot, but does it matter?

June 22, 2012

2012-06-21: Opponents of the new Detroit River bridge (NITC or DRIC) that was the subject of an agreement between the government of Canada and the Governor of Michigan June 15 say they now have passed the minimum number of signatures to put the new bridge issue on the ballot in November. The popular vote is on.

An Ambassador Bridge company-backed group named The People Should Decide (TPSD) has been collecting signatures for a vote to amend the state constitution to require a referendum or majority vote of the people for the state government to finance, own, develop or use state funds or resources for any new crossing.

A bridge company official told us on news of the Michigan ballot today: "We're now off the mat and back on our feet (and punching again.)"

But you have to wonder if they're in the right boxing ring?

The prize fight looks to be with the government of Canada now, not the Michigan governor, Rick Snyder. Under last week's agreement  (June 15) between Snyder and the government of Canada virtually all the action is now up to the Canadians:

- Canada sets up the Crossing Authority "to design, construct, finance, operate and maintain a new International Crossing between Canada and Michigan"

- Canada's Crossing Authority is also to "design, construct, finance and/or maintain the US Federal (Government) Plaza"

- Canada's Crossing Authority will procure an availability payments public private partner to finance, build and operate the bridge proper

- Canada's Crossing Authority costs include the Michigan Interchange (with I-75)

- Canada has the rights to all revenues including all tolls and "revenue arising from any public private agreement or any US Federal Plaza public-private agreement"

- Canada is responsible for international crossing lands which "means the Canadian Crossing Lands and the Michigan Crossing Lands"

Michigan's involvement is limited to the Governor appointing three members of a six person International Authority (IA) to provide "oversight" of the project. The Canadians appoint the other three IA members.

Nothing required of Michigan

Almost nothing at all is required of a Michigan administration under the Crossing Agreement except vague "support" for the project.

And the Synopsis of the Agreement says explicitly: "The Michigan Parties are not obligated to pay any of the costs of the new International Crossing."

In everything but name this is a fully Canadian bridge project.

The Crossing Agreement was designed precisely as an end-run around the state legislature's opposition to the project.

Initially the Canadians said their involvement in funding $550m of works in Michigan was conditional on Governor Snyder getting legislative support.

An April 2010 backgrounder from Transport Canada headed "Canada's financial participation in the construction of a new Windsor-Detroit bridge crossing" read:

"The Government of Canada has indicated to the State of Michigan that it is prepared to increase its financial participation in the Windsor-Detroit bridge crossing project, up to a maximum of US$550 million. Canada's increased financial participation would be for project components in Michigan that would not be funded by the public-private partnership or the U.S. Government, and will be re-paid to Canada overtime. The increased financial participation is subject to the Michigan Legislature adopting all of the authorizing legislation for the implementation of this project."


Canadians simply decided "We'll do it" and Michigan Governor says OK

The Michigan legislature of course has rejected any authorizing legislation and indeed has explicitly barred the use of any state funds for the NITC/DRIC bridge project.

In response the Canadians have simply dumped their previously stated requirement for Michigan legislative support. Recognizing the Michigan Governor is powerless in the matter they have taken on the bridge themselves. All they require is that Michigan officials don't actively obstruct them.

The Ambassador Bridge company may well win the ballot in November. By all accounts there is broad Michigan voter skepticism around the bridge project, and surveys have shown it could fail by two to one.

But the ballot would amend the state constitution to require voter approval for Michigan to build a new crossing. Nothing in the constitution as amended by the People Shall Decide ballot measure requires a popular vote for a new crossing to be built by the Canadians as provided for in the Crossing Agreement.

The ballot reads: "The People should decide whether (Michigan) state government may construct or finance new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles. Consistent with this policy and to shield the people from unnecessary burdens, the state shall not undertake ownership and the development or use of state funds or resources for new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles unless first determined to be necessary and appropriate by majority vote of the people."

The Crossing Agreement between Snyder and the Canadians doesn't require the state of Michigan to do any of these things - no financing, no construction, no ownership, no development. The Canadians are doing it all.

The bridge supporters seem to have won this round.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-06-21

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