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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Snyder Hopes Legislation On Second Detroit-Windsor Bridge Done By July

MACKINAC ISLAND - With legislation authorizing the process to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, submitted Wednesday for introduction, Governor Rick Snyder said he hoped the Legislature would finish work on the measure by July.

And he also said the legislation, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), was not in fact an effort to build a new bridge (though he wore a button saying "build the bridge") but in creating an authority that would then join with another authority to allow for private construction of a bridge.

If legislators opposed the legislation, he said, the ultimate decision on building a new bridge will be up to the private sector, which will finance, build and operate a structure. "So the way I view it is, if you don't believe in supporting this legislation, you're taking a position in some ways to say you have an issue with free enterprise and free competition. Because that's what this is all about creating an environment where the free market can work," Snyder said.

But Richardville said he would not be held to any kind of calendar or imposed deadline for acting on the legislation.

Talking to reporters, Richardville said he would not hold a vote on the bill in the Senate until at least half the majority Republican caucus, which numbers 26 members, would support the measure.

And in terms of trying to build support for the bills, Richardville said he had asked all members to "wipe the slate clean" in terms of considering the measure and the arguments for a new bridge.

Building a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, seems early on to be the major focus of the Detroit Regional Chamber meeting here. As attendees showed up at the ferries in Mackinaw City to travel to the island, union members handed out buttons saying "Build the Bridge."

And in his welcoming comments to the attendees of the conference, Snyder said, to applause, that he was wearing the button.

At the somewhat chaotic press conference where he talked about the bridge legislation, Snyder was flanked by dozens of executives, labor leaders and civic officials, most of them also wearing the button.

Since most business groups and executives support the New International Trade Crossing, Snyder urged the attendees at the Mackinac Island meeting to lobby for the new bridge.

"I hope you have your radar going and say, 'there's a legislator, I'm going to get them and find out 'Why don't you have a button on?'" Snyder said.

The bills will be introduced on Tuesday in the Senate and be assigned to the Economic Development Committee chaired by Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township). Richardville said he expected committee hearings on the legislation would begin the week of June 13.

Richardville said he assigned the measures to Kowall's committee instead of the Transportation Committee chaired by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) because he considered the measures more an issue of economic development than of transportation. Casperson also has other priorities at this point, Richardville said.

Putting the bills in the Economic Development Committee gives supporters a little more breathing room than Transportation. Economic Development has seven members, five Republicans and two Democrats, while Transportation has six members, four Republicans and two Democrats. Plus, one of the Transportation Committee's Democratic members, Sen. John Gleason of Flushing, has said in the past he opposes the new bridge.


SB 410 , the main bill, is titled the New International Trade Crossing Act, using the moniker the bridge's supporters have bestowed on the project, formerly known as the Detroit River International Crossing. SB 411 is more of a technical bill to make necessary changes to the state's main transportation law, PA 51 of 1951.

As expected, the legislation would put a new authority, appointed by the governor with some input given to the Senate majority leader and the House speaker on two of the appointments, in charge of the project, not the Department of Transportation. The legislation empowers the new authority to determine the location, design standards and construction materials for a new crossing; research, plan, procure, design, finance, construct and repair the crossing; set user fees for the crossing; issue bonds; establish rules and regulations for the crossing; acquire property for the crossing; and enter into a governance agreement with Canada, among other powers.

And the statute seeks to be explicit that the state would not have to repay the bonds. That has been a major point of dispute between the state and the owners of the rival Ambassador Bridge, who fiercely oppose a new government-led bridge two miles south of the Ambassador.

"The principal of and interest on the bonds are payable solely from project revenue and project contributions and do not constitute a general or moral obligation of this state," the bill says. "The bonds are not a debt, moral obligation or liability of this state or any political subdivision of this state and do not constitute or create any indebtedness, liability or obligation of this state or any political subdivision of this state. Bonds authorized under this act are not a pledge of the full faith and credit of this state or any political subdivision of this state."

Officials with the Detroit International Bridge Company, owner of the Ambassador, have charged that tolls will not deliver enough revenue to pay for the bonds, costing the state $100 million annually. Supporters of the bridge have called the allegation an unfounded fabrication.

House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said Wednesday it's been his understanding the Senate would be the first to tackle the bridge issue, since the House was the first to address the tax overhaul recently signed into law.

"As a legislator, you certainly get conflicting information, but I have never seen such conflicting information as I've seen on the bridge," Bolger said.

The House will give whatever emerges from the Senate a thorough review, he said, but added it was premature to comment on where the vote stands since he had only seen draft bills.

Critics of the proposal, including the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, have said a new bridge would require state support.

But Snyder said the legislation is written the state would take on no debt to finance a bridge.

And Richardville said that he had been "looking at that piece of it literally for months. I'm not putting my name to anything that puts Michigan at risk."

Snyder said the issue behind building a new bridge is expanding trade and jobs.

That especially means trade with Canada, Snyder said, with as many as 240,000 jobs in the state already dependant on Canadian trade.

While many people see the bridge issue as one that basically affects the Detroit area, Snyder said that more jobs in the Grand Rapids area are dependent on trade than those in the Detroit area.

Richardville also said one of the issues that is important to him is the ability of the proposed $550 million in Canadian funds, to finance the Michigan portion of construction, to leverage as much as $2.2 billion in federal highway money. Michigan has been a donor state on highway monies for decades, and it is time to get some of that money back, he said.

With the Mackinac Bridge visible behind him, Snyder said many of the same arguments being made against a new international bridge were made against construction of the Mackinac Bridge as well.

"Let's do it again," he said of a new Detroit bridge.

This story was provided by Gongwer News Service. To subscribe, click on Gongwer.Com

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Author: Staff Writer
Source: Gongwer News Service

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