Michigan Truth Sqaud Calls “Foul” on Latest DIBC Ad

Detroit International Bridge Company – Fix Us First TV ad

Who: Detroit International Bridge Company
Featured political material: Fix Us First TV ad
Truth Squad call: Foul

Click here to download transcript.

Questionable statements:

“Republicans and Democrats agree. Michigan’s potholed roads and crumbling bridges are a mess. Dangerous to our families and hurting our economy.” On screen: “’Local bridges in need of repair’ – WILX, Lansing.”

Michigan’s poor infrastructure is no secret, with almost half of the state’s 83 counties returning roads to gravel in 2010 due to lack of funds for repairs. Michigan’s infrastructure received a “D” in the 2009 report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers. And Michigan was second only to Pennsylvania in worst roads, according to a 2010 survey by “Overdrive” magazine for truckers.

However, the news source cited on bridges in the ad lacks a date. Presumably, it was a 2011 story about a Washington, D.C.-based Transportation for America study reporting Michigan with the 13th worst bridges in the nation. The report found 13.1 percent of Michigan’s bridges are “structurally deficient,” according to federal standards, compared with a U.S. average of 11.5 percent. The ad also shows Polaroids of potholes and dilapidated bridges, but it’s not clear where those were taken — or if they’re even in Michigan.

“But Rick Snyder has a higher priority than fixing our local roads. Rick Snyder wants to build a bridge to Canada instead.” On screen: “’Michigan roads ranked 37th out of 50’ — Source: ‘Transportation of America.’”

A proposal for a new public-private Detroit-Canada bridge has been out there for years, with the state House voting in favor of it last year. Under the deal, the Canadian government would put up Michigan’s share — $550 million — to build the bridge. The Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, has its own plan to build a second span. The DIBC opposes a public-private bridge, as it would be competition.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder announced he had struck a deal with the Federal Highway Administration. If Michigan builds the new public-private bridge, the state can use the $550 million the Canadian government had offered towards federal highway matching funds that are required for other road and bridge projects. So that means that if the deal goes through as Snyder outlined, the new Detroit-Canada bridge will help Michigan fix local roads — which is the exact opposite of what the ad claims.

As for the citation, the group is Transportation for America — not Transportation of America. As noted above, it did a study of bridges, not roads, showing Michigan ranking 37th out of 50th. The Truth Squad could not find a Transportation for America study on roads with Michigan ranking 37th.

“The special interests and contractors want the money. Snyder wants a monument. Call your legislators today, and tell them, ‘Fix our local roads!’“

The ad doesn’t specify who the “special interests are.” There certainly are many groups and individuals with an interest in building the new public-private bridge, including the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, the Michigan Farm Bureau and Meijer. Contractors would certainly want the work. However, Snyder has said that DIBC could bid on building the bridge — so the company could get in on the action.

What the ad neglects to mention is that the DIBC is a special interest invested in not building the bridge. The nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports that the Detroit International Bridge Co. has spent $4.7 million this year in lobbying ads against the new bridge. The data comes from public files of the state’s television broadcasters and cable systems. The Detroit News even reports that the DIBC is running ads in Iowa targeting presidential candidates on the Michigan bridge. The pro-bridge side has not gone up with any TV ads, MIRS newsletter (subscription-only) reported in a Sept. 19, 2011, story.

The Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, also has donated generously to political campaigns. The family and top executives have given to the tune of $1.8 million in the last 13 years, according to the Detroit Free Press. In the 2010 cycle, the family donated $550,000, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Moroun sponsored a breakfast this year for the Bipartisan Freshman Caucus. This year, the Moroun family has given $85,000 to caucus and lawmaker leadership funds. Data for individual candidate contributions won’t be disclosed until February 2012 in reports to the Secretary of State’s Office.

As for Snyder wanting a monument, that could be a reference to the governor comparing the project to the Mackinac Bridge. He carried around a copy of Lawrence Rubin’s “Bridging the Straits” while plugging the new bridge at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Snyder has not proposed naming the bridge for himself, however. He refers to the bridge as the “New International Trade Crossing.”

Overall impression:

No one can argue that Michigan’s infrastructure is deteriorating and the DIBC ad effectively demonstrates this with black and white pictures of crumbling roads and bridges — even if we don’t know where they are. However, the ad gets sloppy by failing to cite a date for a TV news report and gets another study’s details wrong. And the ad attacks Gov. Rick Snyder for wanting to build the bridge, implying it’s because he wants some sort of shrine for his legacy.

While the spot accuses Snyder of neglecting local roads and bridges to build a new span to Canada, it neglects to inform viewers that a deal the governor has struck with the Canadian and U.S. governments could kill the two birds with one stone. Local roads and bridges could get funding for repairs if the deal on the bridge goes through as promised. And while the ad darkly warns of special interests salivating over the new bridge, it neglects to mention the interest the DIBC has in making sure it never gets built — and the millions it’s spent lobbying against it.

Foul or no foul:

Foul. The ad gets many facts wrong, especially with the either/or premise that Michigan can either fix local bridges and roads or build the new bridge to Canada. Accusing special interests of pushing for the bridge is certainly the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to the generosity of DIBC, its owners and executives.

Download Truth Squad analysis.pdf.