Bridge plan best option

Time to move forward with U.S.-Canada project

Battle Creek Enquirer

Should the Detroit area have another international border crossing? Yes, for two primary reasons: to facilitate commerce and to enhance security.

The followup questions are not as clear-cut. Where should it be and who should build it?

The issue has been debated for years, with supporters of a publicly owned bridge facing off against the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

A resolution seemed imminent earlier this year when newly elected Gov. Rick Snyder threw his weight behind the proposed New International Bridge Crossing, a publicly owned bridge to be built about 2 miles downstream from the Ambassador Bridge. Under the plan, the U.S. and Canadian governments would join forces with the state of Michigan and province of Ontario to hire a private contractor (most likely a company or team of companies) to build and operate the bridge. Bonds would be issued to pay for the project, with tolls providing the revenue to pay off the bonds.

But the plan is vehemently opposed by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun, who has mounted media campaigns both in Michigan and Ontario to fight the idea. Instead of a publicly owned bridge, Moroun wants to build a replacement span next to the Ambassador, at no expense to taxpayers.

But Canada has offered to pay Michigan’s up-front costs for the project, such as creating ramp connections between the new bridge and I-75. Supporters of the public project say it will cost taxpayers nothing – a notion Moroun disputes. He has run ads saying the bridge will cost Michigan taxpayers $100 million annually, a claim that project supporters deny.

We support the plan for a publicly owned bridge, but only if legislation is approved which fully protects Michigan taxpayers from taking on a substantial financial burden.

The public project would alleviate traffic congestion by directly connecting with Canada’s freeway system. It also would provide a needed second Detroit River crossing should anything happen to the 82-year-old Ambassador Bridge.

We see nothing wrong with the bridge being publicly owned, as are most bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

But we know that the project comes with concerns. The number of bridge crossings reached a peak in the late 1990s, with increased security measures after 9/11 and the economic recession contributing to a decline in toll revenue since. But the bridge is a long-term project, and we have little doubt that over the next two or three decades, it will generate enough toll revenue to more than pay for itself, as well as strengthen the economies of both Michigan and Ontario.

It’s time to move forward with this project and plan for the future.