By Jeff T. Wattrick | MLive.com
The Anderson Economic Group released an independent analysis of both the New International Trade Crossing plan for a new Detroit-Windsor bridge and the Matty Moroun-owned Detroit International Bridge Company’s proposal to twin the Ambassador Bridge. Let’s break down AEG’s findings.
1. “The NITC project is a much larger construction project than the DIBC project.”
This is an obvious one since the NITC bridge will require new toll plazas and Customs infrastructure. This conclusion does support the DIBC’s contention that they can add traffic lanes at the border more efficiently than the NITC project.
AEG included the billion-dollar expansion of Canada’s Highway 401 when determining project size. That’s reasonable considering the 401 connection would be unnecessary without the new bridge. However, in so much as a Canadian road project—approved with tri-partisan support—doesn’t impact U.S. and Michigan costs, a large piece of the overall cost isn’t germane to the NITC debate in Lansing.
Still, AEG estimates the soup-to-nuts pricetag for NITC and everything connected to NITC on both sides of the border could cost between $2.1-4.7 billion. The DIBC second span will cost, according to AEG estimates, between $400-$500 million “plus the cost of updating customs plazas.”
2. “NITC addresses congestion problems while the DIBC does not.”
AEG concludes a second bridge with its own plaza “would provide an opportunity to reduce congestion” at the border because the current “bottleneck” is caused by Customs delays, and not a lack of lane capacity. AEG says a second Ambassador Bridge “would not eliminate all current congestion.”
3. “The obligation to repay borrowed funds used for bridge construction does not rest with the State of Michigan under either project.”
AEG concludes that the pending NITC legislation in Lansing protects taxpayers from financing the project and from covering costs in the event of a revenue shortfall. The risk would fall upon the private builder/operator.
AEG also concludes that DIBC would be able to privately finance any bonds necessary to fund twinning the Ambassador Bridge.
4. “Drivers risk paying higher tolls if traffic volumes do not meet project levels.”
Noting that traffic projects for toll-based road projects have historically either underestimated real traffic by as much as 86%, or overestimated real traffic by as much as 51%, AEG concluded that it’s “difficult to make traffic predictions accurately.”
5. “Low traffic volumes would affect the NITC more than the DIBC.”
Both projects, AEG concludes, would experience shortfalls if traffic projections aren’t met. They also say that burden would be greater for the NITC since it still would have to compete with the Ambassador Bridge.
6. “The NITC project offers benefits to taxpayers in the form of $2.2 billion in federal dollars for highway projects.”
The $550 million U.S.-side toll plaza—financed by Canada—would be eligible for a 4-to-1 federal match. That means Michigan could leverage as much as $2.2 billion in federal road improvement money from the NITC. AEG says these highway funds “would be genuinely new to the state as they would be allocated to other states if not for Michigan matching them.”
7. “Safeguarding taxpayers from risks requires statutory protections.”
AEG concludes that protecting Michigan taxpayers from liability will require setting forth those protections in statute, bond covenants, and other agreements. The AEG study lays out a plan they say offers “the least risk” to taxpayers.
You can review the entire 27-page study on the Anderson Economic Group’s website.