Michigan lawmakers have engaged in a lot of rhetorical hand-wringing over the state’s crumbling roads. A new study concludes the state needs to spend $1.4 billion each year to restore them to good or even fair condition.
Yet these same lawmakers refuse to approve a deal that would create 10,000 jobs, cost government nothing, and net the state $2.2 billion in federal highway matching funds — the proposed New International River Crossing Bridge over the Detroit River.
Few projects in the state’s history have gotten such broad bipartisan support. Gov. Rick Snyder supports it, as do his four living predecessors, Republican and Democrat. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, one of the state’s most conservative institutions, favors the new bridge. The heads of the Detroit 3 automakers agree it is vitally necessary.
But one man with a lot of money is stopping progress: Manuel Moroun, the 84-year-old billionaire who has a monopoly through his ownership of the Ambassador Bridge — the only way heavy auto components and other freight can cross the river for many miles.
Mr. Moroun has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars — or more — on campaign contributions to Michigan lawmakers. Although he is not a registered lobbyist, he has put up nearly $5 million for flagrantly false TV commercials designed to convince taxpayers that a new bridge is not needed and will cost them billions in taxes. And in a sign that he may be losing touch with reality, he is running ads in Iowa urging presidential candidates to oppose the new bridge.
Last week, the Anderson Economic Group, a free-enterprise think tank, released a study of the bridge proposal. It concluded that the new bridge would reduce traffic congestion, offer economic benefits, and cost taxpayers nothing.
To his credit, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R., Monroe) is trying to persuade fellow Republicans to support their governor — and common sense — and back the bridge. No luck so far.
The benefits of the bridge to Michigan’s troubled economy are too great for Michigan to squander. If lawmakers refuse to do the right thing, Mr. Snyder should consider creating a special authority for the project, much as was done to build the Mackinac Bridge in the 1950s.
And voters should remember the elected officials who would cost their state jobs, economic growth, and secure trade to please an arrogant plutocrat who bankrolls their campaigns.