Legislators lament New International Bridge Crossing failure at Chamber of Commerce breakfast

By Jim Harger | The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS – The international bridge that collapsed before it could be built in Southeast Michigan was on the minds of West Michigan business leaders and state legislators who met over breakfast Monday.

State Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, a member of the Senate committee that failed to approve the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) last week, said he favored the bridge project and hopes it will be revived despite last week’s setback.

“You’ve got to sift through all the rhetoric and misinformation,” said Hildenbrand, who said he was skeptical about the project but came to see it as “a great deal for the state of Michigan.”

The NITC project has been attacked by a series of television ads backed by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the privately owned bridge that would lose business to the new bridge.

Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, said the NITC project would be privately funded, privately operated and privately owned.

“This is not a government bridge,” said Hildenbrand, one of two “yes” votes on the losing side of the 3-2 vote that scuttled the project last week.

“This is the sort of long-term visionary proposal for the state of Michigan that will impact us for the next 50, 75 to 100 years,” Hildenbrand said.

State Rep. Roy Schmidt, D-Grand Rapids, defended Democratic opposition to the bridge proposal.

Schmidt said he sympathized with residents of the DelRay neighborhood who asked for state assistance because approaches to the bridge would disrupt their neighborhood.

His father’s West Side meat market was adversely affected by the construction of the Ford Freeway in the 1960s, Schmidt said. “If you are doing harm, you need to make sure these people are taken care of,” he said.

During a discussion of the failings of the state’s tax credit program for Hollywood film makers, Schmidt lampooned Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a film credit supporter who failed to deliver the bridge project to Gov. Rick Snyder, a supporter of the project.

“If he (Richardville) had worked as hard on that bridge as he did on the film credits, we would have had that bridge built already,” said Schmidt.

State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said she hopes the bridge proposal will be revived.

“I’d like to see a better bridge to Canada given that one in seven jobs in West Michigan results from trade with Canada,” she said.

Legislators also said they would be focused on proposals to reform the state’s personal property tax and Snyder’s upcoming proposal to overhaul funding for the state’s aging highways and bridges.

Schmidt, a former Grand Rapids city commissioner, said he would oppose elimination of the personal property tax until the state finds a way to replace revenue lost by local communities.

“I’d like to see it done, but please, let’s not gut the cities everyone,” Schmidt said.