Genesee County business community supporting second bridge as Proposal 6 goes to voters

By Shaun Byron |

GENESEE COUNTY, MI – The Coffee Beanery already has an interest in Canada, and CEO JoAnne Shaw said better access to America’s northern neighbor would be a benefit.

The Flushing-based coffee business has 100 locations throughout the United States and 20 located internationally.

“It will make it easier for us to be able to expand into Canada,” said Shaw, who is one of several Genesee County business owners opposed to Proposal 6.

The Michigan statewide ballot initiative would require voter approval for the construction of a new international bridge or tunnel.

It is specifically aimed at stopping, or slowing, construction of a new bridge to be built over the Detroit River to relieve congestion and improve trade.

The ballot initiative, also known as the “People Should Decide” measure, is backed by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge. The 82-year-old structure is the only U.S.-Canada border bridge in Detroit.

Shaw, like many other people in Genesee County’s business community, contends a second bridge would benefit the entire state.

“I think it’s going to help Michigan commerce,” she said. “I just think it is a great thing for Michigan to have more access to Canada and for the Canadians as well. I know they want to open up opportunities.”

A second bridge between Canada and Michigan was first recommended in 2004, but has run into opposition from the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Gov. Rick Snyder was able to cut a new “interlocal” deal with Canada, going around the Legislature, but found himself at odds with Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his family.

Moroun has spent $4.6 million on the ballot initiative and more than $9 million on television advertisements.

Mickey Blashfield, director of The People Should Decide Ballot Committee and director of government relations for Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co., declined to comment when he was contacted for a phone interview.

In a written statement, Blashfield said people in Genesee County recognize the ballot initiative will allow residents to have a voice on whether a new bridge to Canada should be built.

“As a recently released financial analysis shows, this bridge will be a burden on taxpayers for decades and a massive boondoggle for the state, negatively impacting cities like Flint,” he said. “The bottom line is the financial risks and long-term costs are not worth the extremely uncertain benefits a second bridge might bring.

“And the hardworking men and women in Genesee County should be very wary of subsidizing a bridge that will mostly benefit Canada and be an economic risk to their community. And because of that, the decision whether to build it should be up to the people, not politicians, to decide.”

Under the terms of the agreement that Gov. Snyder struck, Canada will cover the $2.1 billion in costs, getting its return from the tolls. Canada will hire a private company to design, build and operate the bridge in a 40- to 50-year deal.

The cost of buying land in Michigan will also be Canada’s responsibility. The Michigan Department of Transportation will seize any property from owners who refuse to sell.

Canada will foot the bill for an interchange to connect the bridge with Interstate 75. The Canadian government will be eligible for $2 billion in federal matching dollars for putting up the $550 million for Michigan’s share.

A number of local business owners see it as a solution to reducing the traffic congestion at the Ambassador Bridge, as well as the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, said Janice Karcher, vice president of economic development for the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Local companies will be able to reduce their costs and the amount of inventory tied up in transit, Karcher said.

Studies are showing it has the potential to also create jobs, either directly or indirectly, she added.

The positions vary from construction and maintenance of the bridge, to possible expansion of companies as a result of increased access.

A second bridge in Detroit will also help ease the backups at the Blue Water Bridge, some of which are created by individuals trying to avoid traffic snarls in Detroit, Karcher said.

General Motors Co. is heavily supporting the proposed bridge, said Heather Rosenker, a spokeswoman for the automaker.

The government-operated bridge will provide economic benefits that will reach into Genesee County, as well as other areas of the state, she said.

“As GM is one of the largest users of the existing infrastructure, overreliance on a single crossing can impact the competitiveness of our North American manufacturing operations,” Rosenker said in a written statement. “This initiative is necessary to ensure quick, reliable and cost-effective transportation of goods and people between the U.S. and Canada.”

Tim Ryan, vice president of Burton-based AES Pro-Logistics, is supporting a second bridge between Michigan and Canada, stating his company might be able to expand from the additional business and reduced costs.

AES Pro-Logistics oversees the shipment of freight, which time constraints often dictate using alternative routes that drive up costs, Ryan said.

“We import and export freight globally, so the more access to get it out of Michigan would definitely help us to expand,” he said.

Genesee Area Patriots are supporting the ballot measure on the basis a second bridge would be better off in the hands of a private owner, not the government.

“We haven’t seen a compelling argument to tell us why this should be in the government’s hands, especially when we have a viable interest in Detroit,” said Pat Battaglia, who serves on the board for the Genesee Area Patriots.

The local group supports reduced government spending.

A private individual should be the one to benefit or suffer from the consequences of a second bridge, not the government, Battaglia said.

“The more things that we see moving toward the private industry, the better off we all are,” he said.

Some voters, meanwhile, say a second bridge will provide a strong economy for the state.

“I think the bridge is needed, but if the voters are going to have to pay for it, the voters should have the decision,” said Robert Weishaubt of Flint.

If a second bridge is good for the economy, Flint resident Codeona Williams said she is in support of it.

“Anything that would increase jobs would be a plus for me as long as it’s not hazardous to the environment,” Williams said.