Lockwood: End the Ambassador Bridge monopoly

Rodney M. Lockwood Jr.

The Detroit News

Proposal 6 will be on the Nov. 6 ballot as an initiative to change the Michigan Constitution to require a vote of Michigan citizens before an international public bridge or tunnel crossing for motor vehicles can be financed or constructed.

Unfortunately, the language of the proposal is poorly written and defines an international bridge as “any” bridge not operating prior to Jan. 1, 2012. This means that the proposal may be interpreted to require a statewide vote for even a small local bridge project in, say, Monroe.

On June 15, the governments of Michigan and Canada signed an agreement for the construction of a new bridge, called the New International Trade Crossing, that would provide a second crossing of the Detroit River connecting Detroit and Windsor.

The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge. The Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, had previously bankrolled the signature drive to put the proposal on the ballot. They are now pouring large sums into an advertising program to promote the passage of Proposal 6. If Proposal 6 were to pass, this may block or delay the construction of the NITC.

The NITC is a key issue for Michigan and the U.S., as more than 20 percent of all trade between the U.S. and Canada occurs at the Detroit-Windsor border, of which 99 percent crosses the Ambassador Bridge.

More international commerce crosses the Ambassador Bridge than any other spot in the country.

Manufacturers across Michigan rely upon the crossings at the Detroit-Windsor border to quickly and efficiently move their products both into Ontario and across the province to the eastern part of the United States. Time is money, and the frequent delays at the existing bridge raise costs.

The new NITC bridge is supported by all major chambers of commerce, including the Michigan Chamber, the Greater Detroit Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber and the Traverse City Chamber. It is also supported by GM, Ford, Chrysler and many of the major manufacturers on the west side of Michigan.

The Ambassador Bridge is over 80 years old and has a single span, leaving it vulnerable to terrorism. Most observers feel a redundant bridge is good policy in light of the importance of this trade crossing.

The new public bridge had languished for a decade or more, when Gov. Rick Snyder took office and initiated a campaign to make it a reality. He negotiated a deal with the Canadian government where the costs of the bridge would be borne by the Canadian government, including Michigan’s portion. Michigan’s share will be loaned to us by the Canadians, to be repaid only from bridge tolls. This is a great deal for Michigan. No Michigan taxpayer money will be at risk, yet our job-creating manufacturers will have the benefit of choice in crossings, leading to reduced tolls and transit times.

The Moroun-funded ads are highly misleading and, in some cases, simply false. No Michigan taxpayer monies will be used on any part of the construction. No Michigan loan guarantees will be used. No funds, as they are supplied 100 percent by Canada, will be diverted to build the bridge that might otherwise be used to pay Michigan teachers, police or firefighters. No debt will be burdened on Michigan taxpayers.

Michigan voters should vote no on Proposal 6 for two reasons. The first I have outlined above; it is good for Michigan businesses to have greater border trade capability. Second, the Michigan Constitution should not be used to promote narrow special interests.

Let’s protect the Michigan Constitution.

Rodney M. Lockwood, Jr. is a principal of Lockwood Companies of Bingham Farms and chair of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121029/OPINION01/210290313#ixzz2Ahb5QrM9