Proposal 6: Public vote before new bridge

Ludington Daily News

Steve Begnoche – Managing Editor

A couple elections back a bridge to nowhere was a big issue. Next Tuesday in Michigan the fate of a bridge to somewhere — Detroit to Windsor — could in part be determined by one proposition.

Proposal 6, backed by the Moroun family that owns the Ambassador Bridge now spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, seeks to require a vote of the people before the state could enter any agreement to build another international crossing.

Gov. Snyder supports a proposal to build a new bridge dubbed the “New International Trade Crossing” (NITC) between the two countries saying its a matter of economic development. The Moroun family has fought the new bridge, basically bringing it to stalemate in the legislature. Canada has proposed building a bridge at no expense to Michigan and would own and operate the bridge getting its money back through fares to cross it. Snyder wants to use a interlocal agreement to bypass the legislature to approve the bridge. Voters are being asked whether any such bridge should be approved by them.

What your vote means

A yes vote will require the state to hold a referendum vote of the people before the NITC could be built.

A no vote leaves the matter up to the legislature and governor.

What it doesn’t mean

A vote for or against the proposal is not a direct vote on the bridge itself.

In brief

Gov. Snyder said Proposal 6 has potentially far-reaching impacts beyond this bridge, which he supports as important for long-term job creation in Michigan.

“While the proposal is intended to protect one company’s monopoly on truck crossings between Detroit and Canada, it was sloppily written and jeopardizes any bridge under construction today that won’t be completed by January 1, 2012, or any bridge built thereafter,” he has stated.

Not all agree with that assessment, but others share the worry that, if passed all bridge projects, typically the concern of state and local governments, could be ensnared in the proposal.

Others have questioned if Michigan and Canada should build a new bridge or if the Moroun family or some other private company should be allowed to build a bridge instead.

Citizens Research Council Analysis

“While it is clear that this proposal would require a statewide vote on proposed crossings going forward, there is disagreement on the effect of this proposal on the interlocal agreement already in place with Canada,” according to Jeffrey Guilfoyle, Citizen Resource Council’s President. “Michigan’s courts will have to decide the ultimate impact of this proposal on the New International Trade Crossing.”

Proposal 2012-06, commonly referred to as The People Should Decide, was placed on the statewide ballot by citizen initiative. The main proponent backing the proposal is the owner of the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, which will compete directly with the proposed NITC for business.

Proposal 2012-06 does not ask whether a new bridge should be built across the Detroit River. Instead, it asks whether a procedure should be put in place for this and future international bridges and tunnels that would require voter approval before such projects could commence.

Canadian trade is important to Michigan’s economic health, contributing to Michigan jobs and income, especially through the auto sector. Canada is the single largest trading partner with Michigan. Currently there are three international bridge crossings responsible for the majority of Michigan-Canadian trade.

In 2008, the total value of international shipments that passed through the Detroit and Port Huron crossings alone eclipsed $200 billion, CRC states. The Ambassador Bridge accounts for the greatest amount of trade with Canada, both in Michigan and the United States. In addition to the value of goods passing, this crossing also is the busiest in the country with 7.3 million vehicle crossings (4.6 million cars and 2.6 trucks) in 2011. Annual truck traffic using the Ambassador Bridge has declined from 3.4 million crossings in 1999 to 2.6 million crossings in 2011 due to the recession, but is back on the upswing.

The combination of high traffic volume and border security can lead to congestion at the Ambassador Bridge. Also, the lack of customs capacity at the bridge can delay trade and passenger traffic between Michigan and Canada.

Proposal 6 contains some ambiguous language that likely will require the courts to settle and could mean that all bridge and tunnel projects for which the State of Michigan (and its political subdivisions) is involved, that are not open to serve traffic as of Jan. 1, 2012, will require statewide and municipal votes. In other words, all current, as well as all future, bridge and tunnel projects in the state could require approval of state electors and voters in the municipalities where the projects are located at general elections. Obtaining these approvals would be nearly impossible and doing so in a timely manner would be out of the question, the CRC states.