Snyder to push public-owned bridge at Mackinac Policy Conference

Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing— Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to begin a major push for a new publicly owned bridge to Canada at the Mackinac Policy Conference that kicks off Wednesday.

Transportation issues and Michigan’s recovering economy are expected to be major topics at the three-day conference on Mackinac Island, hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Besides the bridge, Snyder is also expected to push an initiative to urge state businesses to buy from one another during a conference billed as having a statewide focus that will feature heightened participation from western Michigan.

A bill to authorize the new bridge — formerly known as the Detroit River International Crossing but now dubbed the New International Trade Crossing — could be introduced in the state Senate this week, possibly today.

Snyder — who joins about 1,500 attendees dominated by business people after delivering a corporate tax cut of nearly $1.8 billion in a budget completed four months early — said last week he wants the conference to be a springboard for action on pressing items such as the bridge.

“He’s on a real high,” said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who will attend. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he rides in … with people dropping rose petals in front of him.”

However, “if he can get that bridge done in this legislative session, then I’d like to see him take on global warming next.”

Bridge opponents — including two members of the Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge — also will attend the conference. Snyder has ducked a request from Dan Stamper, the president of Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s bridge company, to debate the bridge issue during the conference.

Snyder backs a bridge that would be privately built but publicly owned. He struck a deal with the federal government under which $550 million fronted by Canada to cover Michigan’s share of the project could be used to leverage more than $2 billion in federal road funds. Moroun has a competing proposal to spend private funds to twin the Ambassador.

Democratic lawmakers have generally supported the public project, while Republicans have generally opposed it. The business community is generally in favor, and the Detroit Regional Chamber strongly supports the bridge, but the largest and most powerful lobby, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, has not taken a position.

“I think the context of the conference, with all of the folks who make things in Michigan and sell them all over the world, is going to be a good one to talk about the merits of solving our transportation debacle between the two borders,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. “It will definitely be a hot topic of conversation.”

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, is interested in introducing the bridge bill, but no timetable is set, spokeswoman Amber McCann said.

Beginning at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and ending at 2 p.m. Friday, all but three sessions will be televised live through Detroit Public Television and live-streamed on the Internet. A link to the live-streaming will be found at

Snyder was heavily involved in developing the agenda, and the governor’s campaign theme about “reinventing Michigan” is also a conference theme, said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

In addition to participating in an opening news conference and giving a keynote address Friday, Snyder is expected to participate with Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Michael Finney in a Thursday news conference about the state’s “economic gardening” efforts, including a program to encourage Michigan businesses to buy from other Michigan businesses.

Conference Chairman Charles G. “Chip” McClure said this year’s event will stress statewide issues rather than ones mainly of concern to southeastern Michigan. CEOs from western Michigan were part of a committee that helped plan the conference, he said.

“We’re kind of at a pivotal point with the state, and we have a new administration making significant inroads” on increasing Michigan’s competitiveness, McClure said.

Though some think of the bridge as a regional issue because of the thousands of construction jobs it is expected to create in the Detroit area, the New International Trade Crossing is consistent with the statewide focus because “it’s part of what makes the state competitive,” McClure said.

No Republican presidential candidates are expected to attend the conference. Pundits will be watching for any signs of a prominent GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who is up for re-election in 2012, but there were no signs Friday of any announcements of that nature.

The bridge won’t be the only transportation item discussed. A proposed light-rail project for Woodward Avenue and a high-speed rail project to Chicago that recently won federal funding are on the agenda, Patterson said.

Political contributions by Ambassador Bridge owner under spotlight as DRIC vote nears

By Jonathan Oosting

As the Michigan Senate prepares to decide the fate of the Detroit River International Crossing, increasingly thorough examinations of the project’s fiercest critic — Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun — continue to reveal years of political contributions that may be shaping the debate.

If approved by the Senate, Michigan would join in a public-private partnership with Canada to construct and operate a second bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.  Moroun, whose plans to build his own second span have been thoroughly rejected by Canada, has argued the crossing would create unfair competition for his private company.

Spurred by a Canadian offer to loan Michigan $550 million for its upfront costs on the project, the State House last month passed legislation that would allow the state to enter the partnership, but the bill is expected to face a tougher challenge in the Republican-led Senate.

Last year, the Metro Times reported Moroun and his associates with the bridge company gave at least $1.1 million to political candidates and committees over the past two decades.  In January, The Detroit News pointed out those contributions went to both Republicans and Democrats, with Moroun personally giving at least $45,000 in the past two years.

In a report published this weekend, the Detroit Free Press dug even deeper, examining federal and state records indicating Moroun, his family and top executives have contributed nearly $1.8 million to candidates and campaigns in the past 13 years. Of the $739,805 donated at the state level, $553,665 went to Republican interests.

Those contributions took center stage two weeks ago at the Mackinac Policy Conference, where nearly every Michigan gubernatorial candidate argued against the DRIC — and nearly every candidate indicated they’d received contributions from Moroun.

Dan Stamper, president of Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Company, denied that the contributions were meant to influence votes, but told the Free Press the company’s “shareholders and executives frequently make political contributions to federal and state officeholders that have influence on the business and employment climate that affects us.”

The report indicates some of Moroun’s spending clearly has not influenced votes — he’s given to DRIC proponents, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Sen. Debbie Stabenow — but it’s a reminder that his profits from the Ambassador Bridge have made Moroun a powerful voice in the process.

The Freep followed up their report with another call for legislators to approve the DRIC.  Check out the newspaper’s website for a searchable database of Moroun’s political contributions.

DRIC permeates Mackinac; Big 4, candidates state cases

A proposed new Detroit River bridge was the subject of discussion, debate and lobbying during last week’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference.

With the state Senate preparing for a second week of committee debate on legislation that would green-light Michigan’s end of the joint U.S.-Canadian project, gubernatorial candidates staked out their position on the proposed bridge.

Chrysler Group L.L.C. CEO Sergio Marchionne also reiterated his company’s support for the publicly owned span during the Detroit Regional Chamber‘s event that attracts business and civic leaders and policymakers to the island.

The Michigan Department of Transportation on Friday released revenue estimates it previously said it planned to keep secret to protect the competitive bid process on the $5.3 billion Detroit River International Crossing that would link Ontario’s Highway 401 and I-75 in Detroit.

The agency estimates a new bridge would collect $60 million in toll revenue its first year based on a predicted daily average of 18,700 cars and trucks — a traffic estimate criticized as overly optimistic by some infrastructure analysts and by the privately owned Detroit International Bridge Co. that runs the Ambassador Bridge.

That bridge is believed to generate $60 million annually right now.

MDOT also promised that the bridge cost would be borne by the private sector and Canada, and Michigan taxpayers wouldn’t be exposed to construction costs or any risk if the project defaulted because traffic estimates failed to match reality.

Tolls are supposed to pay for the bridge’s financing debt and maintenance costs. It would be owned by both nations but operated by the private sector under the current plan.

The private bridge company, owned by Grosse Pointe trucking industrialist Manuel Moroun, says that building DRIC about two miles from the Ambassador Bridge is unneeded and unfair government competition. He has ongoing litigation opposing DRIC and also related to his own stalled effort to twin his bridge, something opposed by Canada.

The bridge company on Friday said its May traffic was up 18 percent compared to a year ago, but noted that May 2009 was its worst crossing number since 1984.

DRIC’s backers have predicted the new span would eventually siphon about 34 percent of all the border traffic between Detroit and Port Huron. MDOT officials have said they believe the bridge company earns enough money that it can afford to lose some to a state-controlled crossing.

The opposition to DRIC or its enabling legislation is shared, to varying degrees and for varying reasons, by most of candidates for governor.

Republican Attorney General Mike Cox said at the conference that he worries the bridge could fail financially and would hurt the state’s bond rating.

“I don’t rule out a public bridge, but we don’t know enough about it right now,” said Cox, who said he has accepted campaign contributions from the Ambassador Bridge owners.

State Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, who also has taken Ambassador Bridge contributions, said he believes another bridge is less of a need than other problems in Michigan.

U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland, said he favors a public-private partnership to build a second bridge, using private money, but said it’s just a piece of a transportation hub that Southeast Michigan needs to form through investments in additional areas. He said he’s taken Ambassador Bridge owner financial contributions.

Republican Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder said Michigan “should be a transportation hub,” but he has questions that need to be answered about the public-private partnership model. He said he hasn’t taken money from any special interests.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat, said he opposes the DRIC-related legislation as written, but thinks there is a need for a second span. He and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said they have received money from the Ambassador Bridge owners, and Bouchard said that “if we’ve got a private sector investor that’s willing to build the bridge, let’s take our money, time and investment elsewhere.

Only House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, who supported the House-passed legislation on May 26, favors DRIC and said the risk will be on the private sector. He believes he may have taken donations from the Ambassador Bridge in the past.

Chrysler’s Marchionne said the new span is critical to Chrysler’s just-in-time supply chain that includes 1,300 shipments and 2,000 cars and trucks crossing the Detroit-Windsor border every day.

“The need … is widely acknowledged. I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the DRIC” because it adds “necessary redundancy” to the current Ambassador Bridge as well as better access linking Canadian and Michigan highways.

DRIC proponents say the bridge is needed to create construction jobs and create or protect other jobs, to bolster trade and provide border capacity redundancy in case the other crossings went out of service.

The issue also was raised in the annual “Big 4” discussion among Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano and Macomb Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Gieleghem. All expressed support for DRIC.

Patterson said he favors the DRIC because Windsor is unlikely to accept a second Ambassador Bridge span in its downtown area, “and if it’s not going to do it downtown, it’s either DRIC or (another bridge) in Buffalo. … I hope we can settle it soon. I love Matty, but he’s got a monopoly. Who wouldn’t want to protect a multibillion dollar monopoly? Why would you want a competitor?”

Added Ficano: “The Moroun family has legitimate concerns, but you can’t go against the Canadian government.”

“We all favor DRIC,” Bing said. “It will create 6,000 permanent jobs and ancillary jobs. He (Moroun) doesn’t want that bridge, but we’ve got to think beyond the individual entrepreneur and do what’s best.”

Said Gieleghem: “People are saying Michigan can’t afford it, but it needs to be looked at as an investment and about turning this region into a transportation and logistics hub.”

Crain’s reporters Amy Lane and Tom Henderson contributed to this story.

Bill Shea: (313) 446-1626,

Lawmakers: Don’t rush DRIC legislation

MACKINAC ISLAND — Republican and Democratic legislators engaged in a spirited back and forth over proposed legislation to create a Detroit International River Crossing , which highlighted the closing panel Friday afternoon of the 30th annual Mackinac Policy Conference.

The panel was moderated by Tim Skubick, political correspondent for WJBK-Fox 2 and WWJ 950 AM.

Speaking were Rep. Tim Melton (D-Auburn Hills ), chairman of the House education committee; Senate Minority Leader Michael Prusi (D-Ishpeming)); Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Birmingham); and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester).

Melton was a last-minute replacement for House Speaker Andy Dillon, who had been listed on the agenda. Barbara Allushuski, co-chair of the policy conference for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said she wasn’t given an explanation for the substitution.

The four answered a series of questions by a group up of business executives, including: Anthony Earley of Detroit-based DTE Energy Co.; Bruce McCully, founder of Ann Arbor-based Dynamic Edge Inc.; Reuben Munday, partner in the Detroit-based law firm of Lewis & Munday P.C.; Francine Parker, executive director of the United Auto Workers Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association; and Don Sheets, executive vice president and CFO of Midland-based Dow Corning USA.

Munday asked Bishop if, in light of the broad support for DRIC expressed at the conference, including former Republican Gov. John Engler, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, the Detroit Regional Chamber and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, the Senate would pass legislation allowing for a private-public partnership to run it.

Legislation has already passed the House.

“The Senate received the bill last week or the week before. We have it in committee, already … and have taken testimony on the bill,” said Bishop. “If it was as simple as has been portrayed, it would be easy.

“My concern is the bill that came over from the house had glaring concerns we have to deal with,” said Bishop. “I don’t want to declare anything dead in the water. My main concern is that it constrains the power of the Michigan Legislature and gives away our legislative power and oversight. “

He said there were also sovereignty issues regarding the Canadian government’s involvement. The Canadian and Windsor governments want a second span over the river to ease truck congestion at peak times as well as provide redundancy in the event one bridge has to close for some reason, including terrorist attack.

The DRIC project is being fought vigorously by businessman Matty Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge. He wants to build a second span adjacent to his bridge, a plan the Canadian and Windsor governments oppose. They say a second span there is untenable because of traffic congestion and numerous stoplights and want the second span downriver, by Zug Island, where it would directly join Ontario highway 401 with I-75.

Before the bill passed the Michigan House, the Canadian government offered to pay up to $550 million of any costs to the state of Michigan not picked up by the federal government.

“They say they’re going to give us $550 million. I say, `Show us the money,’ “ said Bishop. “I don’t have faith or confidence this plan is ready for prime time, but I’m willing to try to bring the parties together.”

“It’s not going to be the savior of Southeast Michigan or Detroit, but it is a valuable piece of the recovery. The more we delay, the more likely the bridge will go to Buffalo. It’s been studied to death,” said Prusi.

“If the Canadian government is issuing promises, I don’t know if they have to sign in blood or back a Brink’s truck up to the door,” said Prusi. “If you can’t trust the sovereign nation of Canada, I don’t know what message that sends.”

“There’s no need to charge forward quickly, just to say we did it. The Mackinac Bridge took years,” countered Bishop. “This bill is really flawed. Our duty in the Senate is to make sure we make it right.”

“I think we all agree we need a new span, whether it’s Moroun’s or Downriver,” said Moss. “My problem is the private-public partnership. It’s a very flawed bill. It creates a private-public partnership that basically is an authority that once it gets set up can run on its own.”

Moss referred to Robert Moses, the man behind many of New York City’s major infrastructure projects in the Twentieth Century. “He destroyed neighborhoods, and he did it because he was unaccountable. I’m very nervous when you have unelected officials making those decisions. And it’s bad enough to cede control to unelected American people, but to Canadians, as well? … Something like this, we just can’t afford.”

“This (partnership) would have the right to buy and sell land, and take land,” said Bishop. “It would do contracts without negotiations. Everything would be behind closed doors, and that sets off all kinds of bells and whistles. There are lots of scary things in this bill that need to be fixed.”

“I can find a reason to vote no on every single bill we’ve passed in the Legislature. I look for a reason to vote yes, for a compromise,” said Melton.

In response to other questions, the four agreed that the state needs major consolidation of its public school systems; that they have hope for bipartisan cooperation over the next seven months to get a wide variety of bills passed, including a balanced budget; and that the Legislature’s reputation for being extremely partisan is exaggerated.

Chrysler boss Marchionne: We’re in it together


MACKINAC ISLAND — Drawing comparisons between his company and its home state, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told Michigan business and political leaders Thursday that the resurgent automaker has added 1,600 workers this year to accelerate its product development.

“In many ways,” he said, “the fates of Chrysler Group and the state of Michigan follow parallel paths. Skeptics had foreseen dire futures for both of us. We have all heard predictions that Chrysler would be relegated to the dustbin of history, and that Michigan’s glory days are in the rearview mirror.”

In an after-dinner speech at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference at the Grand Hotel, Marchionne also received strong applause for his resounding endorsement of plans to build a second bridge over the Detroit River.

“I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC,” he said. “Each day, Chrysler moves more than 1,300 shipments, some 2,000 cars and trucks, and makes 1,600 entries per day at the Detroit-Windsor border. Hundreds of our employees cross the border to work in the U.S. or Canada.”

And in an interview, the blunt-speaking Italian-Canadian CEO of both Chrysler and its partner Fiat said Chrysler is “ahead of schedule” in posting profits and stopping a severe cash drain less than a year after exiting a government-imposed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Marchionne said “the thing we didn’t see coming” was the battle with dealers that the company tried to eliminate as part of its drastic overhaul.

“We’re winning most of the (arbitration) cases,” he said, “but it’s taking a lot of time and energy. It’s a hassle.”

Marchionne traveled to the island with Chrysler Chairman Robert Kidder and former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Chrysler board member appointed by the UAW-run retiree health care trust that is Chrysler’s largest shareholder.

Ignoring the Grand dining room’s jacket-and-tie rule for men, Marchionne was clad in his signature black sweater as he told the crowd that Chrysler now has nearly 20,000 employees in Michigan, with annual wages of $1.8 billion. In addition to the 1,600 product development hires, Chrysler will start a second shift of 1,080 workers at its Detroit assembly plant to build the new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Marchionne said the proposed second bridge between Detroit and Windsor — the project known as DRIC for Detroit River International Crossing — is essential to further growth for Chrysler.

“The need for an additional crossing to handle current and future trade flows is widely acknowledged, and it is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible,” he said.

Bankruptcy and a government rescue of Chrysler and GM, Marchionne said, “facilitated a courageous shift that brought together government, trade unions, business, workers and financial institutions as partners with the goal of saving more than just the automotive industry.”

But Chrysler and other automakers now face a host of new challenges, he said, singling out the rise of China as an automotive power.

“We cannot respond to this growth with a series of complaints that in the end all add up to one: ‘Why can’t the Chinese be like us?’ ” Marchionne said. “We cannot afford to be unprepared … reassuring ourselves of our invincibility.”

That message is spot-on. Detroit paid plenty for years of wallowing in denial and overconfidence. Now that Chrysler and GM appear to be stabilizing, it’s imperative that they not relax. That’s certainly not likely at Chrysler, not on Marchionne’s watch.

Contact TOM WALSH: 313-223-4430


Fiat’s Marchionne throws support to DRIC plan

Fiat-Chrysler chief calls proposed bridge project ‘imperative’

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Chrysler Group LLC and its Italian partner Fiat SpA, took on a new role Thursday as outspoken Michiganian in a pointedly political speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island.

Marchionne, who jets between Auburn Hills and Turin, Italy, every week with little time to embrace his new Michigan home, expressed concern for the state while calling on government to ensure smooth cross-border trade between Detroit and Windsor.

“My purpose here this evening is to talk to you of the prospects we at Chrysler see for the global auto industry, how our alliance with Fiat can contribute to reshaping it, and how we can work in partnership with the state of Michigan for mutual advantage,” Marchionne said.

A prime example: the proposed Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), which would add a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The DRIC was approved last week by the Michigan House of Representatives but could face a rough passage through the Senate.

“I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC,” Marchionne said. “This proposed new crossing would add necessary redundancy and unimpeded access from Ontario’s highways to Michigan’s interstates.”

On the line for Chrysler: 1,300 shipments and 2,000 vehicles daily, plus hundreds of employees who cross the border for work.

“Smooth crossing is essential to our just-in-time manufacturing enterprise,” said Marchionne, who holds dual Canadian and Italian citizenship, and attended the University of Windsor.

“Engines made in Trenton or stampings from Warren or Sterling Heights cross the border daily for use at assembly plants in Ontario.”

Industrywide, $100 million in goods crosses the border at Detroit daily, he said. Adding a second bridge is a $1.8 billion investment in the Detroit-Windsor area that would create 10,000 construction jobs in Michigan and 30,000 indirect jobs in the state and Windsor.

“It is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible,” he said, commending state representatives who supported the DRIC, and urging the Michigan Senate to do the same.

Marchionne also called for government help to establish the infrastructure to make fuel more available for vehicles powered by compressed natural gas.

Fiat has a line of vehicles that run on natural gas and Chrysler is exploring applications for the technology, he said. One solution might be home units so customers could refill their cars from their garage.

“This project needs adequate attention and needs to become a priority in federal and state political agendas,” Marchionne said. “It is the most effective solution, in terms of costs and timing, to lessen this country’s reliance on oil, especially foreign oil, while delivering a significant reduction in emissions.”

Such moves are in the interests of all the stakeholders, he said, noting the parallel paths of Chrysler and Michigan.

“Skeptics had foreseen dire futures for both of us,” he said. “We have all heard predictions that Chrysler would be relegated to the dustbin of history, and that Michigan’s glory days are in the rear-view mirror.”

Marchionne disputes such views, and repeated past comments that it can take a crisis to stir change. The trick is to ensure that when prosperity returns, complacency does not undo all the efforts.