Michigan Lawmakers Could Vote this Week on DRIC Bridge
October 10, 2011
State lawmakers may finally vote sometime this week on the Detroit River International Crossing, the proposed government-owned bridge linking Windsor and Detroit that would take commercial traffic off the aging Ambassador Bridge.
Lobbying efforts by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge have stalled construction of a modern bridge downstream from the 82-year-old structure. Photo by Jim Park.
But even at the conclusion of several months of Senate hearings, it remains unclear whether there are enough votes to advance the project. The latest heavy-hitter to weigh in was the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, who called on State Senators to support Michigan's job providers, and act on legislation to create the DRIC Bridge.
"The Michigan Chamber of Commerce supports the [DRIC] as a tool to promote conditions favorable to job creation and business growth," said Michigan Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley. "The Chamber has long supported improving the condition and performance of Michigan's transportation system. Creation of the [DRIC] is a necessary and important step in rebuilding Michigan's roads and bridges."
Even though the project is supported by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and an array of business and labor groups, none of the seven members of the Senate Economic Development Committee, (five Republicans and two Democrats) is an open advocate of the bridge.Ambassador Bridge Owner Opposes DRIC
Meanwhile, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Matty Maroun, launched another wave of TV ads last week asking voters to call targeted Republican lawmakers to thank them for joining the opposition.
In his battle to kill support for the government-backed bridge downriver of his Ambassador Bridge, Moroun has spent close to $5 million on television advertising, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Those funds only reflect what has been spent in Michigan by the bridge company and not elsewhere in the U.S. or Ontario, where Moroun has also run numerous television ads criticizing the DRIC bridge project.
Political approval in the state remains the last major hurdle before construction can begin on the downriver DRIC bridge project. Moroun has been fighting to stop the new bridge in order to protect his $60 million in annual toll revenues, plus untold millions more in profits from sales of duty free gas and goods at his bridge.
Moroun, who acquired the now 82-year-old Ambassador Bridge in 1979, has proposed twinning that structure in order to maintain his franchise.
Moroun has said he will put up between $400 million and $500 million to build a new six-lane bridge adjacent to the Ambassador. However, officials in Michigan and Canada contend that Moroun's plan is not enough and fails to meet security requirements. Canada Doesn't Want Ambassador Bridge Twinned
Few on the Canadian side of the Detroit River want anything to do with a twinned Ambassador Bridge. Notwithstanding the security concerns, the City of Windsor has had enough with the endless congestion on Huron Church Road, the only thoroughfare leading to the bridge from Ontario's Hwy. 401 -- the major link between the U.S. Midwest and eastern Canada, including Toronto, Montreal, and Atlantic Canada.
Last summer, Canadian officials took matters into their own hands and offered to loan Michigan $550 million to start construction on the DRIC bridge a couple of miles downriver from the Ambassador.
Now, with strong support from Gov. Snyder, bridge supporters are pushing the Michigan Legislature to pass a bill authorizing the $2.2 billion DRIC Bridge which would use a mix of U.S., Canadian and private financing.
The Snyder administration has even suggested that it could move ahead on the bridge without legislative approval.
A report surfaced last week on the website of the Ontario Trucking Association that quoted Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who is spearheading Gov. Snyder's efforts, as saying he expects the plan to move forward in the legislature in October.
Calley said there are several ways to authorize construction of a new bridge even if the Legislature votes against the plan. He didn't elaborate what those options might be, but various media reports speculated he could have been hinting at an executive order from Snyder's office or for Washington to take over control of the project from Michigan.