Politics

Mich. taxpayers trump gov., force Canadian bridge proposal on ballot

Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder bypassed his state’s legislature and struck a $2 billion deal with Canada to build a U.S. taxpayer-funded bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. Now a taxpayer group is playing a trump card: a November ballot measure that would put the construction decision in the hands of Michigan voters themselves.

The government-owned New International Trade Crossing bridge, which will divert traffic from a privately owned Detroit River crossing just two miles away, has become the latest stimulus project to be criticized as an unnecessary make-work effort.

Former Democratic Governor Jenifer Granholm, now a Current TV host, first proposed it but couldn’t push the idea through the state legislature. Snyder, however, hasn’t let the concept go. Instead of working with state lawmakers, he bypassed them and reached an agreement with the Canadian government.

The bridge project will cost nearly $4 billion to build, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Canada will supply the project with $550 million. The U.S. government will supply $2 billion in transportation stimulus funds and contribute another $264 million to build a customs plaza in Detroit.

The Canadian government’s contribution, however, is technically a loan to Michigan — not a gift. Our neighbors to the North will recoup their $550 million by collecting that amount, over time, from Michigan drivers’ bridge tolls.

Meanwhile, Canada will effectively own the bridge.

And while Snyder has plugged the bridge project as a freebie for Michiganders, the $2 billion in federal government funds isn’t exactly free money.

“Last time I checked,” Mickey Blashfield, director of governmental relations for the existing Ambassador Bridge, told the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan taxpayers are also federal taxpayers.”

Construction on the bridge is expected to take 48-52 months.

Gov. Snyder has argued that the three existing routes between Canada and Michigan — including two bridges, a tunnel and a railway crossing — can’t handle the high traffic volume already in existence.

But Blashfield told The Daily Caller that most traffic delays are caused by post-9/11 changes in customs policies.

Gary Wolfram, a Hillsdale College professor of economics and public policy, released a report for the Ambassador Bridge showing that traffic has significantly decreased from a peak of 12.44 million vehicles in 1999. In 2010, the bridge carried just 7.23 million.

The number of crossings along the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is also down from its 1999 peak of 9.6 million, carrying just 3.6 million vehicles two years ago. The Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron peaked in 2000 at about 6 million crossings; in 2010, that number was down to 4.7 million.

“Given the fact that traffic at all three crossings (not counting the rail crossing) is down substantially from 1999, with little sign that it can recover even in the next decade,” said Wolfram, “the likely scenario is that the new government [funded] bridge will primarily drain traffic from the existing crossings.”