Sunday, June 12, 2011

DRIC/NITC Bridge Debate Rages with Misinformation.

I support a second span between Windsor and Detroit and a freeway to freeway connection. The question is how to do it.

I am not yet convinced that it cannot be done by completing the second span for which the Ambassador Bridge already has the approaches built. I have seen the route through Windsor by which the freeway to freeway connection can be built, and which is much the same as the proposed route for DRIC. If this can be accomplished for about $2 billion less, I would be supportive of this approach. It may require the negotiated purchase of the Ambassador Bridge by a new bridge authority to get past the Canadian objection to a bridge being owned by a private entity, but I think this is worth exploring. If it cannot be done, then I will not allow Maroun to hold up the second bridge any longer.

The problem with this whole debate is that you cannot get the whole truth from any one source. Each side misrepresents facts.

· The proponents of DRIC/NITC claim “10,000 jobs will be created”, which is a gross exaggeration, and contrary to the Governor’s intention to count only the direct jobs created by any economic development project, and not the “indirect” jobs created by any assumed multiplier effect.

· Further, proponents claim that the $550 million to be loaned by the Canadian government will leverage $2 billion of federal gas tax dollars to be returned to Michigan. This is misleading on two counts. First, it assumes that the state would not otherwise provide the match money, which is just not likely to happen. Second, the $550 million would be what is called “toll credits” or soft match, which is exactly what the investment in the second span of the Ambassador Bridge would qualify as.

· Meanwhile, the Detroit International Bridge Company (Ambassador Bridge, owned by Matty Maroun) has installed the gas stations in the Gateway Project where it can maximize its profits from the duty free stations, rather than where it had agreed to build them, causing MDOT to refuse to open the approach built off I-75 because the revised location would cause backups onto the freeway.

· Opponents say that approving NITC would put the state on the hook for millions of dollars. The proponents say the bill explicitly prohibits that, but it is uncertain whether that will be true from a practical sense, as Michigan may be reluctant to allow a joint bridge authority to fail, for fear that the bankruptcy might negatively affect the State’s bond rating.

· Opponents say that the provisions of the bill providing for “availability payments” show that the project is not viable. Availability payments are additional money borrowed in years when the bridge tolls are not sufficient to cover the debt service, which are expected to be needed in the early years of the completed project. Private companies would consider the need for the availability payments in their evaluation of the economic viability of the project and their decision to submit a bid to finance, construct and manage the project. If their evaluation shows the project to be uneconomical such that they do not wish to take the risk of loss on the deal, presumably they would not submit a bid. If all potential bidders did the same, the project would not get built.

Suffice it to say that there remain many questions concerning the proposal to build DRIC/NITC. The bills submitted will first be considered in the Senate, then fully vetted in the Transportation Committee in the House of Representatives. Only after carefully evaluating all of the facts will I make a final decision about the bills.

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