Anyone who thinks that the decision on building a new bridge will be based on objective, "neutral" engineering and technical considerations believes in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus as well!
It's all politics as was shown when the Michigan Governor made her surprise announcement about the Downriver Communities and as the Mayor of Detroit sits there and has the contenders for Governor try to get his support. Don't tell me the haste in which Bill C-3 was passed through the House was based on considerations of the safety and security of the people of Canada. The desire for a Tunnel and "quality of life" just happened to rise at a time when the Mayor's Schwartz Report was being buried a few months before a municipal election
As the story below states, the number one issue for Michigan voters is the economy and clearly in Michigan, roads are a key factor.
The Michigan House and Senate acted to pull the DRIC funding when they learned at the Lansing hearings that, by MDOT owning and building the bridge, it would cost Michigan at least 20% of the $1.5 billion cost, with the balance being paid by the Feds (and probably more by the time it was actually started) and the State would forego up to $2 billion in Federal matching grants which they could use for roads anywhere in the state.
Once that information came out, it was hardly a surprise that the MDOT bureaucrats were in trouble (Yet they and their Canadian associates will continue to spend at least $6-10 million of taxpayer money between now and the end of September on various studies. It just boggles my mind!). I see that our Federal Transport Minister is butting in now too asking the Governor not to kill DRIC.
The new MDOT director needs to start controlling his Department frankly or he may suffer the same fate as his predecessor Gloria Jeff. That he seems to understand the problem is shown in this statement:
"Michigan Department of Transportation director Kirk Steudle attended a news conference with TRIP officials Tuesday and said the state is doing all it can to improve its interstate system, which consists of portions of Interstate 69, I-75, I-94 and I-96 along with urban-area additions such as I-275, I-196 and I-496.
"Many parts have reached or surpassed their 20-year design life," he said.
That's why it's so important to spend money maintaining the current system and not use transportation money to build new roads except in certain limited situations."
In another interview, the MDOT Director said the first smart thing I have heard anyone in the Government bureuacracy say in almost 4 years. Although he was stating he obvious, he said:
"The owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Manny MAROUN, wants to run the new crossing."
He's a key player in the whole discussion," Stuedle said.
Is Maroun part of the delay problem?
"I would not call him part of the problem at all," the director reported."
With all due respect, if he believes what he says, the Director better start acting. It will be difficult to argue in an election year in Michigan, with the Governor behind in the polls, that the State should consider building a new crossing within a mile of the Ambassador Bridge as one of those "certain limited situations" when the Bridge Co. is prepared to spend its money to do so. It becomes even more ridiculous when the State and the Feds have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Ambassador Gateway project which was designed for a Twinned Bridge, and especially when the Detroit Mayor favours that solution as well.
It might make sense for him and one of the mandarins at Transport Canada to meet with the Bridge Co. and to work out a deal that makes sense to everyone before this project totally collapses.
I am sure that what I am saying is nothing new to the Governor, the MDOT Director or to the Mayor. It will certainly not be new to the Governor's challenger, Dick Devos, and his House and Senate friends who pulled the plug on DRIC.
When you read the following story, I wonder how the Governor and MDOT Director could even consider for a second justifying the waste of $3.5 billion that would have gone to fixing and building new Michigan roads.
Michigan's crumbling roads and lack of money pose challenges
EDITOR'S NOTE - Polls show the top issue on voters' minds this election year is recharging Michigan's economy. Nearly every other issue that will be talked about, from education to health care to taxes, ties in to that. This is the second in a monthly series by The Associated Press examining how to help Michigan compete in a global economy and how those issues are playing out in the governor's race. This story focuses on Michigan's transportation infrastructure.
By KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN (Associated Press Writer)
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan may be the nation's motor capital and home of the Motor City, but its transportation system gets a barely passing grade.
Potholes, congestion and lack of repairs to aging roads and bridges all make driving a source of frustration for those on the road. It also can be a drag on the economy. Congestion and bumpy roads can slow the movement of goods, make the state less attractive to tourists and cost the average driver hundreds of dollars in repairs.
Michigan's roads and bridges each get a "D" grade from Washington-based TRIP, a nonprofit organization that studies roads and is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, highway engineering and construction companies, labor unions and others.
Although politicians agree that roads need attention, they aren't always on the same page on what should be done.
According to TRIP's February 2006 report, 14 percent of Michigan's major roads and highways have pavements in poor condition, compared to 13 percent nationally, while 24 percent are in mediocre condition, compared to 21 percent nationally.
Using 2004 data, the most recent it had available, TRIP said that only 47 percent of Michigan's major roads are in good condition.
State officials say that percentage has increased a lot since 2004 and that it's on target to reach the goal of having 90 percent of state roads in good condition by 2007 and 90 percent of bridges at that level by 2008. Ten years ago, only 64 percent of the roads were in good condition.
The state has focused under Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm on repairing and rebuilding existing roads far more than adding new roads or expanding existing ones.
The state's five-year transportation program anticipates spending more than $6.8 billion from 2006 through 2010 on repairs, maintenance and construction on state roads and bridges. That's expected to improve 345 miles of road and 360 bridges each year at an average cost of $1.4 billion.
This "Fix It First" strategy has been necessary to make up for years of neglect that needed to be corrected, Granholm says. She also pushed to sell bonds so the state would have money to move road projects scheduled for the next 10 years into this year and the next couple years, creating tens of thousands of jobs and speeding road improvements.
Republican legislative leaders and her GOP rival, Dick DeVos, argue more should be spent on new construction that can relieve congestion and make it easier for businesses to expand. In his turnaround plan, DeVos says the fix-it-first approach has wreaked havoc on the state economy.
He's considering high-speed toll lanes on certain routes to help businesses and workers get where they need to go faster, along with more new construction.
"Delay has a cost," DeVos said in a recent telephone interview. "I think the people of Michigan too often observe that roads become about political power, not about providing a service to the people of Michigan."
Granholm hasn't ruled out all road expansions. "But let's concentrate on areas where we've already got infrastructure and where we know we have to fix it," she recently told The Associated Press.
TRIP gave the state a "C" grade on congestion. Earlier this week, in a new report on Michigan's interstate highways, it predicted that 63 percent of Michigan's urban interstates and 31 percent of its rural ones would be congested by 2026 if more capacity isn't added, since interstate travel in the state is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next two decades. Now, about one-third of the state's urban interstates are considered congested.
Carmine Palombo, transportation director for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said he favors rebuilding existing roads even though he agrees congestion is a problem.
"More miles of road are deteriorating than we are improving on an annual basis. ... We're still not breaking even yet," he said. "If we keep spending the kind of road money we're spending on rehabilitation, I think we'll catch up. But that means you'll have to put off a lot of these other things."
Since 2002, 437 miles of state and local roads have been resurfaced or rehabilitated, while 83 miles have been widened, Palombo said.
"Most states are in the same situation of not having enough revenue, having to choose between renovating their transportation systems or expanding them," he said. "There's not enough money to do both."
The state's size, climate, past economic woes and federal funding levels all have played a role in its transportation problems. There are more than 122,000 miles of roads in Michigan - 92 percent controlled by local governments - making Michigan's road system among the nation's largest.
The state has been hampered by a federal funding system that until now has given Michigan just 90.5 cents of every dollar in federal gasoline tax it sends to Washington, D.C. That will increase to 91.5 cents in 2007 and 92 cents in 2008 and 2009. But Michigan remains a donor state.
Because so many local governments lack the money to do major fix-ups, the state this year and next is borrowing $80 million to help them come up with the matching funds needed to get federal dollars for local road and bridge projects. The extra work is expected to boost road construction jobs and spur $400 million in projects.
Freezing and thawing tend to break up roads more quickly, and routine maintenance was put off for years under a federal funding program that paid for road construction, but not maintenance.
Gov. John Engler in 2001 and 2002 had the state take on $908.2 million in debt to help catch up with some of the transportation backlog, but the repayments now are cutting into road revenues.
According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, the percentage of transportation money that will go to repaying the bonds this year is nearly 8 percent, or $125 million. Because of the way the debt is structured, that will hit around 14 percent annually - nearly $200 million - in the 2009 through 2011 fiscal years.
That means nearly around $1.40 of every $10 of transportation money is scheduled to be siphoned off for debt repayment.
The debt includes some money borrowed under Granholm to complete road-building projects promised under Engler that otherwise wouldn't have been funded under the fix-it-first policy, as well as money for road projects moved up from future years.
The state also has a unique challenge because it's a border state. The privately owned Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, is the busiest vehicle border crossing in North America and the auto industry's main conduit between the United States and Canada.
A joint Canadian-U.S. commission has been studying where to locate another crossing, a question that already has caused some dispute. But even if everything goes smoothly, a new bridge isn't expected to open until 2013.
Other irritations also remain. AAA of Michigan got roughly 5,000 claims of pothole damage and 18,000 claims of windshields damaged by rocks and other road debris in the first half of this year, according to spokeswoman Nancy Cain. That's about the same number as last year, but the average claim to fix the damage has risen by $20, to $641.
Cain said motorists actually have gotten a break in recent years.
"We've had mild winters the last couple of winters," she said. "The roads haven't had that freeze-thaw cycle, which just really tears up the pavement."