Cropsey 2 The Sequel: The Cow Bridge
If you can, watch and listen to the movie clip. No, I have not lost it. It is quite eye-opening as you shall read further on.
I’m not doing so for three reasons:
- It will take me hours and hours to do a summary (The BLOG on the first session took me about a day to do in total over a several days and this session was much longer)
- There really was not much new disclosed except for one particular matter that I found shocking. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth about how MDOT operates that should offend the Senator and infuriate him.
- After listening to what was said I believe that I have a better appreciation of what the game is about.
This latter point is what I want to talk about primarily in this BLOG.
The most interesting revelation to me is what was talked about before the hearing actually got started. It makes a mockery of the spending of $60 million for the DRIC study. The sound quality was not particularly good and seemed to kick in when there was an off the record discussion about the history of the Ambassador Bridge. During that discussion, Dan Stamper talked about the early tolls on the Bridge. Apparently there was a charge for cows using the Bridge although Stamper did not know how many cows actually crossed over.
Just think about that and fast-forward 80 years until today. That same Bridge that could be used by cows is now the major border crossing between Canada and the United States carrying by far more traffic than any other bridge and yet is only at about 50% capacity. I have Blogged before about how many studies have said that the Bridge would be jam packed by this date and yet it still can handle millions of vehicles more without any problem.
What it tells me is that the Ambassador Bridge people know how to run a bridge to handle the volume of traffic that crosses over. They have been able to do it without the need of building another bridge and are only looking at it today because their bridge is getting older and requires rehabilitation and because of the technology that requires another lane in each direction so that pre-approved traffic can flow smoothly.
The Senator found the document that I was referring to that said that the Bridge is capable of handling almost double the trucks today due only to the Ambassador Gateway project and without having a new bridge. It was confirmed by MDOT that in fact a new bridge might not actually be needed until the time period 2020 to 2035. Imagine, someone is trying to convince us to spend billions on a new DRIC Bridge today when it may not be needed for more than 25 years. Does that make sense to anyone?
What makes no sense whatsoever is the failure to understand that the Bridge has evolved and that it has been capable of handling more than cows without adding any new lanes over the river. There was talk about the 14 lanes that are available in the Buffalo/Niagara area. Remember the conversation with the FHWA rep who was suggesting that we might need up to 15 or 16 lanes here now. There seemed again to be no recognition by MDOT that lanes were not the issue but that Customs processing was the concern. I thought that it was said during the hearing that there could be up to 60 booths at the Ambassador Bridge. The new DRIC Bridge will have 29 inbound Cutoms booth lanes into Canada for 2035, the number of lanes that the Bridge Company has now interestingly enough.
Does this mean that the DRIC bridge and plaza is underdesigned already for future expansion? What, another new DRIC Bridge and plaza after 2035?
There seems to be a failure to understand as well that the Bridge itself can handle more vehicles given its capacity capability and the Gateway project. There seems to be a failure to recognize that the new technology such as FAST, NEXUS, and E-manifest will reduce the time at the Customs booth allowing vehicles to cross in a shorter period of time thereby increasing capacity dramatically. The desired procedure now seems to be to move Customs away from the border anyway, especially for trusted shippers.
As far as traffic goes, we still heard the same old, same old DRIC talk about the trend of volumes going upward even though the trend over the last decade has been downward. A recent Canadian Government report made the following comment:
- “For example, an automobile may contain components that have crossed the border 18 times before the finished product reaches the car lot on either side of it.”
Where is the recognition that if you multiply 18 times the number of vehicles that the Big Three are not building in this area because of the decline in their market share that the volume of traffic over the Ambassador Bridge will also decline dramatically? One only has to look at the number of trucks that are not crossing the Ambassador Bridge today. It is not due to the Gateway project because the Blue Water Bridge is not picking up that traffic either.
Let’s be realistic. Governments are not THAT stupid. They are capable of making the same types of calculations that you and I are doing plus they can afford experts who will tell them the same thing. They know that the Bridge Company's Enhancement Project bridge means that a new bridge will not be needed for years.
We see how DRIC operates. It determines the criteria which then achieves the result that it wants. For example, with the DRIC road, it determined that a tunnel should not be more than 240 m long. Accordingly, since a number of the Greenlink tunnels were longer than that, then Greenlink did not meet its criteria and it was dismissed out of hand without much studying supposedly being required. DRIC did that as well with respect to both private proponents for a border crossing. That was one of my objections when I first did a presentation to the Joint Management Committee on behalf of STOPDRTP an eon ago: the criteria determines the result. DRIC is merely continuing on with that practice.
Another revelation about the DRIC 100 acre Sandwich plaza drawing. It was not to incite people in Sandwich or to be misleading after all. What they were doing was building a separate Government bridge beside the existing Ambassador Bridge. In other words there would be two separate bridges side-by-side, a public Bridge and a private Bridge. Accordingly for that "public" bridge, they needed to duplicate separately all of the facilities that would take up a hundred acres and would destroy Sandwich.
This was the DRIC people's idea. Honestly, have you ever heard anything more absurd than that. It would almost be laughable except that it is so pathetic. That is how you knock out something you don't like, by creating an absurdity. How this fits in with their environmental assessment obligations, I have no idea.
It seems that Government people just want to build plazas all over the place. We already heard last time about the need for a new plaza as redundancy for the Ambassador Gateway project. There is a need for $450 million plaza in Port Huron to clear up the mess there and they are talking about how to expand the plaza in Buffalo. Of course, as I said based on the comments by the FHWA spokesperson, the US and Canadians Government must build new plazas all across the United States and Canada for plaza redundancy now.
What truly bothered me at the hearing was the disclosure about oversight of the Bridge. We heard at the last session that MDOT had more oversight over carnival rides than they did over the Bridge. That now seems far from the truth as far as I am concerned. Dan Stamper trotted out the legal Agreements signed between the Bridge Company, FHWA and MDOT respecting the Ambassador Gateway project that gave the Government oversight over the Company including the provision of information respecting the condition of the Bridge!
Why didn’t the representative of MDOT know that? It is inconceivable to me that people being put forward as spokespersons for the Department would not know this fact and yet still make the outrageous comment they did. Why?
Of course, a similar argument is made in Canada as well. If that was true, Bill C- 3 changed all that. The Federal Government has all the power that it needs with respect to oversight.
As far as I'm concerned, traffic, security and redundancy have been eliminated as issues. If then the issue is not oversight now, as it seemed to be before, then what is it? What is this all about? That became much more clear to me at the hearing.
The Director confirmed that no new bridge could be built without Michigan legislative approval. He also confirmed that effectively MDOT controlled the process in creating the Environmental Impact Statement and then it would be handed over to FHWA. The games playing at the previous session where the MDOT people passed on difficult questions to the FHWA rep was nothing more than the MDOT people trying to avoid responsibility for the poor decisions that are being made in this project.
Dealing with P3’s. Michigan has very little experience in these matters while Canada has a great deal. After all, Canada’s Senator Fortier is the P3 money guy on this file. I’m sure that he could tell Michigan everything they needed to know about these kind of transactions or, if he could not, then some Australian company, could as the MDOT spokesperson said last time around.
There was a lot of conversation by the Director about design, build and finance type projects. Not quite P3’s but getting closer. He told us about how much Michigan learned in doing the small projects he described.
Do you see where I’m going? This is all to do with money and finance and nothing to do with commerce, oversight, or any of the other silliness that the DRIC has put forward as a rationale for a new bridge.
That could explain as well why the MDOT Director muddied up the waters again as far as I was concerned about the federal matching grants after Stamper merely read out what was said in plain English on the FHWA website to try to clarify things. It seemed pretty clear to me. However, Legislators have to be kept confused about whether or not the Enhancement Project bridge would bring in a couple of billion dollars to be used for the the Michigan Road system. Confirming that it would bring in all that money would make things very easy for an Enhancement Project bridge to be built wouldn't it.
The Director confirmed that the existing Blue Water Bridge and plaza could not handle all of the traffic from Detroit and did not go so far as to say that the BWB with a new plaza could do so either. Remember, this project will cost about $450 million. Again, MDOT played a bit fast and loose when they said that, even if the traffic was taken from that bridge by the new DRIC bridge, there would still be sufficient traffic left to pay the tolls needed to pay down the bonds on that bridge. They needed about $2 million a year to do so.
Of course, they forgot to mention that someone has to pay for the bonds for the $450 million plaza. What would that amount be per year… around $20 million? Would the State have to subsidize that bridge if they lost 15% of their traffic? The example was given also of the Soo Bridge, as I Blogged recently, where it has a huge shortfall in monies required because the tolls are too low.
The Canadian Federal Government is “driving the bus” as Dan Stamper said. They are the ones driving the process because Canada absolutely requires control over all of the crossings in North America if Transport Canada’s Corridors and Gateways policies are to be successful. Canada needs to protect and preserve access to the US market for Canadian goods and for foreign goods that are shipped to Canada through the Canadian Atlantic and Pacific Gateways for distribution into the United States, and in particular through the Windsor/Detroit Gateway.
That is what NAFTA-gate was all about after all and why Canada is trying to "blackmail" the United States over NAFTA with oil, gas and electricity and soon, water.
MDOT does not seem to care whether hundreds of homes and businesses are destroyed in Delray while nothing is happening in Sandwich. The Senator was struck by the fact that MDOT did not seem to be particularly concerned about it.
Why is MDOT going along with the Canadians? It seems very peculiar doesn’t it. For the answer to that question, we merely need to look to the first Report of Sam Schwartz and its Socialist-type musings. That Report was prepared at a time when Eddie and the Senior Levels were buddies and he would have known what their thinking was. If something was set out in that Report and happened years down the road, then Eddie would be a genius and he would be able to say that the Senior Levels were doing exactly what he told them to do. What a boost for his curriculum vitae and his future career opportunities.
Here is what Sam wrote:
- Balanced Traffic between Blue Water Crossing and Windsor-Detroit Crossings
Developing a balanced traffic network between the Sarnia-Port Huron and Detroit-Windsor Crossings would provide benefits without a new crossing but would be compatible with any of the new crossings. Essentially it means adopting acceptable levels of service guidelines at all facilities as a goal and maintaining the goal, as best possible, through Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) measures, policies, directing trucks after they are screened and pricing strategies. It sets aside the profit-motive, which means each facility is competing for the most traffic, with a utilitarian-motive: the greatest good for the greatest number. Such a scheme may require revenue sharing among participants."
How can this possibly happen? How can manage revenue sharing between two bridges unless you own them both? Do you really believe that a private enterprise operator is going to set aside the profit motive to help out its competitor when it is the more efficient operator? This can only happen if there is one owner of both bridges.
And that is the nub of the matter. That is what this is all about. As I have said innumerable times before, the purpose of the DRIC study in my opinion is nothing more than to force the Owner of the Ambassador Bridge to sell out as cheaply as possible. It could not have been made any clearer than it was at the hearings.
MDOT is prepared to go along with Canada on the transaction because then both bridges will be Government owned. MDOT is interested because their expectation I am sure is that there will be a P3 offering to help pay for the Blue Water Bridge expansion. Their Canadian Government P3 teacher will instruct them how to do it. How else would Michigan come up with that kind of money in the economy that it has now?
Imagine the amount of money that MDOT will not have to pay to build a plaza in Port Huron because a new investor would have to do that. Imagine how much money the Governments will not have to pay to build a twinned Ambassador Bridge because that was what they always intended to do after forcing the Owner of the Ambassador Bridge to sell.
After all, as Dan Stamper pointed out, the Ambassador Bridge location was ranked as one of the highest crossings in the DRIC study and, but for the Sandwich Plaza hundred acre and the Huron Church road issues, their crossing would have been the one picked.
And even if there was not a P3 at the Blue Water Bridge to pay for the expansion "Such a scheme may require revenue sharing among participants." It would mean that Michigan would not have to worry that a private operator in Windsor/Detroit who runs the best border operation in North America would take away business from them. They would not really care then if the new DRIC bridge took away 15 or 16% of their truck traffic because there would be some kind of a revenue sharing program to ensure that the Port Huron bridge did not go broke.
Recent P3 examples like Chicago, Indiana and Pennsylvania make bureaucrats drool. All of the huge sums of money that would come in would allow them to squander it as they so chose on their favorite projects.
Who do you think taught Eddie what to do in these public-private partnerships that he ultimately will do to bring in cash for Windsor? P3’s were part of the Tunnel deal rationale and we may well see one with respect to Enwin or WUC. After all, one of the County towns was prepared to get rid of their utility for cash recently.
Unfortunately, I do not know the name of the other senator who was at the hearing but by the end of it his head was rolling. He was concerned that all that he was seeing was paralysis and that nothing would ever be done. He was absolutely right.
If Canada still takes the position that they are taking, then there will be trouble. The strong suggestion that was being made towards the end of the hearing was that CBSA was being used to cause Plaza problems for the Bridge Company. In other words, one arm of the Canadian Government was causing difficulties so that another arm of the Canadian Government could stall off the Bridge Company from getting its environmental permits.
There was great debate whether MDOT and FHWA were incorrectly telling people that the Canadian Government would not allow the Enhancement Project bridge to land in Canada. Dan Stamper told the hearing that he was told by the Canadian Government that their Company would be treated fairly with respect to the process. What could the poor Senator think with all this conflicting information?
Senator Cropsey did not seem to be too impressed by what he was told. I do not think that he will change his mind about what he thinks about the need for a DRIC bridge. Assuming that the Michigan Legislature continues on with the position that they have taken respecting the DRIC and does not pass the legislation that is required to build a DRIC bridge, then there is trouble on the US side as well.
We are left with two halves of a bridge that never meet so that nothing will get built. Canada does not seem to want the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project bridge and Michigan does not seem to want the DRIC Bridge. Utter and complete chaos.
And if the Government people believe that somehow they can build the DRIC bridge, they must understand that there will be at least a decade of litigation that goes on. It happened before in Canada over the Foreign Investment Review Act and will happen again. After all, if you have already invested $500 million in a project based on an understanding with the Governments, I would assume that you would want to protect your investment and your business too.
I do not see a solution. I am not sure what the answer will be. All I know is that taxpayers on both sides of the border are being played for fools. No one seems to care really about the economies of both countries because they don’t have to. The Ambassador Bridge is making everything work in spite of the mess. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think.
Follow the mooooooney and you won't go wrong in figuring out what is happening. That old saying still makes sense.
So much BS. Isn't this charade just too mooooooovelous!