Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"We thought it was dirt or clay or construction debris -- but no, it is only retaliation"

We need to take lessons in Canada from our American friends. Take a look at these photos to get the real dirt on the dispute between the Bridge Company and MDOT. I have also Blogged Dan Stamper's statement below:

If we want to close a road down, why we do silly things like putting up barricades or maybe even some construction barrels.

Not the Americans. When they want to punish the Bridge Compnay for starting the FHWA lawsuit and then the second lawsuit against MDOT and make life hard for paying customers who want to use the Bridge, they dump "approximately ten thousand TONS of construction waste" to close down a ramp. "MDOT is also storing heavy equipment on the other inbound MDOT ramp, rendering that unusable. Both of these ramps were supposed to be in operation by December 2008. "

That should teach them to try to defend their legal position.

Here is something only a bureaucrat can say
  • "According to Kratofil, the ramp where the dirt has been stored is not scheduled to be opened until this fall.

    "The dirt is being stored and is being used on another portion of the project," Kratofil said. "The equipment that we are storing is of no concern of theirs, and it too will be used on this project at a later date."

Sure, why make it easy to use the bridge. Store dirt on a nicely completed highway so that it may have to be refinished later at extra cost. Michigan has so much money to throw around for highway construction. NOT!

What I do not understand about all of this comes from this quote back in March from an MDOT rep where everythign seemed fine:

  • "The bridge company and the Michigan Department of Transportation say they're discussing changes to the project, which is designed to improve traffic flow from the Ambassador Bridge plaza and build a new interchange for I-75 and I-94.

    “They have had some challenges and they would like to change some things that we feel would endanger the purpose and need for our project,” said Greg Johnson, MDOT metro Detroit engineer.

    Changes to the “purpose and need” in a federally funded project can result in federal dollars being withdrawn, Johnson said, so MDOT is careful to vet any alterations to the plan.

    “We are still negotiating and talking to the bridge company every day,” he said. “There is no loss of federal funding...

    James Steele, the Federal Highway Administration's Michigan Division administrator, said he's working with MDOT to make sure the project stays within the bounds of its original scope and purpose, and added that changes are permissible as long as it doesn't alter what was agreed to originally...

    No actual work has been done by the bridge company that threatens the project's funding, Johnson said, and any work done on the DIBC's land that doesn't alter the point of the project is not MDOT's concern.

    “They're a private entity and they're on their own property,” he said. “To their credit, they are not used to dealing with some of the things that MDOT deals with on a daily basis (with federal projects).”

Wow, how things change after a lawsuit is started.

Here is Stamper's statement:

"Statement of Dan Stamper
President, Detroit International Bridge Company
June 23, 2009

Good morning and thank you for joining us today. I have a brief statement and will answer your questions before we take a tour up the ramp. The Detroit International Bridge Co has completed 95% of our portion of the Gateway Project.

 Reconfigured inbound auto
 New entrance to the U.S. for autos and connection for ramps to freeway
 New connection of 21st Street
 New relocated Duty Free Store
 New relocated Duty Free Fuel Services
 New ramp connections from freeway to Bridge
 New outbound Toll Plaza
 New outbound Customs Inspection area
 Separation of trucks and autos for Duty Free and Fuel

The Ambassador Bridge entered into a partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation in the mid-1990s intended to improve the efficiency of the Ambassador trade corridor. This agreement was to complete the Gateway Project to develop infrastructure to improve traffic connections to the Ambassador Bridge and accommodate a replacement span to the 80-year-old structure. Part of the Project includes building a new plaza and ramps to connect the Ambassador Bridge to I-75, I-96 and I-94. We are excited about this joint endeavor and have already invested $500 million to make this a success.

All of us at the Ambassador Bridge have been working very hard to make sure that the Gateway Project will benefit all travelers between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, facilitate trade, reflect the finest construction, and be completed on time and on budget.

We are here today, however, because as the Project nears completion, obstacles created deliberately by MDOT are preventing passenger traffic and commerce from using the new roadways and are late in removing traffic from city streets. Michiganders deserve to know what’s going on.

Beginning earlier this month, MDOT has dumped approximately ten thousand TONS of construction waste on the West Grand Boulevard ramp (East Service Drive); which stretches for almost a QUARTER MILE.

DIBC has had this debris analyzed. We thought it was dirt or clay or construction debris -- but no, it is only retaliation.

On top of that, MDOT is also storing heavy equipment on the other inbound MDOT ramp, rendering that unusable. Both of these ramps were supposed to be in operation by December 2008. In comparison, DIBC’s access ramps were completed in January 2009 and have been operating since April first.

So what’s going on here?

I guess the last straw to MDOT and the state was when six leading Detroit community organizations and DIBC filed an environmental justice lawsuit against the Department of Transportation on May 15 challenging the Detroit River International Crossing study. Just over two weeks later, in what smacks of nothing less than retaliation, the tons of waste suddenly began to appear. Instead of doing all possible to open the ramps, MDOT was slowing them down.

Despite our attempts to find out what’s happening and to see how we can help open the ramps, we’ve been stonewalled. And who bears the burden of this seemingly childish action? It’s the thousands of commuters and businesses who rely daily on a speedy crossing of the bridge and those in Southwest Detroit who needlessly have to endure trucks driving through their neighborhoods.

And what about all Michiganders who will now have to pay with their tax dollars for the totally needless and wasteful cleanup of these 100 truckloads of junk? Why would anyone want to or need to spend that money when we desperately need those funds for jobs, police, education and road work in Detroit and in other parts of our state? To us this seems like an intentional obstruction of commerce and efficiency at the border crossing.

Let me be candid, we had expected that the elected officials representing this community would have been up-in arms at this needless and deliberate delay and that we could stay on the sidelines on this one. The blaring silence of Representative Talib and others in not calling for MDOT to straighten out this mess is notable.

Instead of their action, we are confronted with unfortunate attempts to throw stones at the Ambassador Bridge.

We are partners with MDOT in this important Project and we want to be good partners. Disputes over interpretation of diagrams or changes in detail are part of all large construction jobs. That’s the reason why our agreement has an arbitration clause. MDOT though prefers finger pointing and inaccuracy mongering. They’ve been using a strategy of creating confusion and misleading the Southwest Detroit community, the City of Detroit, the legislature, and even the Coast Guard about what the Bridge is or isn’t doing.

Frankly, it’s disheartening for us to have MDOT as a partner in the vital Gateway Project while they simultaneously kick us as they partner with Canada on the DRIC.

We were compelled to request arbitration after our discussions with MDOT over several open issues became meaningless and they walked out on a meeting. MDOT still hasn’t responded to our May 20th request. We were then compelled to file suit against MDOT to resolve all outstanding issues. We believe in the judicial system and will rely on letting an impartial arbitrator and judge rule on any disputes. Nevertheless, of course we will continue to try and find solutions with MDOT on all the open issues and move ahead together, as partners.

We want to build a better Michigan and better Ambassador Bridge Crossing. We are investing $1 billion in private funds to build a replacement span for our 80–year old bridge. That will create 4,000 jobs in the first year and 20,000 jobs over the next two decades. If MDOT and the Governor are serious about our partnership the first thing they can do is stop throwing dirt and instead, start tomorrow and clean up the ten thousand ton mess that was dropped on the Project. All of us will be better for it.

This wall of debris is what you get when a department like MDOT has one foot in the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Partnership and then puts the other foot in a Canadian Partnership.

Please join me on the ramp to see what ten thousand tons of garbage looks like.