Is MDOT Overstepping
I cannot believe the bureaucrats on both sides of the river on this border file. I believe that they are completely out of control. There is no one who can hold them accountable. Politicians… heck, they come and go. Who cares about them seems to be the attitude of the people who are supposed to be working in the public interest.
They seem to be able to say and do things with impunity. The problem from my perspective as a poor taxpayer, and getting poorer all the time, is that they are spending my money for a project that makes no sense to me.
Take Sean O’Dell, please.
I cannot believe still the comments that he made in the Detroit newspaper about the border and in particular with respect to traffic. The Star reported the other day:
- “Truck traffic at the Ambassador Bridge plummeted 15 per cent last year over the year before, surpassing declines at other border crossings, including the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel.
The Ambassador Bridge — North America's busiest border crossing — had 181,938 truck crossings in December, down 17.9 per cent from December of 2007, according to the Public Border Operators Association. There were 2,885,047 truck crossings all year, a 15.1 per cent decline over the 3,398,745 crossings in 2007.
Commercial traffic at the second busiest truck span, the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, was down 2.5 per cent on the year,
The Peace Bridge in Fort Erie experienced a year-to-year decline of 4.3 per cent, including a 4.9 per cent decline in car traffic and a 1.9 per cent decline in truck traffic.
The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge at Niagara-on-the-Lake experienced a year-to-year decline of 7.8 per cent, including an 11.6 per cent decline in truck traffic and a 6.7 per cent decline in car traffic.
The average year-to-year decline for the 11 crossings monitored by the PBOA was 6.9 per cent or 2,764,876 vehicles, down from 40,334,567 to 37,569,691.
Truck traffic declined 9.2 per cent, from 8,049,136 to 7,311,654 vehicles and car traffic declined 6.2 per cent, from 32,060,355 to 30,064,378 vehicles.”
It does not seem to matter. Mr. O’dell can say whatever it is that he wants to say and no one chastises him. In fact, our Federal Minister of Finance can also pretend that someone might be foolish enough to actually finance the project here when he spoke to the P3 conference. Nothing like losing one’s credibility. I guess the Minister is too busy discovering the financial problems that he said did not exist during the election campiagn
I cannot slam Mr. O’Dell alone. I have to include people from Michigan as well, the friendly people from MDOT.
I’m sure that you will call that there was a fight over the Michigan budget dealing with DRIC. Here is the language of the compromise that was passed by the Michigan Legislature:
- “Sec. 384. (1) The state transportation department is allowed to finish the Detroit River international crossing (DRIC) study provided that activity associated with finishing the DRIC study shall not bind the state in any way to construction.
Certain preliminary activities which are necessary to prepare a proposal for a decision by the legislature are allowed as long as they do not bind the state. Those activities include the following:
(a) applications for permits and approvals.
(b) preliminary design engineering work.
(c) preliminary utility planning and relocation
(d) preliminary financial and funding arrangements.
(2) The department will report on a quarterly basis to both the house and senate appropriations committees on any expenditures relative to the process identified in subsection (1).
(3) In addition, advanced property acquisitions that are hardship or opportunity purchases are allowed as long as they do not bind the state. The department will notify, in writing, both the house and senate appropriations committees within 30 days of any advanced property acquisition purchases. The department can not enter into any binding commitment to construct the crossing until authorizing legislation is enacted into law.”
I am certain that you will agree with me that this language is not difficult to understand. It is written in plain English. There is not too much of it so it is not all that difficult to absorb. If that is the case, then please explain how MDOT can say this in a Press Release:
- “The Record of Decision allows Michigan to begin right-of-way acquisition and construction planning for the proposed new bridge.”
Wait a minute… where is this written in the legislation? The only property acquisitions that are allowed are if there are hardship or opportunity purchases. There is no permission to start right-of-way acquisition. In fact, it would probably be illegal the way I read the legislation.
Perhaps that is why the MDOT spokesman said in the Star but not in the Press Release since it would take away from their pressure campaign:
- "The approval by Washington turns over the lead on the DRIC bridge project to the Michigan Department of Transportation.
MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck said property purchases on the Detroit side are unlikely to begin until summer."
Construction planning… I did not see that either. The only thing that can be done is some preliminary work “necessary to prepare a proposal for a decision by the legislature.”
Then a Backgrounder was issued and it said the following:
- “The new border crossing system will cost $1.8 billion for the U.S. portion of the bridge, the plaza and the new interchange with I-75. This cost will be covered by a number of sources. The bridge itself will be paid for by the private sector in partnership with state and federal government. While the private participant will use tolls to build, operate and maintain the new bridge, the Border Transportation Partnership will provide public oversight and ensure the accountability of any private sector participation to ensure a safe and secure international border crossing system.”
That certainly sounds like a P3 project to me. I would have thought that such a statement is rather presumptuous of the bureaucrats since there is no legislation in Michigan that permits a P3 bridge to be built in the first place.
Some Michigan Legislators might be rather upset that their bureaucrats have made the decisions for them as to how the project should be financed if it is to built in the first place. As discussed by the documents it seems to be a fait accompli notwithstanding the language “do not bind the state.”
Perhaps it is time for Senator Cropsey to re-open his hearings!
The other thing that troubles me a little bit is that I do not recall seeing anything that has come from the Canadian Government formally with respect to governance. Oh I know what the Federal Minister of Finances hoping for but has anyone ever seen a report about the subject? Has anyone seen any kind of financial calculations undertaken that show that a P3 project makes sense for the crossing when there is a private operator who is prepared to spend his own money?
You know it will be impossible to get outside financing since the investment grade traffic survey has been buried by Canada until at least mid-2009, a year overdue! Want to bet that it too will say that much of the traffic has to be taken from the Ambassador Bridge to make the project viable since volumes are down so much.
One other little wrinkle... didn't US DRIC try to get a Presidential Permit from the US Department of State. My recollection is that they did not get it. If that's the case, then how can MDOT say what it is saying? I just do not understand.
As I said, nothing seems to matter other than the bureaucrats running amok with their MegaProject even at a time when there is financial distress in the economy.
You will understand that civil servants are so much smarter than mere politicians and the public. Why just ask them and they will tell you. Remember this comment from the Civil Servant who wrote a column in the Star:
- “Civil servants have been trained to give politicians the best, most extensive and most complete analysis of just about any public policy issue thrown at them. Bureaucrats are initiated very early in their career in the art of communicating this kind of information to politicians, and by the time they reach the senior echelons of the civil service, they have learned to do this very well indeed.”
How pompous is that!
This really is Canada driving this file and hoping that Canada can finally complete a voyage that started almost 50 years ago to take over the Ambassador Bridge. To be direct, our side of the river has tried to completely outmaneuver the Americans who still do not seem to have a clue about what is going on. Expect Prime Minister Harper to discuss the subject with President Obama when they meet. He tried it with President Bush and failed. Some in the bureaucracy must hope that he is more successful with the new President.
If the meeting is held on Valentine’s Day, then you will know that the Report prepared by Former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Michael Kergin, is in play.