Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Monday, January 18, 2010

Does MDOT Need New Leadership Now

If Michigan gets the Federal matching grants because of the Bridge Company spending, I want a 10% finder's fee since I have been pleading with Michigan to grab them for a long time.

As an example, my BLOG June 12, 2008:

    That is what the Enhancement Project is worth to Michigan for use in their road system plus not spending money on a new bridge that is not needed."

It is justified because MDOT did not seem to know or care if the funds were available. So send US$160M my way Guv if you please.

How the Governor can sit there and say and do nothing is beyond me? Perhaps that is what happens when one is a lame-duck Governor. Why she has not asked her senior MDOT managers to look for new jobs as well is beyond me.

I got it. If you do nothing when Canada is delaying the Enhancement Bridge project which is vital to your State and would create thousands of jobs, then why take up the Bridge Company offer that fills up State coffers by $1.6B.

If you do not think that MDOT's actions against the Bridge Company are not personal, just like dumping tons of dirt and placing equipment to block access to the Bridge, then read on.

If I was to ask you to spend one dollar and then I would give you four dollars in return, wouldn't you take that deal in a heartbeat? If I told you that you did not have to spend your dollar but could take advantage of someone else's spending, would you not think that this was one sweet deal that should be grabbed at once, especially if you have little money.

Remember this:

  • "Hundreds of Mich. road projects slashed

    Work to fall 60% in five-year plan; bridge jobs set to drop 65%

    Lansing -- Construction projects on Interstates 96, 94, 75 and other Metro Detroit commuter routes are among hundreds to be cut or delayed by the state as the sour economy empties the fund for repairs.

    A five-year road and bridge program announced by the Michigan Department of Transportation last week would delay more than 100 road projects and 575 bridge projects statewide. That translates into a 60 percent decrease in road work and more than a 65 percent decrease in bridge projects. Also, more than 375 miles of road improvements would be postponed."

Consider this Detroit Free Press story and then explain to me what other answer you have other than animosity or perhaps stupidity:

  • "Ambassador Bridge owner offers state deal on aid

    Already locked in litigation, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, and the Michigan Department of Transportation have found yet another issue to disagree on.

    That issue is the local match that MDOT must come up with to qualify for federal highway funds. Short of cash, MDOT estimates it will have to forgo $475 million in federal aid for roads and bridges in 2011 because it lacks about $84 million in local matching funds.

    Moroun said he can help. Federal law allows MDOT to count private investment in certain projects as the 20% local match for U.S. aid. Moroun said he has invested roughly $400 million in work on his bridge since the 1990s that could qualify. If accepted by U.S. highway authorities, that could bring in about $1.6 billion in federal aid in coming years.

    The private investment is known as "toll credits" because the work was done on a tolled bridge. MDOT in the past has used toll credits generated by three publicly owned bridges -- the Blue Water Bridge, the Mackinac Bridge and the International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie -- to match federal aid to pay for local bus systems and the like.

    Toll credits are used widely by other states as well.

    But MDOT balks at using Moroun's toll credits. For one thing, MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck said, Moroun has never presented a full accounting of his investment at the bridge -- something he would have to do for his toll credits to qualify as a match for federal aid.

    "When they've offered in the past, they've never, ever submitted the forms," he said.

    Another problem is that toll credits are "like Monopoly money," Shreck said. They provide a match on paper but don't provide actual cash. So if they triggered the 80% federal funding, MDOT would still be 20% short of full funding for any given project...

    Moroun's position: He'll allow his toll credits to be used as a local match for federal aid only if MDOT promises not to use that money to support competing bridge projects.

    "We've said we'll give those to you when you demonstrate that you're not going to use this money against us," said Mickey Blashfield, head of government relations for Moroun...

    Carmine Palombo, director of transportation for the Southeast Michigan Council on Governments, said Moroun and MDOT need to call a truce.

    "I have been trying to suggest that they need to sit down and talk because it's just going to escalate," Palombo said. "The state can't afford this, financially or any other which way you look at it."

I sat there reading the story and not believing it. Why doesn't MDOT call Moroun's bluff? Ask for the supporting materials. He would have to produce them or suffer the consequences.

It should be easy for MDOT to agree on how the money should be spent since there are many non-DRIC projects that need fixing now.

I just hate this accurate but narrow way that MDOT tried to deal with this issue:

  • "If it's an offer, nobody at MDOT has heard about it, according to Bill Shreck, the department's director of communications.

    "I haven't seen anything on paper and neither has anyone else at MDOT," Shreck said."

The Bridge Company has only been offering it for years; it was a subject at the Cropsey hearings. Why bother to offer it if MDOT was always unwilling to acknowledge that the money could be used. In fact, MDOT seemed to be fighting NOT to get the money rather than fighting to get it. Bizarre.

In fact, here is an article from Crains Detroit a year ago. That damned amnesia disease is impacting MDOT spokespeople too now:

  • "Moroun offers up credits for transportation projects; no takers

    It's possible the Michigan Department of Transportation could benefit from Manuel Moroun's $1 billion construction budget for the planned twin span to the Ambassador Bridge — even while it continues to plan a competitor bridge.

    Moroun's construction expenditures over the years, plus toll revenue, could be used to generate up to $2 billion in credits to cover the state or local match on other federally funded transportation projects...

    A federal law permits states to use money raised (or spent on infrastructure) by public or private toll authorities — including Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Co. — to act as a credit toward the required matching funds for federal transportation project funding... .”

    MDOT has sent two letters to Moroun asking to explore the toll credit funding, but the bridge company wants guarantees the money wouldn't help competing projects."

So what is the hold-up? MDOT itself.

Hasn't MDOT denied for years that Bridge Company money could be used for matching grants? Now they would have to reverse themselves. As I Blogged before:

  • "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."

Of course, by doing so they would have proven that they were liars or incompetent. Or both. It is even worse for them now because they have admitted that money spent on public bridges can be used for matching grants.

It would appear that money received from the Feds is "good money" if it comes from public bridge expenditures but "Monopoly money" if it comes from expenditures from a private crossing.

I would have thought it was a simple matter to agree on projects as well and if so, why won't MDOT provide the guarantee requested that the money will not be used to harm Moroun's business.

MDOT does have a budget for road and bridge works. Please don't tell me that money cannot be found for which matching grants can be applied for.

Is this complete insanity or what? Excuses, excuses, excuses. And phony ones as well.

Why does the Governor allow her Department to help destroy roads and bridges due to non-repair in her State because of their foolishness.

Carmine Palombo had the right answer: call a truce.

But of course, that will NOT happen with the lame-duck Governor. She owes Canada one when she ended the downriver bridge idea on her own to help get her re-elected. MDOT will not act because then they would lose face with their Transport Canada friends and the illegal blocking of Moroun would fall apart.

I think the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association needs to wake up and do some serious lobbying in Lansing. It should be easy for a Republican candidate for Governor to pick up their cause. There is only a gift of $1.6B at stake. And lots of jobs too.