Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, January 14, 2010

So You Want a Public Bridge (Part 249)

Love him or not, Matty Moroun is looking better and better by comparison in how a border crossing is operated. I guess it may be because it is HIS money at stake, not taxpayer cash. As a crossing user, isn't that what counts!

Yes, I know about the litigation and why the Bridge Company did not want to release their reports. It did not have to do with the bridge condition.

However, in the end, we all know that the Bridge Company inspection reports were released and their work plan is public knowledge. I know you will not believe me but the Blue Water Bridge Canadian and American halves owners do not even know what the other HALF of the bridge’s condition is from their own inspectors. Our future too perhaps? Oh yes, you just have to read on!

I just do not understand why a few people still believe that "public" is always better than "private" in border crossings. To be direct, it is because of deliberate disinformation being spread, especially by some in this region who want Moroun out as owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

And then they want to replace him with another private operator who will make gross profits on a new bridge. At the end of its P3 lease, taxpayers will be stuck having to fix it up. We have seen that happen before.

One needs only to take a look at what the NY State Comptroller said about the Peace Bridge. Oh sure, there is a dispute now going on in the State about who is right and who is wrong but the Report was a real shocker regardless.

Here is part of a recent BLOG by Bill Shea at Crains Detroit that should open some eyes. You will note he seems to have forgotten about the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and my plea to Congressman Dingell to get us safety information about it.

I dare you NOT to burst out laughing when you read about the Blue Water Bridge:

  • "MDOT: Dingell nor public have never asked about other bridge inspection reports

    Remember all that sound and fury the last couple of weeks over a two-year-old Ambassador Bridge inspection report? John Dingell wanted it made public because he’s worried the privately-owned bridge was unsafe or something, and people have a right to know.

    Turns out, the report — which was reviewed by MDOT and the federal government in June, not to mention independent inspections done by Canada — says the bridge is pretty old and needs some minor repairs, but is perfectly safe. The Canadians came out the week before and said the same thing.

    It also turns out that the Congressman, nor anyone else, has asked about the condition of Michigan’s other major bridges (Blue Water, Mackinac and International). Worse: None of those reports are available online, or are even easily accessible when you request them by phone. This is beginning to feel like the Balloon Boy situation — completely manufactured for reasons other than what’s said.

    An MDOT spokesman told me Friday that he couldn’t remember anyone, public or political, ever asking for the inspection reports for those spans.

    No one had their reports easily at hand on Friday. MDOT is trying to find them for me. Canada, which runs the twin-span Blue Water Bridge, got me the results this morning (more on that farther below).

    That bridge, which links Michigan and Ontario through Port Huron and Point Edward (interstates 94 and 69 and Highway 402), is about to get its first safety inspection by a single bridge engineering firm. Keep reading, because this gets disturbingly stupid: The bridge is jointly owned and operated by Michigan and Ontario, and previously the twin spans were inspected by halves: one country would inspect half of the spans and the other country would inspect the other half. And I don’t mean they just inspected one or the other span — they stopped inspecting midway over the water, and the other country did the same, with inspectors meeting in the middle.

    This year, it dawned on someone that it would be both more efficient and cheaper to issue a joint RFP and have one company inspect the entirety of both spans at once. That process begins in a couple weeks.

    But don’t look for the reports online. MDOT nor the individual bridge authorities have any reference to their annual inspection results online. Calls to the authorities resulted in voicemails or confusion on Friday. [NOTE, the Ambassador Bridge reports were freely distributed by the Detroit and other media and I know the most recent one can be found online at the Bridge Co. website ]

    So, while we now know that the Ambassador Bridge is ranked in “overall fair condition” thanks to a confusing media spectacle involving Dingell and the Detroit International Bridge Co. and its privately conducted inspections, the public has zero idea of the condition of Michigan’s three major public bridges.

    Speculation is that Dingell wanted the 2007 report made public rather than the 2008 report because the older report appeared more damning to the bridge company. Dingell supports the proposed government-owned bridge that could be built about a mile from the Ambassador Bridge, so his concern over the inspection reports could fuel charges of political theatrics. Or maybe he had no idea that the public cannot immediately access safety condition information about the government bridges.

    His office sent me this statement this afternoon: "Congressman Dingell believes that all bridge reports – public and private – should be assessable to the public. The three bridges you mentioned are not within immediate proximity of Congressman Dingell’s district so he has not pursued the three public reports and does not intend to at this time. However, as they are public bridges and information from their reports is available to the public, he is confident that interested citizens can view the reports if it is their desire, as it is their right to do so." [Note: What about the Tunnel where my request has been ignored by the City of Windsor]

    The Ambassador Bridge's owner, trucking tycoon Manuel Moroun, wanted his full inspection reports kept private, which sparked an outcry and court action -- which he lost. Now, his company says they'll put the report summaries, which contain the basic rating and safety information, online for public review -- which if they had done in the first place, without giving out details useful to Al Qaeda frogmen, would have saved everyone time and trouble.

    Ironically, Moroun may have his inspection information online before the government-owned bridges do.

    MDOT puts online a full report of all the state highway bridges over 20 feet long, and updates the findings several times a year, but it doesn’t put online the inspection results for the three three big bridges. It also doesn’t put out ratings for pedestrian, railroad and locally owned bridges.

    “National Bridge Inspection Standards require MDOT to inspect bridges every two years. The Mackinac, International, and Blue Water bridges are inspected annually, exceeding federal requirements. These three bridges are managed by bridge authorities, and their ratings are not included in the list MDOT has posted to the Web,” MDOT says online.

    “Of the 4,398 bridges on the July 1, 2009 report, 454 bridges are classified with the engineering term of ‘structurally deficient,’ meaning they may require rehabilitation or replacement at some time in the future; and 885 bridges are classified as ‘functionally obsolete,’ meaning they are outdated and may require modernization at some time in the future.”

    I made some calls on the other three big bridges. Ontario’s Blue Water Bridge Authority is in charge of that bridge, and its next inspection begins in a couple of weeks, said Stan Korosec, the authority’s vice president of operations.

    The west-bound span, a cantilever truss bridged that opened in 1938 and was closed for a two-year rehab project starting in 1997 when the new span opened, two years ago was ranked a 7.5 on the National Bridge Inventory Rating Scale — or “good to very good.” The east-bound span, a tied-arch bridge that opened in 1997, is an 8.5, or “very good to excellent.”

    When asked about the reports being put online, Korosec said it’s an idea he’ll submit to his bosses: “I suppose maybe we could do that,” he said. The reports also haven’t drawn much interest outside engineers. “We’ve never really had the public ask about them,” Korosec said.

    I haven’t heard back yet from MDOT on the Mackinac and International bridges. They’re going to get me the results this week."

Just keep on remembering what the Government watchdogs have said about public bridges in Michigan, Ontario and New York State and cringe. And watch out for the College bridge in Windsor!