Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Matty Please RAISE Your Tolls

And someone seriously wants DRIC-ites to run a border crossing. Oh my goodness.

The latest myth out by the DRIC–ites is that the Bridge Company is going to “raise” tolls
  • “To compensate for this loss in traffic there will probably be a very large increase in tolls at the Ambassador Bridge for, likely, the remaining life of the bridge.”
Well of course they have to say that including the use of the words "very large increase." They have to try and divert attention from the fact that MDOT has not released the WSA revenue forecasts yet although something is to be issued today the Senate hearing was told. Moreover, based on math alone the DRIC tolls will have to be about four times higher than that of the Ambassador Bridge to begin to pay off their financing costs.

As I showed on my Excel spreadsheet, with revenues on average at about $80 million, the DRIC Bridge would never be able to pay for its financing costs and at the end of its term, the amount outstanding on principal alone would be gigantic. Michigan taxpayers would have to pay for that.

Of course, the DRIC-ites haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about. They raise the issue of tolls at the same time they talk about the Bridge Company spending millions of dollars to keep their crossing maintained properly.

Unfortunately, and I guess it is because they have never run a border crossing successfully, it costs money to do so. The Bridge Company does not have the taxpayers to rely upon for an unlimited sum of money and therefore must pay for the maintenance of its bridge from revenues paid by those who cross over. Regretfully, doing that, and planning for the future, sometimes results in tolls having to be increased.

To me that only make sense. But why rely upon what I have to say. Let’s look at what the internationally known traffic guru out of New York City has to say, Gridlock Sam, about public bridges:
    “By the late seventies, the cash-strapped city had skimped on painting for decades, and rust never sleeps. In 1986, it was discovered that the four cables slung over the towers (made up of 9,472 wires each) were severely corroded. Some components of the anchorages, where the cables are pinned to the riverbank, were half-gone. “We came so close to losing the bridge,” Schwartz says (an emergency closure, repairs, and the institution of a strict preventive-maintenance program followed).”

  • On the nation TV program, the Today Show, after the Minnesota Bridge collapse
    …wondering, worrying that the bridge they might have to cross—to go to work, to go to the store, whatever—could possibly collapse. Do they have a, a legitimate worry?

    Well, they have a legitimate worry in the sense that their government officials should be taking care of these bridges. No government official should accept anything above one percent in terms of structurally-deficient.

    But we’re close to thirteen percent—seventy thousand bridges in this country. How did we reach that point?

    We reached that point because we neglected our infrastructure. We didn’t do the very basic things. A bridge is like a machine. It needs to be cleaned; it needs to be oiled; it needs to be lubricated in various parts. It moves with a load—it goes up and down; it slides with the changes in temperature. And we need to treat it properly. Imagine driving your car without ever oiling it, greasing it and waiting until the engine seizes up. That’s what we’ve done with our bridges...

    The bridges built in the ‘50s and ‘60s and 7’0s were the sleekest. It was the beginning of the use of computers in bridges, and the result is we didn’t get bridges with redundancy...

    So, if you’re going over a bridge that was built prior to World War II, you’re probably in pretty good shape...

    If you pay a toll, by the way, on a bridge, your bridge is safe. They, they’re taking care of it; they’re doing the daily maintenance."

Michigan has a terrific track record of maintaining bridges too. NOT:

  • "Transportation officials failed to inspect some bridges, looked at deteriorating bridges less often than required by state law and did not check for erosion under bridges over rivers, Michigan's auditor said Friday.

    The more than 10,000 bridges owned by the state and local governments must be inspected at least every two years.

    An audit released Friday said more than 1,000, or 10 percent, of routine bridge inspections were not completed on time from October 2006 through September 2008. Cities, counties, villages and townships were the main culprits in failing to inspect bridges on time.

    The audit also said 112, or 59 percent, of 190 underwater bridge inspections either were not done or were not done on time.

    By violating state law and federal regulations, the Michigan Department of Transportation could lose federal funding and approval for future projects, Auditor General Thomas McTavish said.”

I guess the DRIC-ites ignored this with the low tolls at the Blue Water Bridge that had to be doubled recently:

  • What factors went into increasing the toll?

    A. … The Blue Water Bridge has many upcoming preservation and long-term maintenance needs including bridge painting ($10 million), redecking the second span ($40 million), redecking original span ($50 million), and 3.) the plaza expansion project ($583 million).

    Will there be other toll increases in the future?

    A. This toll increase is a necessary step to ensure there is enough funding to:
    • maintain the daily operations of bridge (i.e., toll collections, traffic management, snow removal),
    • conduct necessary major bridge maintenance projects (i.e., painting and redecking), and
    • implement the plaza expansion project.

    The need for future toll increases will be evaluated based on a number of factors including; the recovery of our state and national economies, future traffic volumes, and how much additional funding can be garnered for the plaza expansion."

Perhaps DRIC-ites prefer to read this instead:

  • “International bridge upgrade overdue: Joint bridge authority looks to Ottawa for new customs plaza.

    The Sault Ste. Marie Joint International Bridge Authority is looking to Ottawa to pick up the cost of upgrading the antiquated 1960s-era customs plaza on the Canadian side of the St. Mary's River.

    A master plan released this summer places a $40-million price tag to re-design the plaza to accommodate vehicle traffic and install more efficient and modern customs inspection facilities.

    But bridge manager Phil Becker says the authority is hard-pressed to invest any significant money in the project.

    The 4.5-kilometre span is jointly operated by the State of Michigan and the Saint Mary's River Bridge Company, an arm of the Canadian government.

    The authority relies entirely on revenue from truck and automobile traffic for the bridge's upkeep. Mounting maintenance and operating costs, combined with stagnant traffic levels, have put them in a cash crunch.

    "Traffic is half of what it was 10 years ago and we're totally toll-funded with no operational subsidy from any governmental unit," says Becker.

    It has forced them to put off a preventative maintenance project to re-deck the bridge for 10 to 15 years.”

As for me, I would feel a lot better if Matty continues to manage the best border crossing between Canada and the United States even if, shudder, it costs me a little bit more to cross over safely in the future.


Here is the Bridge Company press release about the work to be done and their comments on increased tolls:

  • The following is a statement from Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., about the Ambassador Bridge deck replacement project:

    The Ambassador Bridge awarded the contract for its deck replacement project to Walter Toebe Construction Co. of Wixom, Mich. Toebe is one of the leading contractors in Michigan for major civil projects, including the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project.

    Work for the project began in May when the contractor and the engineering firm began collaborating to order materials, develop staging plans and other pre-construction activities. Actual work on the bridge is slated for the first week of July.

    During it’s 80-year history, the Ambassador Bridge has paid for all construction, maintenance, repairs and inspections through tolls paid by customers using the bridge. The Ambassador Bridge has never used taxpayer funds, unlike the proposed $5.3billion Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), which will require taxpayer subsidy.

    “We have no plans for a toll increase at this time, either for this project or in general,” said Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge.

    Like any bridge, the regular maintenance of the Ambassador Bridge requires periodic lane closures. The deck replacement project is no different. Three lanes will remain open at all times for traffic and construction will be coordinated so there will be no backups.

    The deck replacement project represents an investment of more than $20 million in the city of Detroit and will generate more than 300 jobs.

    “This project is a real plus for Detroit,” said Moroun. “Yet, the MDOT propaganda machine behind the taxpayer-supported DRIC will stop at nothing to spin this into a negative. It’s really unfortunate when someone belittles a private investment of this magnitude that creates this many jobs.”