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Ballot proposal No. 6: rules for bridge construction

Published 7:56pm Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Proposal 6 on the Nov. 6 ballot would amend the state constitution regarding construction of international bridges and tunnels.

It would require approval by a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each municipality where “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” are to be located before the state may expend funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing or promoting new international bridges or tunnels.

Proposal 6 creates a definition of “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” to mean “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of Jan. 1, 2012.”

Yes voters say citizens should have the right to decide if the state undertakes major international bridges or tunnel projects for motor vehicles due to the possibility of ongoing taxpayer-funded expenses.

At issue is the privately owned Ambassador Bridge that crosses the Detroit River to Canada built for $23.5 million in 1929. It is unclear if there is sufficient traffic to warrant building a second international bride in southeast Michigan, and many argue the state should not be in competition with a private entity.

No voters say given the traffic volume in southeast Michigan, a second international bridge is critical for economic development and job creation and will be paid for by Canadian funds and not state tax dollars.

The international bridge project agreement between Michigan and Canada may be exempt from restrictions of this proposal.

No voters also say it is unwise to lock this proposal in the constitution as it would make it difficult for future elected leaders to adapt to changing conditions.

“The largest passageway between our largest trading partner, Canada, and the United States is a monopoly,” 6th District Democratic congressional candidate Mike O’Brien of Douglas said Oct. 6 in Buchanan. “That doesn’t gibe with me if we can build a second bridge. I was in the trucking industry or if you talk to car manufacturers that ship products across that bridge, they feel like they’re being held captive. And they are. I support another bridge.

“As Gov. Snyder has laid it out, working with Canada is not the boondoggle of taxpayer expense it’s being portrayed, and building it would put a whole lot of men and women to work.”

“If it’s an international bridge, we ought to be talking to the federal government and saying, ‘Where’s your money?’” according to state Rep. Matt Lori’s chief of staff, Susan Martin. “You have to ask yourself, do you want to give the governor — any one, not just this one — the ability to walk around the laws of Michigan when it comes to spending taxpayer money or do you not? Putting this in the constitution would prevent a governor from doing that. Any big project like this would have to have agreement by the people and/or the Legislature. I think the bridge is a red herring to some extent of what we’re looking it, which is the rule of law.”

State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said. “The governor put this together with Canada through an interlocal agreement Gov. Engler put together. If Ontwa can work with Edwardsburg and Edwardsburg can work with the county, we can create an interlocal agreement to share fire services, as a random example. Maybe we save money and end up having good service. There are over 700 interlocal agreements on file with the Secretary of State. Others are the Area Agency on Aging and Michigan Economic Development Corp. On their face they are good government and generally show efficiency for the resources expended.”

“I think the governor sees this as a vital economic interest to Michigan, but the Legislature was not interested in building a bridge,” Proos said. “There are splits in my own Republican caucus in support and opposition.

We have to be cautious. This is big interests amending the constitution. We’re nowhere near the peak of crossings at either the bridge, tunnel and Blue Water Bridge (at Port Huron) that we had in 1997. Our economic situation is far different. Smart people are using a smart government idea of cooperation and subverting it in a way that is inappropriate, in my opinion.”

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