LANSING, Mich. (AP) Supporters of a proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, scrambled Oct. 20 to revive the plan after losing a key vote in a Michigan Senate committee.
The Republican-led Senate Economic Development Committee defeated a measure to authorize the bridge in a long-anticipated vote. Two Republicans supported the measure and three opposed it. Democrats abstained from voting because the bill didn’t include provisions aimed at protecting residents in the southwest Detroit neighborhoods that would be affected by the new span.
A spokeswoman of Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who sponsored the bridge legislation, said there were no plans to do anything more with the bill defeated and no near-term plans to introduce alternative legislation.
That would be a legislative defeat for first-year Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who supports the new bridge. But Snyder wouldn’t quit on the proposal Oct. 20, calling for a “cooling down period” to talk to lawmakers about the proposal.
“We’re going to continue to pursue this as a solution because we should build a bridge for our citizens,” Snyder said. “It’s in their best interest.”
Snyder said a cooling off period would allow time to talk to lawmakers about “any miscommunication or misinterpretation that might have taken place over the last couple days.”
The Snyder administration has hinted it might act unilaterally to try and get Michigan involved in the project if the Legislature doesn’t cooperate. But the focus now remains on the Legislature.
Snyder said the New International Trade Crossing is crucial to expanding trade between the United States and Canada. Many businesses, including automakers, also covet a new bridge with more convenient highway connections.
But the private owners of the Ambassador Bridge already spanning the Detroit River oppose a second bridge, saying a publicly supported bridge would unfairly compete with their own. The new bridge would be built 2 mi. south of the Ambassador, which has proposed expanding its own capacity.
Some Republican lawmakers side with Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and have balked at backing the separate bridge, making it hard for Snyder to secure the votes needed to begin the project.
Snyder said Michigan taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for the new bridge, which would be privately financed, built and run. He said the bill is drafted to make sure taxpayers are protected.
The Ambassador Bridge owners and their supporters are skeptical of that claim. Ambassador Bridge owners have lobbied heavily and run television commercials criticizing the bridge proposal.
Canadian officials are so confident the New International Trade Crossing will be built that construction has begun on a road that would link to it. Canada has pledged to cover Michigan’s $550 million share to build a plaza on the U.S. side of the bridge, eventually recouping the money from tolls.
The estimated price of a new bridge, toll and customs plazas, and expressway linkups is nearly $4 billion.
Many Republicans have questions about traffic projection and use of Canadian money in the project. Others, including Sen. Mike Kowall of Oakland County’s White Lake Township, say presidential or federal permits should be in place before Michigan proceeds.
“I don’t think there’s been enough background work done yet,” said Kowall, chairman of the Senate’s Economic Development Committee.
Kowall was joined by Republicans Goeff Hansen of Hart and Mike Nofs of Battle Creek in voting against the bill. Judy Emmons of Sheridan and Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell voted in favor of the committee legislation.
Senate Democrats said Republicans broke an agreement to include some protections for residents and businesses in Detroit’s Delray community where the bridge would be built on the U.S. side. Democrats want agreements to deal with noise, health and other concerns related to the bridge construction.
Republicans defeated a proposed substitute bill that would have included those so-called community benefits provisions. With those eliminated, Democrats Tupac Hunter and Virgil Smith of Detroit abstained from voting on the committee’s final version of the legislation.
“The plan calls for Delray to be torn apart by the new bridge,” Smith said. “I could not as an elected official allow that to happen without making sure there were community protections in place. With the community protection agreement not being added to the bill, I could not support it.”
Snyder said he is supportive of community benefits.
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