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November 22, 2010 2:45 AM, EST

Michigan State Senator Will Call for Vote on New Crossing Between Detroit, Ontario

By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Nov. 22 print edition of Transport Topics.

A Michigan state senator said he will call for a vote before the legislative session ends in December on whether the state should move ahead with plans to build a new, publicly owned toll bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

“That’s like a Hail Mary [football pass], but I still have the right to do that and get people on the record, either supporting the [bridge] or not supporting [it] and supporting special interests,” said Sen. Raymond Basham (D), a bridge backer and minority vice chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee.

The bridge plan has support from the trucking industry, auto manufacturers and labor unions.

Construction would generate thousands of jobs and facilitate trade growth along the border, backers of the bridge have said.

The only bridge now connecting Detroit to Canada is the Ambassador, a toll bridge owned by trucking and real estate executive Matty Moroun, who has waged a decadelong fight to keep a new bridge from being built.

Moroun wants to build a second Ambassador span, but Canada has said it wants a publicly owned bridge and does not want any more traffic coming off the Ambassador onto Windsor city streets.

Backers of the new bridge, known as the Detroit River International Crossing, have only a narrow window of opportunity for a vote.

The Senate will meet for three days — Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 — before it ends its 2010 session.

DRIC supporters have been pressing senators for months to approve the bill that would allow the state to form a public-private partnership with Canada and private financiers to build the $5.3 billion span.

David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, recently said in a written statement the fight for the new bridge “is far from over” even though, Bradley added, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a Republican, “reneged on his commitment to hold a vote” on the bridge this year.

Bradley and others have said that Bishop promised he would allow an up-or-down vote on the bridge bill.

Since then, however, the majority leader, prevented by Michigan’s term limit law from seeking re-election, refused to release the bill from the transportation committee.

Bishop’s office did not reply to a request for comment. Moroun spokesman Phil Frame said the bridge company had no comment on the legislative situation.

Basham said, however, that Senate rules allow him to call for a vote by the 38-member body to have the bill released from the transportation committee. When the bill is out on the floor, Basham said, there are enough votes to pass it before the session ends.

Anything can happen in a lame-duck legislature, said Sarah Hubbard, government affairs director for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, part of a coalition working for a new bridge.

“There are a lot of discussions still going on behind the scenes,” Hubbard said.

The Michigan house already has  voted to move forward with the DRIC.

And in an effort to spur construction of the bridge, Canada as far back as May said it would pay Michigan’s $550 million share of construction costs on the state’s side of the river. The money would be paid back from bridge tolls.

Without Senate approval, however, the P3 bill dies this year, and bridge supporters will have to launch a new effort in 2011 with a new governor and a new crop of lawmakers.

Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm spearheaded the DRIC building effort, but her incoming Republican successor, Rick Snyder, has not said what he will do.

Bradley in his statement said that Snyder has indicated he is “open” to the DRIC.

“We remain confident that once he is fully apprised of the facts,” Bradley said, “he will agree with us that the DRIC crossing is crucial to improving the flow of trade between Michigan and Ontario, and it is therefore an essential part of revitalizing the Michigan and Ontario economies.”