CHICAGO — The Michigan House is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill that would advance a controversial $2 billion bond-funded bridge spanning the busy Detroit-Canada trade route.
The Legislature is facing a self-imposed June 1 deadline to vote on the project, which has been debated for years. Twice this week the Democratic-controlled House delayed a vote on the measure, and it is currently expected to consider the bill Tuesday. If approved, the legislation would move to the Republican-controlled Senate.
“Our goal is to try to solve this,” said Abby Rubley, a spokesman for House Democrats.
The vote comes a week after the Canadian government offered Michigan up to $550 million to cover infrastructure needs not covered by the U.S. government or the private sector.
HB 4961 would allow the state to enter into a partnership with a private company to help build and operate the Detroit River International Crossing, or DRIC, as the proposed bridge is called. The total project could cost up to $5.3 billion. Roughly $2.1 billion would be needed to finance construction of the bridge and the remainder would go toward highway infrastructure.
Under a tentative financing plan released last year, up to $1.54 billion of tax-exempt bonds would be issued to finance the project.
The bill represents a key battle in the years-long debate over whether to build a publicly funded and operated bridge over the Detroit River. Opponents of the plan, including powerful Republican legislators, note that Detroit businessman Manuel Maroun — who owns the only bridge now crossing the river — is building another privately funded bridge to replace the current span.
Democrats, including outgoing Gov. Jennifer Granholm, say the DRIC bridge is needed to ensure that the trade route remains the busiest in the U.S., and that it would bring hundreds of thousands of new jobs to the economically distressed area.
The DRIC is a joint project by the governments of Michigan, Ontario, the U.S., and Canada. It would be located about two miles downriver from the existing Ambassador Bridge.
The debate over DRIC threatens to derail the state’s ability to work with private companies on other bridge and highway projects across the state. That’s because the legislation would also allow the Michigan Department of Transportation to issue bonds to finance public-private projects and impose tolls on new or privately operated roads and bridges. While otherwise uncontroversial, the bill has been held up by the DRIC debate.
Meanwhile, the Senate last week approved a transportation budget that featured a provision prohibiting the state from spending money on the plan unless approved by the Legislature and governor.
Last year’s budget allowed Michigan to spend money on preliminary planning and engineering studies, and so far $40 million — in both federal and state dollars — has been spent on the project.
The Detroit-Windsor corridor features three border crossings: the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel crossing, both of which are high-volume crossings at the Detroit River, and the Blue Water Bridge over the St. Clair River in the Port Huron-Sarnia region.
All three crossings have seen average traffic declines of around 6% over the last decade, according to the new report. But the growth that is projected through 2035 justifies a new crossing, according to a February report commissioned by the Legislature.