Michigan's Proposal 6 - Yes vote a no-brainer COMMENT
A Yes vote for Michigan's Proposal 6 is a no-brainer. Sloppy and malicious local reporting and demagoguery out of the Governor's office and a local Canadian consul has portrayed Proposal 6 as barring any new international bridge or tunnel to protect a supposed "monopoly" at the Ambassador Bridge.
If that was true I'd be an enthusiastic advocate of a No vote on Prop 6 myself. A bridge monopoly - of course - should not be protected, and certainly not via a constitutional change.
But this is a monstrous misrepresentation of the actual Proposal going to voters as reported by the Michigan Department of State, Board of State Canvassers which administers the ballots (see reproduced nearby).
As the board of canvassers render it for voters Nov 6, Proposal 6 would:
"Require the approval of 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 of Michigan may expend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels."
Bars use of state funds which Gov says aren't needed
So far from barring any new international crossing Proposal 6 would bar only the use of state funds for any new international bridges and tunnels, and bar the state of Michigan taking ownership of any new crossing without approval of voters.
This is perfectly reasonable.
The three existing transportation crossings between Detroit and Windsor - the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge and the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel - were all built without state funds or state ownership. International crossings like other toll facilities are businesses and can be self-financing. There is no obvious case for having the state of Michigan spend or commit taxpayer money on them, when investors, or cities or counties - or Canadians! - can finance and build them.
Saying that the state of Michigan shouldn't spend money on a new international crossing is quite different from saying there shouldn't be a new international crossing.
Governor Snyder's frequently stated opposition and Lt Gov Calley's almost obsessive and unhinged attacks on Proposal 6 are very odd.
On the one hand they say repeatedly that no state funds are needed - it's a "lie" that the taxpayers would be "on the hook" - because under the agreement reached by the Governor in June with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper the Canadians will look after all the costs of the new bridge plus all the facilities on the US side.
On the other hand they obsessively and often ferociously attack the Proposal which simply says the state shouldn't commit money... money that the Governor and other bridge-supporters say isn't needed. Providing comic relief is an earnest young Canadian Consul, Ray Norton who repeatedly declares himself "offended" that anyone would doubt a Canadian would ever fail to fulfill openended political commitments two or three decades hence.
What's their problem?
Proposal 6 puts no bar in the way of the Canadian Government putting money into a new bridge or of its proposed Crossing Authority owning the bridge and having a private concessionaire finance and run the bridge.
Canadians and Canadian entities can own land and facilities in the US and connect them up to state highways just as the Ambassador Bridge does (and hopefully with less of a fight!)
But is it needed?
It is quite another issue whether a new bridge is needed or is financially viable.
Or whether the DRIC/NITC bridge proposed a couple of miles downstream - where a longer span is needed and more difficult subsurface conditions prevail - is the best way of providing new or more modern crossing capacity?
Old bridge they say
The Ambassador Bridge is a suspension bridge of the same vintage as San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge or New York City's George Washington Bridge.
There is no clamor to replace those two grand suspension bridges. The consensus in New York and in San Francisco is that regular maintenance and replacement of components can keep them performing useful service decades into the future.
Why not for Detroit's Ambassador Bridge too?
It's not as though extra crossing capacity is warranted by the traffic volumes.
Ambassador Bridge traffic averages about 20,000 vehicles/day (20k) and given 4 lanes on the bridge 5k/day/lane.
Detroit Windsor Tunnel at just over 10k/day and 2 lanes is also 5k/day/lane. The Blue Water Bridge is only half that under 2.4k/day/lane.
These are very small traffic numbers since it is a rule of thumb among traffic engineers that a lane can carry 10k to 20k/day, 10k comfortably. We looked up the numbers randomly for other toll bridges around America (see table nearby.) Their traffic per day per lane varies between 8.2k and 24.4k with an average of 15.9k/day/lane. Some of these DO have too much traffic relative to their lanes and several are getting an extra lane or two.
But 10k/day/lane is a comfortable number.
On that basis the Ambassador Bridge could carry double its present traffic and the Blue Water Bridge quadruple present traffic before extra capacity is warranted.
But there are backups
Backups do occur at the Detroit River crossings on a regular basis, to be sure, and they can be quite severe, sometimes miles long and an hour of waiting.
But they occur due to queueing at the border inspection booths. That congestion can only be resolved by improving border inspection, not by adding bridge lanes.
Indeed given constraints on the US customs and border protection budgets and staff an extra crossing might even worsen the problem. It would require spreading limited US inspection staff over another point of entry.
The existing three Michigan-Ontario crossings with 12 traffic lanes (Ambassador 4, DW Tunnel 2, Blue Water 6) can comfortably handle 100,000 to 120,000 vehicles/day. They presently have less than 50,000.
Now extra bridge capacity may one day be warranted, but there would have to be many years of strong sustained growth in traffic to go above the 100,000 of present comfortable capacity.
So even if there may, in the future, be a case for a new bridge, it's many years off, at best. There is absolutely no urgency. The prudent policy now will be to focus on problems and look dispassionately at the most cost-effective ways of solving them - while holding the grand new bridge plans in reserve for use in 10 or 15 years perhaps.
Supporters of a new bridge say the Ambassador Bridge is a "monopoly." That's using the word monopoly as an ideological attack word. Its use here is political demagoguery and vilification, and flies in the face of facts. The facts are that the Ambassador Bridge has one competitor just under 2 miles away in the Detroit Windsor Tunnel. They compete for car and bus traffic.
Between them they average a modest 22.8k cars/day, 12.7k using the bridge, 10.1k the tunnel, or a split of 56%/44%. Similar for buses, motorbikes etc. There's competition and a choice, no monopoly.
But the Tunnel is not suitable for heavy trucks.
In that category the Ambassador Bridge faces competition from the Blue Water Bridge 55 miles to the northeast. For trips east of London Ontario where Highways 401 and 402 meet, the Blue Water Bridge is very competitive with the Ambassador Bridge. Chicago-Toronto/Montreal trucks often prefer the Blue Water Bridge.
For Indiana/Ohio to Toronto/Montreal the Ambassador is more direct than the Blue Water, but the difference isn't great.
Toronto/Montreal traffic ending trips at Troy or Warren, northern suburbs of the Detroit area are better off taking the Blue Water, but Dearborn, Ann Arbor and southern parts of the Detroit metro area go more directly to London via the Ambassador bridge.
Again there IS competition.
Only in very short trips for heavy trucks to the Windsor area directly across the river from Detroit is it true there's little alternative to the Ambassador Bridge. There is a truck ferry and a rail tunnel but their traffic is minor by comparison with the two highway bridges.
Windsor is a small part of Canada.
Overall the Blue Water Bridge does about 4,000 heavy trucks a day to the Ambassador Bridge's 7,200, a split about 65% Ambassador to 35% its Blue Water rival. No monopoly there either, just modest volumes of traffic shared between two operators, one private, the other bi-government owned.
An excess of hatred
When critics base their arguments on misrepresentation and vilification you have to think they lack the evidence for a rational case. Many of them seem extraordinarily emotional in their dislike of the Moroun family, the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, and driven by a determination to bring them down.
Such hatred is hard for an outsider to understand. The Morouns are indeed spending a lot of money on Proposal 6, especially on TV ads. I don't much like political TV ads myself but the Morouns are exercising their 1st Amendment rights. And they have a right to defend their business against the threat of government subsidized competition.
Of course they are self-interested (what business or person isn't?) but the Morouns' self-interest in thwarting government subsidized competition happens to coincide with the interest of taxpayers who will bear the financial burden of government subsidies if an unneeded multi-billion dollar bridge is built.
Michigan media political monopoly
The Michigan media is almost totally against Proposal 6. It has been pathetically unprofessional in its misreporting of the issues and has allowed itself to be a channel for uncontested nonsense and malice day after day for months now.
The Moroun-haters hate so bitterly they have made mostly absurd arguments against Proposal 6, but these arguments have been presented uncritically in a politically monolithic Michigan media.
And with extraordinary hatred.
Hatred never produces good public policy.
The gross excess of hatred against The People Should Decide's proposal is itself a strong argument for voting in favor of Six - editor.
The text of Proposal 6:
The People Should Decide:
The pro-bridge lobby:
MOTORCITY PARANOIA: since this was published I've had a number of emails and telephone calls suggesting I'm one of Matty Moroun's "hounds" (see cartoon) that somehow the article wouldn't have appeared without the bridge company's prompting, one claiming he "knew" the traffic data in the tables above was prepared for me by bridge company employees.
Now I make no apology for accepting help from absolutely anyone including people at the Ambassador Bridge company in getting data or background materials or opinions or history or pictures, whatever, for articles in TOLLROADSnews. Many people provide valuable help usually without acknowledgment. And I welcome all prompts, tips and suggestions. And corrections.
For this article. however the fact is that it was in no way prompted or solicited by anyone, not at the bridge company or elsewhere, and I sought and got no assistance from the bridge company in writing it.
The data for the Michigan-Ontario traffic was gotten by me from the Public Border Operators Association's reporting of monthly and year-to traffic at the ten or so leading US-Canada toll border crossings.
The comparables data was obtained by me going to the latest annual reports of the various toll authorities who report annual transactions. I used an Excel spreadsheet to /182.5 for one-way tolling transactions to obtain average daily traffic and /365 for 2-way tolling transactions.
As for the lane numbers for the bridges, when I don't know them, I check by zooming in on satellite mode with Google Maps and counting the lanes - editor.
PS Looking down the cartoonist's list of Matty's hounds I'd like to be classified a "rabid wolfdog." Nov 2, 20:00