Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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Editorial: Don’t neglect the Blue Water Bridge

by Candice Miller on April 7, 2014

April 7, 2014 at 1:33 am


From The Detroit News:

When it comes to major spans from Michigan to Canada, Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge and the anticipated New International Trade Crossing get most of the attention. But the state’s other main gateway in Port Huron has waited for more than a decade for funding to complete a customs and border plaza.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Shelby Township, has a new idea to get the plaza finished. She is proposing a public-private partnership to speed the process.

It seems like a worthy project; according to state data, the Blue Water Bridge gets an average of 14,000 vehicles per day.

Throughout her years in Congress, Miller has tried to obtain funding to complete the plaza on the U.S. side of the bridge. The estimated cost of the finishing the work is about $165 million, but Congress hasn’t budgeted the money.

 The project, however, has been shovel ready for more than a decade.

Miller’s alternative warrants support from Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers.

The congresswoman thinks a public-private partnership could translate into savings as well. Such partnerships involve a private business participating in the construction of a public project with help from state and federal governments.

Miller says she doesn’t have specifics on a partnership for the plaza but suggests a private company could build and operate the facility and get reimbursed with part of the bridge tolls.

The idea is plausible because the tolls offer a steady revenue stream that could be used to pay back a private contractor.

The plaza project is not new. Millions of dollars have been spent on the condemnation and demolition of numerous homes and businesses. The 50-acre site is vacant and in the hands the Michigan Department of Transportation.

With some state funds and even just federal loan guarantees, a partnership could work.

Michigan would not be breaking any new ground. More than two dozen states have enacted legislation supporting similar efforts.

An example of a successful project involves construction of 14 miles of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes in Virginia, near Washington, D.C. The $3 billion project is credited with reducing congestion around the nation’s capital. The toll lanes were constructed by a private company, which is collecting the fees as reimbursement.

Michigan has not been very active in public-private partnerships, although Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Snyder, says he generally supports them.

Miller recently was named to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Public-Private Partnerships Special Panel. The panel is conducting informal hearings on the concept and hopes to make them part of a five-year transportation plan for the nation’s roads and bridges.

“This is a critical time for us to include things that are very creative,” Miller says. “There isn’t any country that has enough money to do the infrastructure work it needs.”

Funding for the plaza obviously isn’t a top federal budget priority. And competition from other projects continues to increase nationally.

A public-private partnership may be the best way to get this plaza project completed.

From The Detroit News:

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