4 things to know about Proposal 6: The bridge vote

Oct 12, 2012

Proposal 6 was introduced by the owner of Detroit's Ambassador Bridge as a direct reply to the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

The new bridge was first proposed in 2004, after a long-term study highlighting the need for a new crossing was commissioned by the Border Transportation Partnership--a coalition of Canadian and American transportation authorities.

It would be sited two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge and would connect directly to the Canadian highway.

The bridge is expected to shorten wait times for commercial traffic, thereby encouraging international trade and saving money that would be otherwise lost through delays.

Total costs of the project have been estimated at $2.2 billion. The Canadian government has twice offered to provide the $550 million to cover Michigan’s costs associated with the project.

Michigan’s state legislature has so far failed to move on the project.

In June 2012, citing his constitutional authority to enter into interlocal agreements, Governor Snyder signed a “Crossing Agreement” with the Canadian Minister of Transport to build the bridge.

What Proposal 6 does:

Proposal 6 would amend the state Constitution to require a statewide vote before Michigan constructs or finances new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles.

See Proposal 6 as it will appear on your ballot

And check out the full text of the amendment

What you should know:

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has done an analysis of all six ballot measures. The following "things to know" were gleaned from their report on Proposal 3.

The CRC is a non-partisan, non-profit, independent research group.

1) Canadians insist the bridge will cost Michigan nothing

As the CRC notes, potential costs to Michigan of the bridge project include "right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, surface street alignment, and connections with the I-75 freeway."

The Canadian government, though, has offered to cover these costs, to be recouped through tolls.

As mentioned in the CRC report, “the Canadian funding is intended to bring the State of Michigan’s financial exposure for the project to zero.”

Michigan Radio's Lester Graham reported on the bridge's cost earlier this year.

And the Canadians also insist these TV ads and what the Ambassador Bridge company owners are saying is just wrong.

“They keep saying it’s going to cost Michigan $100 million a year. It will cost Michigan zero dollars per year. Canada assumes the liability. And if tolls aren’t sufficient to pay the cost, Canadian taxpayers pay the shot,” said Canadian Counsel General-Detroit, Roy Norton.

An opinion piece by Ottawa writer Neil Reynolds in Canada's Globe and Mail puts it this way:

With literally free money...Canada has given the United States a 21st-century border crossing between Windsor and Detroit--"the most important border crossing on the planet.” Further, Michigan gets to count Canada’s surrogate funding as its own in qualifying for federal U.S. infrastructure money.

In metaphorical terms, Mr. Harper has thus given Michigan a first-class ticket for a global flight, “then thrown in the frequent-flier points.”

Why would a Canadian prime minister do this? Why would Canada front all the money, and incur all the risks, to build a bridge that seems more likely to boost Michigan’s economic prospects than Ontario’s?

The answer, according to Reynolds... it's the huge economic impact a new crossing would have on all of Canada.

2) The amendment would affect more than the NITC

Some worry that ambiguous language in the amendment could require a statewide vote not just for international crossings, but all bridge and tunnel projects initiated by state government.

From the CRC:

The proposal's language specifically defines "new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles" as "any (emphasis added) bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012..." Defining the term in such a manner could mean that all bridge and tunnel projects...will require statewide and municipal votes.

In other words, all current, as well as all future, bridge and tunnel projects in the state could require approval of state electors and voters in the municipalities where the projects are located at general elections. Obtaining these approvals would be nearly impossible and doing so in a timely manner would be out of the question.

3) The NITC could be built even if Proposal 6 passes

Canadian officials are confident the bridge will be built regardless of Proposal 6's outcome.

From CBC News:

Essex Conservative MP Jeff Watson said he isn't concerned about the more than 600,000 voters who signed the petition against the bridge.

"I don't think there is anything to doubt with respect to the new international crossing," said Watson. "I'm confident the bridge will proceed."

Watson said plans are still proceeding as scheduled and the government is seeking companies to design and build the $1-billion crossing.

If Proposal 6 passed, and the Snyder administration built the bridge without a vote, the issue would have to be resolved in the courts, says the CRC.

4) It's not Republicans vs. Democrats

Unlike other ballot proposals that seem to split along partisan lines, Proposal 6 has drawn the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike. Two Republican and two Democratic former governors have come out in opposition of the proposal.

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom

*Correction - An earlier version of this story said "Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has joined Governer Rick Snyder in opposition to the amendment." Mayor Bernero publicly joined Gov. Snyder in his opposition to Proposal 5. We attempted, but have yet to confirm Bernero's stance on Proposal 6.