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In Michigan, showdown looms over plan to build bridge to Canada

The forces are gathering for a final showdown on whether to build a new publicly owned bridge between Detroit and Canada.

On one side, Gov. Rick Snyder's staffers are helping to craft legislation to be introduced later this month to authorize creation of public authorities to build the bridge, now known as the New International Trade Crossing project. Separate Michigan and Ontario authorities would hire a private contractor to build and operate the bridge.

And the governor's team is upping the ante to win over reluctant legislators.

The governor's office already announced in January that the federal government would count Canada's $550-million advance payment to pay to connect the bridge to expressways on the Detroit side of the border as a local match for federal highway funding for Michigan.

Now Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says that the feds confirmed last week that they will count Michigan's $475 million of the bridge construction costs as a further match.

Since the federal government normally provides 80% of local highway funding, the combined $1.025 billion could translate into billions of dollars in new federal highway aid for a state that has been unable to pay for all the road upkeep it needs.

"What this does, it assures us for many years in the future that we're going to be able to be hit that federal maximum," Calley said.

But Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun is lining up his big guns to stop a publicly owned bridge that will compete with his privately owned span.

Moroun has hired Fox News conservative commentator Dick Morris as a spokesman for the project, and he has launched a series of ads claiming that the publicly owned bridge would cost Michigan taxpayers $100 million a year to cover shortfalls in operating costs.

Snyder's team disputes Moroun's claim. Officials say there is no way that the public authorities would be able to tap the state's treasury.

Asked about the bridge company's assertions that the new bridge would cost Michigan taxpayers millions, Calley said, "It's a free country, and we have freedom of speech and people can say whatever they want, even if it's not true."

Legislation to authorize creation of a public authority to build and operate the bridge died in the Republican-controlled state Senate last year.

Calley said the legislation now being written will find more favor with lawmakers, in part because it's confined to this single project.

"The Legislature can take some comfort in that this isn't a wide-open new authority granted. It's for a single project at a single location," Calley said.

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