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New ads on Canada bridge carry same old problem, Truth Squad rules

MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Multiple ads on bridge question

Who: The People Should Decide
What: Television ads
Truth Squad call: Flagrant foul

Questionable statement: “The bridge to Canada. $500 million just in interest payments. And with hidden costs — up to $8 billion.”

The source of these claims is an Aug. 12 study commissioned by the Detroit International Bridge Co., owned by Manuel “Matty” Moroun. Moroun interests are spending millions of dollars on ads in an attempt to scuttle the proposed New International Trade Crossing bridge linking Detroit and Windsor.

A Moroun-financed ballot proposal group, The People Should Decide, released an executive summary of that study, performed by O’Keefe & Associates of Bloomfield Hills.

The summary doesn’t explain the $500 million in interest payments or who is responsible for making them. It projects that Canada could still owe $360 million on bridge construction by 2065 and that cost overruns could push the cost of the bridge, now estimated at $2.1 billion, to as much as $8.6 billion.

Although a June 15 agreement between Michigan and Canada to build the bridge  calls for Canada to pay the entire cost of the bridge, including Michigan’s $550 million share for building a connection to the bridge from Interstate 75, the O'Keefe report warns that Michigan taxpayers should be wary of getting a “free lunch” and that the project should be scrutinized for potential “hidden costs.”

Questionable statement: “But the real price isn’t just in dollars. It’s what we’re giving up: high quality teachers for our kids; more cops on the beat; firefighters and EMTs; reduced pension taxes for seniors. Real cuts hurting real people.”

Michigan isn’t giving up anything because Canada is responsible for the cost of the bridge. The claim that there will be “reduced pension taxes for seniors” makes no sense. This appears to be some sort of a scare tactic, warning seniors that their financial security is somehow threatened by building the bridge.

Questionable statement: “Rick Snyder wants his bridge to Canada so much, he keeps claiming it’s free. But he’s not telling you government studies show with traffic down, there’s no justification for it.”

Traffic declined on the bridge during the past decade, mainly because of the severe, decade-long economic recession Michigan endured in the 2000s.

But traffic has been rising since a low point in 2009, according to data collected by the Public Border Operators Association. Ambassador Bridge traffic has risen from 6,494,620 cars and trucks in 2009 to 7,252,916 vehicles in 2011, an 11.67 percent increase.

The 2011 total of 7.25 million was still well below the 2006 number of 9.68 million, however.

Ambassador Bridge traffic was up 3.18 percent through the end of June from the same period a year ago.

Questionable statement: “Rick Snyder wants his bridge to Canada so much, he keeps claiming it’s free. But he’s not telling you that a government study said it could cost up to $6 billion.”

The ad cites a 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers study done for several federal, Michigan and Canadian government agencies in this claim. The study did say that total bridge costs could be as much as $6 billion, but said the project would “most likely be in the range of up to $3 billion.”

Questionable statement: “But last year alone Canada dumped 7 million cubic yards of trash in Michigan landfills. His bridge will bring in even more trash from Canada.”

This is speculation not supported by recent statistics. In 2006, Michigan’s U.S. senators, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, won an agreement with the province of Ontario to end the shipment of municipal trash by the end of 2010.

Overall, shipments of Canadian trash from all sources fell 20 percent in fiscal 2011, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ said it expected the volume of Canadian trash to fall again this year.

Questionable statement: “But he’s not telling you Michigan will owe Canada millions in interest and they’ll own the bridge.”

Once again, a June 15 agreement between Michigan and Canada says Canada will be responsible for all of the bridge project’s costs. Toll revenue is expected to pay for the bridge’s construction and operational costs. But Canada is obligated to pay for any shortfalls and will own the bridge.

Questionable statement: “But what about the millions a year in tolls that bridges in Michigan like the Blue Water will lose?”

Total revenues generated by the Blue Water Bridge connecting Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario, nearly doubled between 2002 and 2011, from $11.5 million to $21.9 million in raw numbers, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation. Adjusted for inflation, the increase is about 68 percent.

A presidential permit application for the NITC bridge filed in June by the state of Michigan offered a range of revenue estimates for the Blue Water Bridge, all of which show bridge revenues rising by 2035.

The application also said the state does not have enough detailed financial information about the Ambassador Bridge to determine if its viability is threatened by construction of the NITC bridge.

Questionable statement: “Rick Snyder says Canada will pay for his bridge, but Canada won’t. Listen to the Transport Minister: ‘How much money are we going to pay for the new Windsor bridge? Zero taxpayer dollars.’”

Then-Transport Minister Chuck Strahl made the statement during a session of Parliament on March 23, 2011. His statement is taken out of context. He later went on to say that no taxpayer dollars would be used because the bridge would be a “P3 project,” or public-private partnership.

Under the June 15 agreement signed by Snyder and Canadian officials, a joint Michigan-Canada authority will be established to build and operate the bridge. Tolls paid to Canada are expected to pay for those costs, but Canada is responsible for any shortfalls.

Overall impression: Nearly every claim made in these ads is a distortion, exaggeration or a twisting of facts.

Moroun wants to maintain his near monopoly on serving traffic traveling between Detroit and Windsor via the Ambassador Bridge. His blizzard of television ads shows he will not let facts and fair play get in his way.

Foul or no foul: Flagrant foul. The Moroun camp continues to throw out figures and scenarios without sufficient evidence to back them. The Michigan-Canada agreement calls for Canada to cover bridge costs, even cost over-runs, utilizing revenue from the bridge itself. If that revenue falls short, Canada is pledged to cover the gap. The claims about Michigan giving up police, teachers and firefighters lack any visible basis. The ad questions traffic counts on border crossings, yet fails to mention that traffic on the Ambassador Bridge and other links is up in recent years. No evidence is provided for the claim that more Canadian trash is headed to Michigan; existing evidence points to the exact opposite.

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