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Look beyond the numbers to truth about bridge


There’s more to the story than was reported in the Advocate Monday in a column by Matthew Johnston, president and CEO of Enquirica Research.

The article Sending our money east is an accurate reporting of the company’s poll, based on the questions they asked. But I am skeptical of the poll’s accuracy in its reporting of opinions of Albertans who are more fully informed.

In short, both the poll and article attempt to convince us that our federal government is taking Albertans’ hard-earned incomes to build a bridge project that competes directly with a privately-owned bridge business. In Alberta, them’s fightin’ words.

But the premise is not quite true.

The Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich., was built in 1927, with taxpayers’ money, of course. Many years later, when we all woke up to the fact that private enterprise can do everything better (including ownership of the world’s busiest international trade nexus), the bridge came into the ownership of Matty Moroun, who also owns a whole lot of other things.

That bridge carries a quarter of all Canada-U.S. trade. Not just trade in goods, but trade, period; $120 billion worth, last year. It’s a constant stream of heavy trucks paying tolls to Moroun, going both ways.

The builders of the bridge in the 1920s could not have envisioned the changes to occur on either end of the project. The route has no easy access to customs offices, and its approach runs through 16 traffic lights, straight through downtown Windsor.

In Red Deer, we don’t even like the noise of our own transit buses. How would you like hundreds of diesel trucks an hour, 24/7, through our downtown?

Johnston’s article points to a downturn in traffic on the bridge in past years, in tandem with a downturn in the auto industry. Coincidence? Try in tandem with traffic congestion at both ends on this aging chokepoint. By the way, long-term plans aim to ban heavy truck traffic through Detroit’s downtown zone by 2020. (Wonder which citizen ratepayers group got that one going?)

Both Canada and the province of Ontario, plus the states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, along with their major manufacturers and associated unions, back a proposal for a six-lane bridge 3.2 km west, away from the cities’ downtown cores, direct freeway-to-freeway, with dedicated lanes for pre-screened traffic and quick access to customs offices.

Detroit’s broke. So is Michigan. But cross-border trade is still expected to rise, despite the current U.S. economic downturn. Almost a quarter million jobs rely on this trade in Michigan alone, never mind the other states and in Canada.

The current bridge infrastructure cannot handle the traffic and its current owner has proven, well, hard to work with.

So Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder that we’ll put up $550 million to build the bridge, plus $1.5 billion for connecting roadwork on the Canadian side, if Michigan will waive the “buy American” rules and allow both Canadian and American labour and materials for the project. We’re talking up to 15,000 construction jobs, plus opportunities to sell a whole lot of steelwork.

The government of Canada would collect tolls on the bridge to recover the investment (putting us in direct competition with Moroun), and for all we can foresee, in due time a future clone of Harper will probably deed the bridge to a Canadian billionaire, to run it “better.”

Hwy 63 to Fort McMurray, which desperately needs a fast-tracked upgrade, is not connected to this bridge, despite what Johnston and the wording of his polling questions might have you believe.

The Huffington Post put up a poll of its own on Proposition Six, which is a question on today’s presidential election ballot in Michigan. It proposes that no bridge, tunnel between the state and Canada should be considered without direct voter approval.

You can’t participate in the Huffington Post poll until you first give an opinion, and then read the arguments for and against the proposed bridge project, and then vote again.

Canada’s side (against the proposition) was argued by ambassador Gary Doer, the pro side being argued by Mickey Blashfield, director of the group called The People Should Decide.

When informed of the arguments, voter opposition to Proposition Six grew from 75 per cent to 82 per cent. Now, which poll do you trust more?

Follow Greg Neiman’s blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

 
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