Snyder Could Bypass Legislature On Bridge

As reported by MIRS:

Snyder Could Bypass Legislature On Bridge
Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY hinted on Thursday that a new Detroit-Windsor bridge might not have to go through the Legislature, saying there was a "half-dozen" ways to do the project. (See "Calley: Ambassador Bridge Info A 'Bunch of Garbage,'" 8/4/11). It's a statement a former Department of Transportation (MDOT) administrator confirmed to MIRS.

"I don't think there's anything in the Constitution or any law that gives the Legislature the right to program individual projects," said Gerald McCARTHY a transportation consultant who spent 36 years at MDOT and is in the department's hall of fame. "I think that's left to the Highway Commission (MDOT)."

He said that the Legislature does appropriate state money. The Canadian government has offered to put up $550 million, which the federal government has said can be used for highway matching funds.

"But if there's some way to build (the bridge) with only using federal funds, the state Legislature doesn't have control," McCarthy said.

MIRS asked if this could be Gov. Rick SNYDER's ace in the hole on the bridge, in case he can't rustle up enough votes to authorize the public-private partnership.

"Absolutely," McCarthy said.

Last year, MDOT Director Kirk STEUDLE expressed confidence that the bridge would eventually be built, whether the Legislature gave the OK or not (See "Steudle: DRIC 'Going To Happen At Some Point,'" 5/14/10).

A Senate GOP source confirmed to MIRS that they've heard that Snyder might be looking to do an end run around the Legislature.

"To be honest with you, that's the only way I see this getting done," a former Gov. John ENGLER official told MIRS.

Another alternative to passing bridge legislation could be to rewrite the State Trunkline Act (Public Act 51 under Engler), the official said, to give MDOT more authority over the bridge in exchange for other road funding reforms (See "Focus On State Trunklines Could Help Road Funding Woes," 8/1/11).

Another source who follows transportation issues notes that taking an executive branch approach to the bridge could be tested in the courts.

The Legislature does have the ability to set restrictions on transportation funds, the source said, like stipulating that the new bridge can't be built with that funding -- something that's been part of recent MDOT budgets. But once the money is appropriated, then it's up to the administration to choose projects to spend it on.

The source said that MDOT probably can form an agreement with the province of Ontario on a bridge. One sticking point could be selling bonds to finance the bridge. MDOT doesn't have the authority to sell bonds by pledging toll money without the Legislature, the source said.

However, if MDOT defers to the private company in the public-private partnership, and allows the business to sell bonds, that could be a way around the Legislature.

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