Criss-Crossing: US Senator introduces bridge regulatory bill

DETROIT — The owner and operators of the Ambassador Bridge may feel like they’re being pulled at both ends these days, as a U.S. Senator has tabled a bill similar to proposed Canadian legislation which would attempt to give the government more control of international border crossings.

Last week Senator Buzz Thomas introduced SB 1278 — the Michigan Border Development and Protection Authority Act — which would establish public port authorities to oversee and manage border crossings, including private spans like the Ambassador Bridge.

Fearing loss of control over international crossings, a
Michigan Senator hopes to legislate more gov’t oversight.

The authority would be made up of executives from Michigan economic development, the state transportation department and state police; as well as residents appointed by the senate and individuals representing commerce, transportation and border operators.

They would have the authority to advise the governor and appropriate state agencies on methods, proposals, programs, and initiatives involving the Michigan-Canada border and perform various transportation and traffic studies for border programs.

More importantly, the Act also gives the authority the power to regulate tolls (and levy additional fees on vehicles), regardless if the bridge is private or public. It would enforce all applicable state and federal hazardous waste transport regulations related to border crossings “through the Michigan state police or the appropriate agency” and require local governments’ building inspection officials to perform annual inspections of border crossings to ensure structural safety.

Last month the Windsor Star discovered that Ambassador officials were asking bridge employees to wave through trucks carrying hazardous materials despite a U.S. ban. Hazmat trucks must cross the Detroit River via the Windsor-Detroit Ferry or at the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia-Port Huron. Today’s Trucking subsequently reported that U.S. Homeland Security officials are investigating the matter.

The private Ambassador Bridge has fought government
intervention in court in the past — and won.

Critics have long complained that the Ambassador — owned by Grosse Pointe, Mich. trucking mogul Matty Moroun — operates with too much autonomy. The bridge currently has unfettered rights to restrict anyone from the crossing, including law enforcement and safety officials.

Furthermore, the authority would have the final word on any new port of entry constructed in the state, including the new border approved by a binational selection committee and scheduled for construction in southwest Windsor and Detroit by 2013. Both government and private interests are currently jostling for control of the crossing.

In determining whether to approve construction of the new bridge, the authority would have to study the potential effect of the border crossing on the economy of the region, the environment and traffic congestion, among other factors.

Border operators under the legislation would also have to apply for an annual permit. In order to renew a crossing permit, the entity would have to provide information related to its activities such as finances, performance, inspection reports, and local traffic impacts of the crossing. Operators could be subject to fines up to $25,000 a day for not complying with the rules.

The proposal’s language is slightly more detailed than a similar House Bill introduced last year by two Michigan politicians. Under that legislation, which is sitting in the Commerce Committee, a publicly created group called the Detroit River Border Authority would oversee the construction and operation of a new border crossing and oversee operations on current crossings in the state.

In April, the Canadian Conservative government introduced legislation that mirrors a bill proposed earlier by MPP Brian Masse, which would provide the governor-in-council the authority to approve or veto the construction or alteration of international bridges and tunnels, and to “develop regulations pertaining to the governance, maintenance, safety, security and operation.”
The proposal would also permit the feds to rule on any sales or transfers affecting the ownership of international bridges and tunnels.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.