A reader writes in to dissent from a recently column arguing that tea party groups are responsible for the inability to build a new a bridge to connect America to Canada:
There's a better story about government dysfunction than the one that David Frum told in the National Post, and it involves the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge.
Ownership of the Ambassador Bridge crossing changed hands a little over three decades ago, after a hard fought battle between the successful bidder and an obscure little company called Berkshire Hathaway. The Trudeau Government objected to the sale on principal, believing that all international crossings should be publicly owned and maintained. The Canadian Government attempted to block the sale in Canadian courts but was fought to an effective stalemate by the new owner. In settling out of court, Canada recognized the new owner's ongoing right to continue operating a border crossing in Windsor
These early legal battles subsequently gave way to a protracted cold war between the parties, with successive provincial and federal governments doing their level best to syphon away business from the Bridge. Over the past three decades, the owners of the Bridge had often called for a proper highway connection to be built to their crossing, but these pleas fell on deaf bureaucratic and political ears.
Instead, Ontario would build Highway 402 right to the State-owned bridge in Sarnia-Port Huron. Both levels of government would partner with their American counterparts in adding a second span to that crossing. They would subsidize the artificially low rates at this crossing and give it all of the advantages and improvements that tax dollars could provide.
Keep in mind that a truck departing Toronto for Chicago (and all points south or west) can use either of the Windsor or Sarnia crossings. There's no difference in mileage. One would therefore assume, given all of the advantages continually lavished upon it, that the Sarnia Port Huron crossing would have long since become the number one crossing. Yet... the Ambassador Bridge has always kept its crown as the most-used crossing, by far, between the two countries.
For some crazy reason it would appear that a profit-maximizing private enterprise is just better able to provide border crossing services than a State-owned outfit. (Even with the deck seemingly stacked in the latter's favour.)
Now... about the arguments you briefly mentioned in favour of a new, State-owned crossing in Windsor-Detroit:
1. Just as many jobs can be generated by the construction of a new span beside the existing Ambassador Bridge as could be generated by a new State-owned crossing.
2. News reports indicate that Ambassador Bridge's owners are prepared to fund the construction of a new span entirely through their own resources and through the issuance of bonds.
3. From where I sit, as a Canadian taxpayer, I think it's a hell of a lot more dysfunctional for my taxes to be spent on building half a bridge in a foreign country (which just so happens to be the richest country in the world) when a private company has already indicated its express desire to use private financing to improve an existing crossing nearby.
4. As for the disgorgement mentioned in your column, a viable alternative still exists. I've attached a couple of screen shots taken from Google Maps. You can see how the 401 merges with old Highway 3 and then turns northwest towards the bridge (first on Talbot Road and then merging with Huron Church Road). The part between the end of the 401 and the EC Row expressway is already in the process of being re-graded and expanded.
Rather than continuing along the path directly to the bridge, please take a quick left turn on the EC Row expressway and head a little over 1km over to the Ojibway Parkway. Right there you'll see an old rail spur. Follow it north, just about the same distance, and you'll find yourself right at the foot of the bridge plaza. That's the route that was proposed by the Bridge folks, along with all of the usual sorts of studies.
So it turns out, there actually is a very easy way to connect the 401 with the Bridge! It's just that it would be a cold day in hell before federal or provincial officials would support it. They want their own shiny new legacy project instead, courtesy of taxes appropriated from their fellow citizens.
5. And, finally, I note your observation about how the proposals for building a second span beside the existing bridge have apparently gone nowhere. Gee, I wonder how that could have happened? Could it be that the same bureaucrats in Toronto and Ottawa who are ideologically opposed to private ownership of transboundary infrastructure might be dragging their heels just a little bit in terms of granting the necessary approvals to proceed (ditto DC, to a lesser extent)? And that they might be fast-tracking their competing pet project at the very same time?
In this regard I give you exhibit 'A' - the portended demise of a couple of snakes. It appears that Ontario bureaucrats did not plan to let a little thing like the provincial Endangered Species Act get in the way of their proposed new roadbed to the new crossing, and its proposed plaza. Whereas no snakes would be killed in the erection of a second span beside the existing Ambassador Bridge, apparently a few entire sub-species of our slivery friends could be wiped out if the new Bridge just announced by Prime Minister Harper and Governor Snyder comes into existence.
Of course the very fact that a Canadian PM would be making the announcement with a state governor, rather than with his equal (i.e. President Obama) tells you something funny is going on here. That the Federal Government of Canada would actually be prepared to front the State Government of Michigan for the entirety of its share of the costs of building a new bridge tells you that something was already very wrong with this picture. The snakes will just be collateral damage. The real target is the very idea of private sector ownership of infrastructure - and that certainly is an issue near and dear to the hearts of Tea Party members!