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Published: Monday, 4/25/2011

Don't risk the roads

Anyone who has driven recently on Michigan roads -- especially close to the Ohio border -- knows that the cash-strapped state needs all the federal highway help it can get. A proposal to build a badly needed new bridge over the Detroit River can fix Michigan roads too. State lawmakers should embrace that prospect, not subvert it.

One of Gov. Rick Snyder's first acts in office was a political masterstroke. He got Washington to agree to count $550 million from Canada as matching funds to generate U.S. highway aid to Michigan. Ottawa is offering the money to cover Michigan's costs for a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Michigan taxpayers would reap two sets of rewards without having to spend a cent. Incredibly, some of the governor's fellow Republicans in the Legislature seem determined to screw up the deal.

Manuel Moroun, the owner of the aging Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, is desperate to preserve his monopoly. He has donated heavily to legislative campaigns. That investment has paid off: Two legislative committees voted to reject part of the governor's transportation budget that uses some of the Canadian funds.

Instead, lawmakers want to come up with the road-money match by slashing aid to already under-funded bus service and by using "toll credits" Mr. Moroun claims he can trade for federal dollars. This plan is outrageously stupid.

Nobody knows whether federal officials would count such dubious credits toward highway funding. Even if they did, Mr. Moroun's credits would amount to half, at most, of the money that is available from Canada. And his help, of course, comes with strings attached.

To his credit, Governor Snyder has said it is time to stop stalling and build the new bridge. That would be done mainly with private money and create thousands of high-paying construction jobs.

Canada has made clear it will never allow Mr. Moroun to build the second span to Windsor he talks about. In any event, it is not clear why lawmakers would take risks with guaranteed and badly needed federal highway money.

GOP-majority lawmakers say they support Mr. Snyder's plan to attract business to Michigan. If they mean what they say, they need to step up and take off their ideological blinders.

Jobs won't come to a state whose bridges are crumbling, whose roads are turning to gravel, and whose manufacturing economy depends heavily on one creaky, ancient bridge to carry billions of dollars' worth of trade with Canada each year -- for which there is now no backup at all.



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