One way to pay for a new Grosse Ile bridge? Win the lottery

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Grosse Ile — Scammers tend to follow lottery jackpots the way seagulls follow tuna boats, but honest: Kyle de Beausset doesn't want to sell you a bridge.

He wants to buy a new one, for about $100 million.

All he and his associates need to do first is cash the winning ticket in Friday's $970 million Mega Millions drawing, a simple matter of beating odds of 302 million to 1. What they will do with the remaining $870 million, besides pay taxes, is up to each lucky bettor in their lottery pool.

"The idea behind this is to get past the frustration a little bit," de Beausset said. "Vent a little bit. Dream a bit."

De Beausset, 34, is the point man for a loosely organized project called Fix Our Bridge, as in the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, as in the free bridge to the island township of 10,000-plus residents who would just as soon not pay tolls or row a boat to get to and from their homes.

The Wayne County free bridge connecting Grosse Ile to the mainland has been closed for repairs since May.

The free bridge has been closed for repairs since May, and while a fresh estimate from the county for reopening it is this fall, de Beausset and friends are not betting on it.

Short-term, they are betting on the third-largest lottery prize in US history, mostly through a PayPal portal at that's open to all and was set to close at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

After wagering on Tuesday's Mega Millions and Wednesday's Powerball drawings, they've won $77, which puts them a bit short of replacing the former railway bridge that opened to vehicle traffic in 1932. The $77 will be rolled into Friday's drawing.

They've also raised more than $100 for the Grosse Ile Goodfellows by donating 10% of the ticket-buying pot, de Beausset said, "And made the lady behind the counter at the Mobil station freeze."

It turned out she wasn't equipped to punch 500-plus lottery tickets and put the tab on his debit card. The island's Kroger store was more flexible, though possibly with regrets, he said: "It took at least 20 minutes to print out all the tickets."

The lottery pool is a spinoff from a Facebook group called Grosse Ile Now where complaints have flowed like the Trenton Channel since an inspection in October found previously unseen problems with the bridge's stanchions.

That delayed the scheduled November reopening, forced more traffic onto the toll bridge at the north end of the island, added as much as 30 minutes to commutes, and siphoned hundreds of dollars per month from some residents' bank accounts during a pandemic.

The good news, pending Friday night's potentially great news, is that "We're close to signing a contract with an engineering firm to fix the bridge," said Bill Nowling, a spokesman for the county executive's office. "We want to get the engineering work done while it's winter and we can't do anything on the bridge."

Nowling said the repairs would likely cost $10 million to $15 million and would keep the bridge viable for 30 years — though as de Beausset couldn't help but point out, 30 years was also the estimate after a 7½-month closure for a deck replacement in 2007.

It would be better, de Beausset suggested, to race into a state department of transportation meeting whooping and waving a $100 million check for a new span.

Nowling said he's not aware of a process for a private donation to pay for a massive public works project, "But if there's not, we'll find one."

As for de Beausset, an eighth-generation islander, he wondered if perhaps the state would thank everyone in the lottery pool by giving them a break on their taxes.

Then he laughed. Winning the lottery is one thing, but some notions are just too far-fetched.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn