Snyder waiting to pitch Michigan projects to Trump

Chad Livengood
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder hopes to get time to pitch President-elect Donald Trump on the nation’s need for a new shipping channel at the Soo Locks and a customs plaza for a new Detroit River bridge to Canada.

Snyder said those major infrastructure projects are two big initiatives he hopes to work with Trump on after striking out for funding with President Barack Obama’s administration.

“The one in particular I’d like to get in front of the new administration is the need for a new lock at the Soo Locks,” Snyder said this week in a wide-ranging interview with The Detroit News. “That’s a serious national security issue.”

Snyder, who has two more years in office, said he’s hopeful Trump will partner with him on the projects since the president-elect made infrastructure investment a platform of his candidacy.

But Snyder never embraced Trump’s candidacy — a snub that apparently isn’t lost on the next president.

“It would have been nice if I had a little help from your governor,” said Trump in a swipe at Snyder during his Dec. 9 “thank you” tour rally in Grand Rapids.

Snyder acknowledged this week he hasn’t been able to speak with Trump yet since the Nov. 8 election.

But the governor has been in “regular contact” with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the outgoing governor of Indiana, Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.

Snyder’s relationship with Trump will be closely watched heading into the New Year since the new president placed so much emphasis on reversing a decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs in Michigan and other Rust Belt states.

“I think Snyder is well down the list of callbacks for Donald Trump,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “I don’t think (Trump’s) going to do Snyder any favors.”

Close ties to Pence

Snyder has downplayed the significance of his neutrality in the presidential election between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The governor, instead, focused his campaign energy and capital on helping Republicans retain their control of the Michigan House of Representatives — ensuring all eight years of his time in office will be under GOP control of the Legislature.

Snyder routinely steered clear of presidential politics this fall, even declining to reveal to reporters on Election Day if he voted for Trump.

But in an interview this week, Snyder sounded hopeful about Trump’s presidency, saying it represents “an opportunity to see the federal government start functioning more effectively.”

Snyder wants to work with the Trump administration on streamlining federal workforce development and job training programs.

And despite sitting out the campaign, Snyder intends to toast the new president.

Snyder plans to attend Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration with first lady Sue Snyder, as well as the inaugural ball for the 45th president, Heaton said.

“I hopefully can build a good relationship with the president-elect,” Snyder said. “But in particular, one person I have had a real good relationship (with) is the vice president-elect.”

Snyder described Pence as a “close friend.” The two governors of neighboring states have worked together on regional issues, including problems facing the Great Lakes.

It’s that connection to a fellow Midwest governor serving in the White House that Snyder hopes would lead to a partnership with the new administration.

Michigan’s congressional delegation has been trying for years to secure an estimated $500 million needed to build a new lock at the Soo Locks to handle 1,000-foot Great Lakes freighters that transport much of the nation’s iron ore.

Snyder echoed concerns of manufacturers, the shipping industry and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report that a failure of the aging 48-year-old Poe Lock could be “devastating” to the national economy.

“I mean, literally you wouldn’t be able to build a car in this country, and soon after that (you couldn’t manufacture) appliances and even cans,” Snyder said.

Bridging the funding gap

Snyder also may have to lean on the Trump administration to complete one of his legacies.

Since taking office in 2011, Snyder has worked with Canadian officials on their quest to build a new Detroit River bridge downstream from the 89-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which is owned by billionaire trucking mogul Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

Snyder’s efforts to get a second bridge over the river has been met with resistance from fellow Republicans in Congress and the Legislature who have expressed concerns about a publicly owned bridge competing for lucrative truck traffic with Moroun’s privately held bridge.

Canada has committed to paying for construction of the bridge, which was last estimated to cost $2.1 billion. The unbuilt span has been named the Gordie Howe International Bridge after the late Detroit Red Wings legend.

Snyder has been trying for several years to get the federal government to fund construction of a $250 million customs plaza in southwest Detroit’s Delray neighborhood to inspect and process vehicles entering the U.S.

To break the stalemate in Washington, Canada agreed in February 2015 to front the cost of the plaza on both sides of the border — and the federal government will pay to staff the facility.

But Snyder hasn’t given up on getting the federal government to pay for a facility it would run, instead of adding it to Canada’s cost to finance construction of the international crossing.

With Obama leaving office next month, Snyder will have to restart his pitch for federal funding for the customs plaza with the incoming Trump administration.

“There’s an opportunity to explain protecting our borders and the benefits of having good commerce and customs work,” Snyder said.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood