Snyder’s list: New lock, customs plazas, sewer repairs

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder’s infrastructure aid wish list for President Donald Trump includes a customs plaza for the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, sewer line reconstruction at the Fraser sinkhole and a Flint-inspired push to replace lead service lines nationwide.

Snyder and other state governors eager for a share of Trump’s proposed 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan recently submitted priority projects to the National Governors Association, which transmitted a master list to the White House on Thursday.

Snyder’s recommendations, shared with The Detroit News, include federal funding for a Soo Locks modernization project in Sault Ste. Marie, an autonomous vehicle proving grounds in Ypsilanti, the long-delayed expansion of a customs plaza at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron and continued work on the QLine commuter rail system in Detroit.

The second-term Republican governor is also recommending a federal investment in the Brandon Road Lock and Dam project in Illinois to help keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes and a nationwide investment to expand high-speed broadband internet service.

“It is very encouraging to see President Trump working with governors from across the nation to identify investments in infrastructure that will have the most impact on ensuring a robust economy and a greater quality of life for residents,” Snyder said in a statement.

“This is one of the best working relationships Congress and a presidential administration have had with governors in a long time. Through this ongoing conversation, Michigan could see many positive results and I look forward to having further input as the process of identifying and funding infrastructure improvements moves forward.”

Trump pitched his $1 trillion infrastructure on the campaign trail, promising to rebuild the country’s roads, bridges, tunnels and airports with a combination of federal and private dollars.

But the first-term Republican president may face significant resistance in Congress, where GOP leaders have warned they are unlikely to sign off on the major spending initiative without first identifying offsetting spending cuts. Some skeptics have compared it to the $800 billion stimulus package passed in 2009 under then-President Barack Obama.

“I think the details are really important, but I hope what we clearly avoid — and I’m confident that we will — is a trillion-dollar stimulus that will take you back to 2009,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in December.

While Snyder did not endorse Trump in the presidential election, the Republican governor has touted his working relationship with Vice President Mike Pence as he begins to make inroads with the new administration. “It would have been nice if I had a little help from your governor,” Trump said during his Dec. 9 “thank you” tour rally in Grand Rapids.

Snyder’s office said Monday it was encouraged to hear that Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had discussed the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which would connect Detroit and Windsor.

Trump and Trudeau met for the first time Monday in Washington, D.C., and highlighted the project in a joint statement.

“Given our shared focus on infrastructure investments, we will encourage opportunities for companies in both countries to create jobs through those investments,” Trump and Trudeau said. “In particular, we look forward to the expeditious completion of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will serve as a vital economic link between our two countries.”

Canada has committed to paying for construction of the $2.1 billion bridge, a cost that would be repaid through future toll revenue. Snyder spent several years petitioning the Obama administration to pay for a $250 million U.S. Customs plaza in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood.

The Canadian government moved to break the stalemate in February 2015 by agreeing to pay ahead of time for the U.S. plaza costs, but Snyder had continued to press the federal government to pay for an inspection facility it would operate.

The six-lane bridge “will be an essential addition to the busiest US-Canada commercial land border crossing,” the Snyder administration says in its pitch to Trump, arguing the project will create thousands of jobs in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

“Construction of a modern customs plaza will enhance national security, promote efficient trade and travel, and provide significant economic benefits,” according to the wish list.

Snyder’s push to modernize the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie is also a holdover from the Obama administration. The governor and Michigan’s congressional delegation have spent several years seeking federal funding to build a new, 1,200-foot-long lock to mirror the 48-year-old Poe Lock, which handles large freighters carrying iron ore, coal and other materials.

“An unscheduled shutdown of the locks due to maintenance would likely cause a severe global recession and shutter the U.S. steel, automotive and appliance manufacturing sectors,” the Snyder administration wrote. “Modernization would create approximately 15,000 construction jobs.”

It’s not immediately clear what an additional federal investment could mean for the QLine, which is set to begin operation this spring along Woodward. The project is led and largely funded by private businesses and philanthropic organizations in partnership with the local, state and the federal governments.

The governor’s office did not supply — nor did the Trump administration request — cost estimates or project timelines, a spokesperson said.

Infrastructure is a top priority for Snyder, who is also pushing state legislators to find new funding sources after a task force said the state will eventually need $4 billion a year in additional spending to modernize its transportation, water and communications infrastructure.

“I think we will see some real stimulus dollars, some real money come out of these conversations at the federal level, but it’s not going to solve our problem,” said Mike Nystrom of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, a statewide construction trade group. “We’re going to have to look under every possible rock to find the money to solve our problems.”

Nystrom’s association, which helped push a new road funding law Snyder signed in late 2015, continues to advocate for additional infrastructure spending, especially underground.

Snyder’s list of recommended projects ripe for federal funding includes nationwide replacement of lead pipes like those that contributed to the ongoing Flint water contamination.

“While corrosion control protocol can limit harmful exposure to lead, the only way to remove the nascent threat of lead poisoning is replacement of lead lines,” the administration wrote.

Snyder’s wish list

Michigan-related infrastructure projects for which Gov. Rick Snyder is seeking federal aid from the Trump administration:

Soo Locks: Construct new “Poe”-size lock on current footprint of Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. A prolonged unscheduled shutdown of the locks would likely cause a recession affecting U.S. manufacturers including automakers. It would create about 15,000 construction jobs.

American Center for Mobility: Construct 350-plus-acre proving ground in Ypsilanti area for testing, development and validation of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Fraser sewer line reconstruction: Replace collapsed wastewater infrastructure in Fraser where the state has declared an emergency related to the sinkhole.

Lead service pipe replacement: While corrosion control chemicals can limit harmful exposure to lead, the only way to remove the nascent threat of lead poisoning is replacement of lead lines as is scheduled for Flint.

Blue Water Bridge customs plaza: Post-Sept. 11 border security requirements called for expanding the customs plaza at the Blue Water Bridge International Crossing in Port Huron that never materialized. The project would reduce delays and expedite traffic.

Brandon Road Lock and Dam: Building a new lock and engineered channel with electric barriers at Brandon Road in Illinois would ensure better maritime travel and commerce, while protecting the Great Lakes Basin from new aquatic invasive species.

Gordie Howe International Bridge: Provide federal aid to build a U.S. customs plaza for the new six-lane bridge instead of having the Canadians do it.

■M-1 Rail, Detroit: The QLine (formerly M-1 Rail) project will continue to serve as a catalyst for economic development through the construction of a streetcar system running along and connecting Woodward from the Riverfront to the New Center and North End neighborhoods.

Broadband: Spend more to create incentives for the expansion of affordable, high-speed broadband internet service.

Source: Office of Gov. Rick Snyder