Editorial: Private dollars could boost Port Huron span

The Detroit News

While most of the international bridge conversation in Michigan has been focused on the proposed Gordie Howe Bridge across the Detroit River, southeast Michigan has an existing, vitally important span in Port Huron that could use some support.

The Blue Water Bridge needs funding to complete the customs and border plaza on the American side, and hasn’t had much luck shaking the funds loose from Washington.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, is joining Michigan’s two senators in the latest effort to obtain the long-overdue funding. Unfortunately, it appears it still may not be enough to budge Congress.

Miller has co-written a letter with Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, making the case that the Blue Water is an essential national security link.

The correspondence urges the “strongest possible funding” for the customs facility, noting the Blue Water is the United States’ third-busiest land crossing in terms of value of shipments.

Current estimated cost of the finishing the work is about $165 million. The project has been shovel ready for over a decade. Miller has been trying to obtain the money since her first term in Congress in 2002.

Still, no money was appropriated in the fiscal year 2016 budget.

So the congresswoman is proposing a public-private partnership to finish the plaza, and at possibly less than the $165 million estimate.

Miller suggests a private company could build and operate the facility and get reimbursed with part of the bridge tolls.

The idea is more than plausible because the tolls offer a steady revenue stream.

Millions of dollars already have been spent on the condemnation and demolition of numerous homes and businesses to make room for the plaza. The 50-acre site is vacant and in the hands of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

With some state funds and even just federal loan guarantees, the partnership Miller envisions could work.

More than two dozen states already have enacted legislation supporting similar public-private arrangements.

Federal funds may still be coming for the plaza but the project doesn’t appear to be a top budget priority.

Trade and security interests argue for a more efficient customs plaza in Port Huron. If Washington won’t come across with the money, innovative solutions such as the one Miller proposes are the best route.