House GOP considering selling Blue Water Bridge to pay for roads

House Republicans are considering a proposal to sell the Blue Water Bridge that spans the St. Clair River in order to pay to fix the state's roads, per FOX 2's Tim Skubick.

Officials say the sale could raise between $500-800 million in one-time money.

"We're going to explore the option of perhaps selling ... It's clear on the table," said Oakland County GOP lawmaker Rep. Matt Maddock.

The Democratic vice chair of the House budget committee, Rep. Jon Headily, dismisses the idea as a "piece meal solution" that does not raise the $2.5 billion the state needs every year for the next 10 years to fix the roads.

The Blue Water Bridge links the U.S. and Canada, carrying international traffic between Port Huron and Point Edward and Sarnia in Ontario. It crosses the St. Clair River at the southern end of Lake Huron and connects both I-94 and I-69 with Highway 402. 

The original Blue Water Bridge opened in 1938 and carries three lanes of traffic westbound, and the second Blue Water Bridge opened in 1997 and carries three lanes of traffic eastbound.

In U.S. currency, toll rates for drivers crossing from U.S. into Canada are $3 for cars, $3 for each extra axle, and $3.25 per axle for trucks and buses. Rates for those traveling from the Canada into the U.S. are $3.25 for cars/RVs, $3.25 for extra axles and $3.50 for commercial vehicles per axles.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation's latest numbers, about 4.9 million vehicles utilized the bridge in 2008. They project that 14.5 million vehicles will use the bridge by 2021. According to the Federal Bridge Corporation, an average 14,000 vehicles cross the bridge per day -- 20,000 of a busy day with at least 6,000 being trucks.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ran on a campaign to fix the state's crumbling roads. In March, she proposed a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase, which has been rejected by GOP lawmakers. Whitmer's plan would have allotted $2.35 billion in net revenue for Michigan roads which included a 45-cents-a-gallon increase on the state's gas tax. The $2 billion plan would increase the 26-cent fuel tax by 45 cents by October 2020.

In late April, a transportation budget advanced in Michigan's Legislature that would boost road spending but far short of the $1.9 billion net increase proposed by Whitmer. The Senate plan would fully implement 2015 road-funding laws a year earlier, so $132 million more is spent in the next fiscal year.

In late May, Whitmer said that talks with Michigan's Republican-led Legislature on her proposed fuel tax increase can "start in earnest" following the enactment of a bipartisan auto insurance overhaul, and there is no reason why a road-funding deal cannot be struck within a month. Her tax hike, the centerpiece of her budget proposal, has languished in the Capitol for three months. She said she expects to see legislative movement soon.

Whitmer again signaled that she will not sign the next state budget without a road-funding deal, due to how her $2.5 billion proposal would free up general funds that have been shifted to address deteriorating roads but which could be used for other priorities such as schools and her proposed scholarship program for college students. Budget legislation, she said, can be finished by the end of July.

Although GOP legislative leaders have rejected a 45-cent increase that would make Michigan's gasoline and diesel the highest in the country, they have not laid out their own plans except to support spending an additional $132 million a year earlier than planned and potentially ensuring that sales tax paid at the pump funds roads. The revenue mostly goes to schools and local governments under the state constitution.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering said he will not box himself in with an "artificial" deadline to complete the budget, noting that the next fiscal year does not start until Oct. 1.

"I think the first priority needs to be (to) have a responsible budget, and that's going to be our focus," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake was reluctant to say how much additional road spending is necessary but agreed that "substantially more" is needed. He suggested working to finish the budget by July 1 and passing supplemental spending legislation in September if a broader roads agreement is reached.

"It's got to balance between the appetite of taxpayers and the capacity to deploy assets," he said, referring to concerns about how quickly road-construction projects could be ramped up at a time that a 2015 transportation-revenue plan is still being phased in.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.