During the first and only gubernatorial debate of the 2010 season, Rick Snyder made a little-noticed gaffe that proves that he is either ridiculously ill-informed about infrastructure projects in his own backyard (almost literally) or that he’s a liar will to spout lies to promote his agenda (the agenda of getting himself elected governor of Michigan.)
It was little-noticed by everyone except the bicycling/hiking community.
Here’s the part of the debate in question which came the very end:
FINLEY: Okay. We have time for one last question. We all know Michigan has the worst roads in the nation. Mr. Snyder, would you support an increase in the gasoline tax to fix them?
SNYDER: I don’t support an increase in the gas tax, because we need to get efficient first. I mean, we need to look at value for money budgeting. Because if you go around our state our roads are terrible, but let’s tighten our belts, let’s be efficient and see where we can deploy these dollars to fix the roads that really need to be fixed. A classic illustration I used from the Ann Arbor area, if you went to the Michigan/Michigan State game you had to suffer over the Stadium Street bridge potentially. Two lanes are permanently closed on that bridge. I think it’s got a rating of like 2 out of 10. At the same, I live near Geddes Road and US 23. They just built a bike and pedestrian bridge across US 23 at the cost of millions of dollars. What they didn’t bother to tell us is a quarter might south that there’s a bridge over Huron River and there’s a bike and pedestrian path there. So let’s get efficient about where we’re deploying these dollars. There’s a much better way to do things. And that’s what we should focus on first.
I’m not sure who “they” is that Mr. Snyder refers to but what “they” apparently neglected tell him that the funds for the Geddes Street bridge came from a Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) grant awarded to MDOT by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Why does this matter? It matters because despite how Snyder characterizes it, they could not have been used to repair the Stadium Boulevard bridge.
Funding for this project is a combination of federal, state and local resources. The federal funds come from a Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) grant awarded to MDOT by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). These CMAQ funds are highly competitive and are designated only to projects that significantly reduce congestion, and improve air quality. State funding for the project comes through the MDOT, while the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County Road Commission are the agencies providing the local funds. In addition to the monetary resources, land contributions from Concordia University and St. Paul Lutheran Church for public right-of-way and other public easements are an essential factor in the project implementation.
Joel Batterman of the University of Michigan Biicycle Coalition appears to have been the first to notice the gaffe. From his blog entry the next day he spells it out and adds a second reason that Mr. Snyder’s comments are erroneous:
Snyder implied that the new bridge simply replicated an existing facility. He also implied that funds spent to build it could have gone to fix aging, structurally deficient bridges over Ann Arbor’s Stadium Boulevard. Both contentions are misguided.
The bicycle and pedestrian bridge is part of a larger project at the US-23/Geddes Road interchange at the eastern edge of Ann Arbor, which also includes roundabouts and a multi-use path. A grant from the Federal Highway Adminstration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program made the project possible. It’s unlikely that the Stadium Bridges would have qualified for such a grant, so Snyder can’t reasonably suggest that the money for the US-23 bridge could have been directed there instead.
In addition, far from replicating an existing facility, the new bridge will close an important gap in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti bicycle and pedestrian network. The US-23 interchange at Geddes previously lacked bicycle and pedestrian facilities, despite the fact that for much of northeast Ann Arbor, Geddes is the most direct connection from much of northeast Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, Washtenaw Community College, and the Huron River Border-to-Border Trail. Bridging the gap at US-23 will allow users to make that connection without doubling back a mile to cross the river at Huron Parkway. [T]he existing Dixboro Road pedestrian/bicycle connection across the Huron has limited utility right now, since it doesn’t traverse the freeway into Ann Arbor proper.
So, rather than being a waste of taxpayer money, the bridge actually allows area residents to make much better use of existing infrastructure while providing safe and convenient crossing of US-23. In the process, it will make Ann Arbor more walkable, save energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions in the area since more people will be able to utilize the existing trail system.
If you look at a map of the area (like the one HERE), you can see that Snyder seems to be confused about what side of the Huron River this bridge is on. But, remember, he lives in this area.
Batterman and other area cyclists delivered a letter to Snyder last week (on bikes, of course), asking for clarification of his position and inviting him to attend the official opening of the bridge this week. They were rewarded with Rick Snyder biking shirts for their trouble but little else.
I spoke with Batterman today and he says his group has not received a formal response regarding Snyder’s misstatement or whether or not he will attend the opening. At the very least, Batterman said, he’d like to have Snyder tour the area with him so that he can more fully appreciate why this bridge is necessary.
So the question is this: is Rick Snyder that ignorant about infrastructure and funding and grant proposals, etc. that he doesn’t understand how the entire process works? Or is it that he understands just fine but knows most people aren’t and so used this situation as a strawman to knock down to score political points during his one and only debate with Mayor Bernero? Either way, he’s on the wrong side of this issue and should publicly clarify his position.
And, while he’s at it, he might want to get a map out of the area he supposedly lives in and figure out which side of the river Geddes Street is on. Because for a guy who claims to know so much about it, he obviously doesn’t have a clue about where it actually is.
I’m just sayin’…