Ferrysburg leaders apparently are leaving no stones unturned when it comes to options for Smith’s Bridge, and that includes a potential toll bridge.
An official from American Roads, a U.S.-based company that operates the mile-long Detroit-Windsor tunnel and four toll bridges in Alabama, recently contacted Ferrysburg City Manager Craig Bessinger to see if there was interest in discussing a proposal that would replace the structure that carries West Spring Lake Road traffic over Smith’s Bayou at no cost to the city and turn it into a toll bridge.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Mike DeWitt suggested the council invite company leaders to an upcoming meeting and at least listen to what they have to say. He also asked Bessinger to elaborate on the proposal.
“They’re interested in looking at Smith’s Bridge to determine if it’s an option for them to repair or build a new bridge,” Bessinger said. “If they did that, they would fund it and recoup costs from tolls or some other means from use of that bridge.”
On Tuesday, Bessinger arranged for a presentation at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16, during the regular City Council meeting at Ferrysburg City Hall.
“We’re obviously going to do the (further) testing (on the bridge), but if they’re going to give us a new bridge,” DeWitt said. “I throw that out there for council’s consideration to decide if they should pursue it or not.”
Councilman J. Patrick Twa said even though the bridge could be repaired at the company’s expense, it’s a bad idea.
“Considering the size of the community we live in, I see this as a fool’s errand,” he said.
Twa also mentioned that many residents are of Dutch descent.
“We are Dutch and we are cheap, and will save a dollar in one way or another,” he said.
Twa added that it’s not that inconvenient, “at least for me,” to just drive around to avoid the closed bridge.
Councilman Richard Carlson said he doesn’t see how the numbers could work with the toll proposal.
“I don’t see this as being financially viable,” he said.
DeWitt agreed, “but if they want to talk and do a presentation, it’s something worth looking at.”
It’s unknown what the potential toll would be, but DeWitt said it would be nice if it were “a quarter a trip or something.”
Bessinger stressed that the proposal is presently preliminary.
“No one knows what they are proposing or how much they are proposing,” he explained. “We don’t have any of the details yet. They would take over the bridge building, financing, operating, maintaining, and there would be some kind of agreement with the city where they would either own it or lease it back to the city.”
When asked if he would pay a toll to cross the bridge or instead seek an alternate route, Bessinger replied: “It all depends on the cost, I guess.”
In an Oct. 16 letter to Bessinger, American Roads Vice President Kyle Granowski wrote: “While we certainly need to take a more detailed look at the structure, we believe the required replacement of the Smith Bridge could be funded with a modest and reasonable toll to bridge users. American Roads would take on all aspects of the project including designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining the structure, and would be committed to moving expeditiously to get the bridge back open to the traveling public. As has been the case with the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, we could provide this service under a long-term concession agreement with Ferrysburg so the city doesn’t have to be concerned about giving up complete ownership of the asset. Additionally, our local presence in Detroit allows for substantial operational savings which keeps tolls low for the long term.”
Granowski did not return a phone call from the Tribune seeking comment.
According to a 2013 article in “Transport Topics,” American Roads LLC filed for bankruptcy, stating that traffic declined between 1.9 percent and 8.6 percent at each of its toll facilities “due to the recession, fuel prices and the effect of toll increases,” the company said. It appears the company has since restructured.
The company’s brochure states that American Roads commits to using local labor, trades, construction, engineering and design firms in its projects and that its tolls may be paid by cash, credit card and mobile phone payments.
American Roads’ parent company, DIF, has developed or acquired 22 toll road and bridge projects, spanning more than 2,000 miles.