The State opens the way to allow a private company to move towards the rental of the Bridges of Independence and Liberty

BAY CITY, MI – New legislation recently paved the way for other municipalities to follow in Bay City’s footsteps by entering into public-private partnerships to improve infrastructure.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has definitively approved a package of bills that allow municipalities across the state to work with private companies to improve aging bridge infrastructure and allow toll measures to be implemented.

Senate Bills 1215-1218, now PA 353-356, were presented in mid-November by Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

The bills will allow private company United Bridge Partners and its local subsidiary Bay City Bridge Partners (BCBP) to lease the Liberty Bridge and Independence Bridge to the City of Bay City while improving both structures and setting up tolls.

“This will essentially allow Bay City improvements to go forward on a lease option. United Bridge Partners will lease the bridges to the city, then upgrade them at no cost to the city and put in place tolls to cover those costs, ”said Kevin Bischel, BCBP Project Director.

The Bay Town Commission unanimously approved a acquisition and development agreement between the city and United Bridge Partners on December 16, 2019. United Bridge Partners was one of three companies vying to take over the two city-owned bridges of Bay City when it presented its proposal alongside Kiewit and American Roads at a information meeting on July 11, 2019.

Bischel explained that the original deal that was approved in 2019 did not specify what type of ownership model the partnership between BCBP and the town of Bay City would involve.

“At that time, we were leaning towards outright ownership, but we knew it wasn’t final,” he said. “So the way the deal was drafted was flexible.”

Bischel said a lease would mean the bridges would still technically be owned by the city, but BCBP would have full responsibility for financing, designing, building, operating and maintaining the structures.

Terms of the lease have yet to be negotiated with the city, but Bischel said the lease is generally roughly equal to the nominal life of the bridge in these types of public-private partnerships.

Under the agreement and the new legislation, United Bridge Partners will still pay Bay City a fee totaling $ 5 million. Bischel said the first $ 2 million was distributed upon signing of the original deal, and the remaining $ 3 million will be paid at settlement when property rights transfer. Bischel said there is no firm settlement date yet, but he expects him to land sometime in 2021.

“The development agreement describes a series of activities that must take place prior to establishment. Legislation was the most important that we knew we needed, but we also need to make sure that if there is another property needed, there are no environmental issues – more routine things on a project. construction, as part of an environmental review, ”says Bischel.

Breakdown of the invoice

The four bills were all interrelated, meaning that none of them could have come into force if they had not all been enacted and passed.

“The legislation – this is a series of four bills, but the main one allows Michigan cities to enter into public-private agreements for the improvement of bridges to allow tolls or user fees as part of these projects, ”Bischel said.

Senate Bill 1215 amends the Home Rule city Act to allow a city to enter into a public-private agreement for a public bridge, which is defined in the bill as a bascule bridge, a causeway or ramp that supports the bridge, and other equipment , building, structure, parking area linked to infrastructure. This bill also authorizes “user fees”, which are defined as a toll, consumption fee, rent, license fee or other similar or incidental fees associated with the use of a bridge. public, including fees or charges to create, maintain, administer, bill and collect an account.

During this time, sister bill 1216 ensures that if a County Commissioners Council has already approved the construction of a bridge crossing a navigable waterway, further approval by the County Commissioners Council is not required for any reconstruction, renovation or replacement of this bridge which continues to provide for the passage of ships or boats conforming to the initial approval.

Senate Bill 1217 amends the General Property Tax Law so that infrastructure subject to a public-private agreement is exempt from the collection of taxes under the law while at the same time bill 1218 adds public infrastructure of this type of agreement to the list of tax exceptions for tenants / users of real estate.

The Michigan Senate unanimously passed the bills tied, and the Michigan House of Representatives approved the bills with a 94-15-1 vote on December 15, 2020 before proceeding to the governor’s office. and to be promulgated on Wednesday, December 30.

“It was so encouraging to see bipartisan support for something that provides Bay City with an innovative solution to a long-standing problem,” said City Manager Dana Muscott.

Locally, the legislation has been supported by several companies and organizations, including the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Bay Future, Consumers Energy, Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, IBEW Local 692, IBEW Local 948, LiUNA Local 1098, McLaren Bay Region, Michigan Sugar, Operating Engineers Local 324, Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce, Saginaw Valley State University, and UA Local 85.

“Bay City has been working for years to find a solution to repair two of the four main bridges that cross the river in the city,” Horn said. “These bills would ease some of that burden on local governments and the state budget while securing a major economic path for our region.”

And after?

With this recent set of laws in the bag, the project continues to move forward to rehabilitate the Liberty Bridge and build a new replacement for the Independence Bridge, ultimately turning them into toll bridges once construction is complete. .

“We’re just excited to start, it’s another important step in moving the project forward. We look forward to working with the city on this project, ”said Bischel.

The acquisition and development agreement between the town of Bay City and BCBP came into effect on January 2, 2020. Since then, the ball started rolling on the project.

On Monday, June 1, the committee approved a Operation and maintenance contract between the city of Bay City and United Bridge Partners / Bay City Bridge Partners. The approved O&M agreement stipulated that the City of Bay must submit invoices to UBP for services provided by the city and that UBP will reimburse the city for labor, materials and supplies, and on-call subcontractors / sub-consultants as defined in the agreement. and plan.

The City of Bay Commission previously approved an amendment to the initial acquisition and development agreement with United Bridge Partners regarding the city’s two drawbridges on Monday April 20 at extend the transition period, which is a time allowing United Bridge Partners to carry out preliminary tasks before taking possession of the two bridges.

Following the expiration of the extension in the spring, United Bridge Partners immediately assumed the responsibilities associated with the operation and maintenance of the existing Independence Bridge and Liberty Bridge.

According to BCBP, the environmental and design phases of the project are forthcoming and will be completed in accordance with city, state and federal government requirements. Material placement and limited construction work is expected to begin in mid-late 2021, with full construction of the two bridges scheduled to begin in 2022. BCBP expects work to take place over two construction seasons.

More from MLive:

United Bridge Partners discuss plans to take over Bay City drawbridges and charge tolls

Bay City Commission approves sale of 2 drawbridges to private company

Company buying Bay City drawbridges discusses tolls and transponders

Bay City Commission approves sale of 2 drawbridges to private company

Bay City responds to criticism of the city’s two drawbridges toll plan

People share their views on upcoming tolls to cross 2 bridges in Bay City

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