- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2011

LANSING, Mich. Supporters of a proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, scrambled Thursday to revive the plan after losing a key vote in a Michigan Senate committee.

The vote marked a sharp defeat for GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and a victory for the operators of the existing Ambassador Bridge, a privately owned span that has waged an expensive lobbying campaign against the $2.2. billion project.

The Republican-led Senate Economic Development Committee defeated a measure to authorize the bridge in a long-anticipated vote. Two Republicans supported the measure and three opposed it. Democrats abstained from voting because the bill didn’t include provisions aimed at protecting residents in the southwest Detroit neighborhoods that would be affected by the new span.

A spokeswoman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who sponsored the bridge legislation, said there were no plans to do anything more with the bill defeated Thursday and no near-term plans to introduce alternative legislation.

Mr. Snyder, who has been backed by the state’s business community and labor unions in the fight for the new bridge, refused to concede Thursday, calling for a “cooling-down period” to talk to lawmakers about the proposal.

“We’re going to continue to pursue this as a solution because we should build a bridge for our citizens,” Mr. Snyder said. “It’s in their best interest.”

The Snyder administration has hinted it might act unilaterally to try and get Michigan involved in the project if the legislature doesn’t cooperate. But the focus now remains on the legislature.

Mr. Snyder says the “New International Trade Crossing” is crucial to expanding trade between the U.S. and Canada. Many businesses, including automakers, also covet a new bridge with more convenient highway connections, and Canadian officials have also strongly backed the idea.

But the private owners of the 82-year-old Ambassador Bridge already spanning the Detroit River oppose a second bridge, saying a publicly supported bridge would unfairly compete with their own. The new bridge - the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume - would be built two miles south of the Ambassador, which has proposed expanding its own capacity.

Some Republican lawmakers side with Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and have balked at backing the separate bridge, making it hard for Mr. Snyder to secure the votes needed to begin the project.

The governor maintains that Michigan taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for the new bridge, which would be privately financed, built and run. He said the bill is drafted to make sure taxpayers are protected.

The Ambassador Bridge owners and their supporters are skeptical of that claim. Ambassador Bridge owners have lobbied heavily and run television commercials criticizing the bridge proposal.

The estimated price of a new bridge, toll and customs plazas, and expressway linkups is nearly $4 billion.