Companies pitch tolls, repair, building as solutions for Bay City bridges

BAY CITY, MI — Overseeing a special meeting, Bay City’s eight commissioners, city manager, and mayor listened to two companies’ competing plans for mending the city’s multi-million dollar bridge problem.

The two companies — Denver-based United Bridge Partners and Pampano Beach-based Florida Drawbridge Inc. Services — each offered a slideshow presentation on their visions for public-private partnership with the city for maintenance of Independence and Liberty bridges.

United Bridge Partners’ plan

The meeting opened with a presentation by United Bridge Partners (UBP) President and CEO Ed Diffendal and Figg Bridge Group President and CEO Linda Figg.

“We feel our offering has tremendous amount of value for this community,” Diffendal said. According to them, Independence Bridge is opened 989 times a year, whereas Liberty Bridge has 942 annual openings.

Independence Bridge was built in 1973 and designed for a 50-year lifespan, meaning it only has six years left. Liberty Bridge was more recently constructed in 1986.

“In our evaluation of Independence Bridge, we thought the best approach would be to replace the bridge,” Figg said. Its myriad issues include pier cracking, spalling, exposed rebar, crossmember corrosion, a loose center joint rebar, and severe rail and wall spalling. The company said it would reimburse the city for $1.54 million in repairs made this year.

Liberty Bridge also requires numerous critical repairs, but Figg said their approach would be to address those and modernize the structure rather than replace it.

The combined cost for building a new bridge and repairing Liberty Bridge would run $190 million to $250 million.

The new Independence Bridge would be 125 feet tall and would not open. Estimated to last 150 years, it would feature four 12-foot lanes (the existing bridge has 10-foot lanes), in addition to 10-foot shoulders and a 10-foot shared-use path with overlooks. The existing Independence Bridge has a 6-foot unprotected sidewalk.

The work would be funded via private means, with no money coming from city, state, or federal sources, Diffendal said. The new bridge would be built using local union labor and local materials, providing the city with an economic stimulus, he continued.

The plan would see the bridge open by Dec. 31, 2020, or within two and a half years from the start of construction. In 2020, Lafayette Bridge will be closed for a year and a half as part of a $45 million reconstruction project. That bridge is owned and operated by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The bridges would be funded by a modest toll collected with an all-electronic system. Annual passes would be available to city residents. For the first three years, residents with transponders in their vehicles would pay no fee. Starting in 2024, they would pay 50 cents per crossing. Emergency vehicles would be able to cross for free.

Transponders are typically free, Diffendal said.

Figg added that 10 cents of each toll would be paid to the city for other funding needs. By her and Diffendal’s estimation, Bay City would save about $21.3 million over a six-year span, which could be put to other essential transportation and roadway projects. The company would also contract with the city to handle snow removal from its bridges.

Questioned by City Manager Dana L. Muscott, Diffendal said the proposal is dependent on UBP operating both bridges, not just one or the other.

Commissioner Lynn D. Stamiris, 1st Ward, voiced his concern that Diffendal and Figg had overestimated how much profit would come from the tolls, as many city residents would simply take the other two bridges in town that wouldn’t have tolls.

Florida Drawbridge Inc. Services’ plan

On UBP’s heels, numerous representatives from FDI Services, STV Incorporated, and Star America Infrastructure Partners gave a presentation of their own, describing a two-phase proposal.

The first part would consist of an operations and maintenance agreement under which Bay City would agree to pay the company roughly $1 million each year for up to two years to handle everything from bridge operators to engineering assessments. That process would involve an analysis to determine whether major rehabilitation or replacement should be the approach with both bridges.

Currently, the city pays for each part of the bridge’s operations and general maintenance to various companies. Under this proposal, the city would write one check to FDI.

Under the agreement, FDI would perform repairs on the bridge, but repair costs would be capped at $30,000 per 12 months. Bridge ownership, though, would remain with the city.

Larger repairs would have to be prioritized and be part of the proposal’s second phase, which would feature the project’s design, the major rehabilitation or construction of a new bridge, and maintenance.

FDI would use its team of professionals to secure funding from several stakeholders, including the state and county and residents through a millage. The firm would work as the main point of contact for Bay City when securing the funds. Under this proposal, the city would own 100 percent of the infrastructure.

In its proposal to Bay City, it recommended a “long-term” contract, suggesting 30 years or more as the norm for public-private contracts it has with other municipalities.

“We could stop malfunctions and begin making the highest priority repairs right now, and we can do it for one fixed price,” said Daniel Porter, FDI’s chief financial officer.

FDI’s proposal also calls for the hiring of all local people to repair, maintain, and operate the bridges.

FDI’s plan wouldn’t involve a toll to motorists.

Mayor Kathleen L. Newsham asked if FDI had a timetable for their work. Jahred Kallop, vice president of Star America Infrastructure Partners, said that would depend on whether rehabilitation or replacement is the determined course of action with both bridges.