Petty squabbling has thrown a wrench into vital funding for a bridge connecting Massena and the Canadian city of Cornwall.
Like other structures linking our two nations, the Seaway International Bridge has been hit hard by the novel coronavirus. Officials representing both governments closed the border to much of the vehicular traffic using these bridges.
“A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and officials with the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. said the coronavirus has significantly reduced revenue needed to support operations and maintenance on the bridge. The U.S. and Canadian federal governments share the ownership, management and operation of the Seaway International Bridge,” according to a story published Feb. 26 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Officials with the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. said paid car and truck traffic decreased because of U.S./Canada cross-border restrictions. Due to COVID-19 and the associated ongoing U.S./Canada cross-border restrictions, officials said paid car and truck traffic on the bridge has decreased by 80%, resulting in significant toll revenue reductions of nearly 70% since March of last year. More than 2.5 million passenger vehicles and more than 70,000 commercial trucks travel the bridge each year, and the toll revenue from those bridge crossings are used to fund bridge operations and maintenance expenses, officials said in an email.”
Canada allocated $1.95 million to supplement lost revenue. And $1.5 million was initially included in the American Rescue Plan, legislation proposed to provide “additional relief to address the continued impact of COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals and businesses,” according to the act’s summary. The revenue for the Seaway International Bridge would have come from a trust fund established to collect fees paid by shippers for the maintenance of critical transportation infrastructure.
However, political bickering got in the way. After the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill Feb. 27, some GOP members of the U.S. Senate griped that the legislation came with too much unnecessary spending. A tweet from the Senate Republicans last month decried the “$1.5 million to build Chuck Schumer a bridge …”
First of all, the Seaway International Bridge is already constructed! The request for this allocation came from former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao during the Trump administration.
Secondly, the money would not come from American taxpayers but rather from a trust fund set up specifically for such purposes. Finally, this restores funding lost as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, the bridge funding was removed from the Senate version of the American Rescue Plan. Allison D. Biasotti, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the item was scrubbed from the bill as a result of Republican messaging about it.
The bill was signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden. There’s no doubt that it’s stuffed with a lot of pork — a key reason cited by U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, as to why she voted against it.
Cramming pet projects into legislative measures is a bad practice and contributes to the national debt. But when considering the sausage-making process of drafting laws, pork comes along for the ride.
For Democrats and Republicans to argue over an essential item in the bill that wouldn’t have imposed any costs to American taxpayers is unconscionable. The Canadians did their part; now it’s up to the U.S. government to do its part.
The bridge needs this money as Canadian funds will expire at the end of this month. Congressional leaders need to get back to work and fix this problem.