Budget vetoes gut funding for Ferrysburg bridge

Ottawa County

FERRYSBURG, Mich. (WOOD) — The impact of the governor’s veto of funding for roads and bridges is being felt in the small town of Ferrysburg, which was hoping to use state money to fix Smith’s Bridge.

The current structure was built in 1972, but there has been a bridge over Smith’s Bayou connecting the two sections of the town since the time of horses and buggies, so its closing in June was met with consternation. Some citizens thought the city leadership was exaggerating the bridge’s state of disrepair, so they paid for a separate independent evaluation. Released last month, it came to the same conclusions. The result is detours for citizens and emergency responders, adding three minutes to the fire department’s response time to the parts of town on the other side of the water.

In July, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer walked the bridge and learned about its condition.

“We actually have seen in our time here emergency vehicles going through a detour. This is a public safety issue,” Whitmer said at the time. “What we also included in the budget is a bridge bundling program that help communities, especially like Ferrysburg with such a small population and such dire need.”

City Manager Craig Bessinger was there with reporters and other city officials.

“She did come to the city earlier this year and saw the condition of it and indicated it was a safety concern for emergency personnel having that bridge closed, so she is aware of the condition of the bridge,” he said Tuesday.

But Monday night, it was revealed that the road funding was part of $974 million Whitmer, a Democrat, cut out in line-item vetoes from spending bills sent to her by the GOP-led Legislature. It has earned her the ire of Republicans, including the one who represents Ferrysburg.

“It really didn’t take the governor too long to forget about what she said when she was out there,” state Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, said.

The reason Whitmer, who campaigned on fixing the roads, rejected the funding is that she says the Republicans’ plan doesn’t provide enough money or do so in a sustainable manner.

Once, 5,000 cars traversed the bridge each day, traveling to Spring Lake, Grand Haven and elsewhere.

“In the summer time, this whole place is filled with boats, people walking, driving down here all the time. A lot of people use this. I know a lot of people who are angry that this bridge is closed,” Andrea Molenkamp, a Ferrysburg resident for nearly 20 years, said.

At a cost of $13 million to replace, the city of less than 3,000 people has few prospects of getting it fixed. A couple of weeks ago, the Legislature said it would fund the replacement in full in the budget.

“We were all excited that there’s a possibility that it would be saved,” Kathy Dale, a Ferrysburg resident, said as she walked the bridge she used to drive. “I’m really sad that she vetoed it.”

“If the budget had been approved as presented, then we would’ve got to work to start replacing that bridge immediately,” said Bessinger, adding that the time to tear down and replace the bridge will be about two years.

The GOP spending was far short of what the governor wanted, which was part of a plan that included a 45-cent-per-gallon gas tax that would generate $2.5 billion for roads and bridges without taking money from other state programs like education.

“She (Whitmer) has consistently shown that she really doesn’t see West Michigan as a priority, so if you look at her original funding plan, it would have provided 70 percent less road funding for Ottawa County than the current formula provides,” Lilly said.

But the governor said Tuesday that one-time funding is not the way to go.

“When you do it one time, it only makes it more expensive. It’s a deception. It’s more of the same thing that got us into this mess in the first place,” she said in Lansing.

Ferrysburg is trying to get grants to fix the bridge unless negotiations between Whitmer and Legislative leaders restore the funding. Lilly said he will fight for the bridge, but is not sure if the whole amount will get funded again.

“With all the traffic that is used on this road, I just think it is a smart idea for them to rethink this and try to fix this bridge,” Molenkamp said.

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