Oct. 27 2010 12:00 AM

Is the 'Mighty Mac' in Snyder's sights?

Wednesday, Oct. 27 — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero was in the northern regions Tuesday warning voters that if his Republican opponent Rick Snyder is elected, Snyder would privatize the Mackinac Bridge and give it a corporate name like the “McDonald’s Big Mac.”

Is Bernero flailing his arms to rescue his campaign, which is behind Snyder by about 20 points, or are his concerns backed with evidence?

On Oct. 20, Snyder appeared on the Frank Beckmann morning show on WJR 760 AM to address the issue.

“Been a lot of talk about the possibility of privatizing things in Michigan,” Beckmann started. “People have suggested the lottery might be privatized, the Mackinac Bridge, they’ve mentioned freeways, which would require turning one or more freeways here in this state into toll roads.”

Beckmann then asked for Snyder’s thoughts on the issue.

“A lot of it is, we need to put everything on the table given our budget situation,” Snyder responded. He went on to say how the state’s budget is screwed up and that it needs to be explained in “plan English.”

That’s not outright calling for private investment in the bridge, but it was enough to send Bernero on a surprise visit to St. Ignace (the U.P. side) Tuesday for a “Save the Bridge” rally.

Bernero suggests that private ownership of the bridge would lead to higher toll rates. Right now the fee for a standard passenger vehicle to cross is $3.50.

Bernero also suggested privatization would bring on a name change, something like the “Tostitos.com Bridge” or the “McDonald’s Big Mac.”

Bernero’s spokesman Cullen Schwarz said in an e-mail that, while other states have tried selling public services to the private sector, like Indiana’s toll road system, it’s only a short-term budgetary fix.

The Snyder camp was not amused. Snyder’s spokesman Bill Nowling called the “Save the Bridge” event one of Bernero’s biggest campaign stunts.

When asked to comment about the WJR interview, Nowling said via e-mail, “The Mackinac Bridge is not a service. Rick was commenting about services.”

Does the “Mighty Mac” not provide the service of easy access between St. Ignace and Mackinac City, which otherwise would take a drive around Lake Michigan? And provide that service for a fee?

“Rick was not commenting about the Mackinac Bridge,” Nowling responded. He did not offer specific services that Snyder is considering selling off to the private sector as a way to balance the state budget.

The five-mile Mackinac Bridge is the third longest suspension bridge in the world and was built in 1957. It took three years to build.