Michigan Bridge Project Clears Election Day Hurdle

Ryan Holeywell | November 7, 2012

Money can’t always buy elections.

That’s the takeaway after Michiganders rejected a constitutional amendment backed largely by a single family that felt threatened by the prospect for a new international bridge advanced by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Snyder and Canadian officials earlier this year agreed to a plan for a new internatinoal crossing between Detroit and Windsor that offered Michigan a stunning opportunity: The costs of the $950 million tollroad would be fronted entirely by the Canadian government.

Backers of the project, known as the New International Trade Crossing, called it a big victory for both state taxpayers and Snyder, ensuring Michigan would have access to expanded infrastructure integral to its economic future while not saddling them with the financial risks of such an ambitious project.

But the wealthy Moroun family, which controls the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge and would see reduced traffic — and revenue — from a competitng structure, backed a multi-million dollar campaign that threatened to sideline the project.

That campaign, known as The People Should Decide, backed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required a statewide vote on any new international bridge.

The campaign, which took in nearly $28 million according to campaign finance records, was financially backed almost entirely by a Moroun-controlled holding corporation. Voters rejected that amendment by a 60 percent margin, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“People made clear in Tuesday’s election that they believe in Michigan’s future and support the governor’s vision of moving forward so we can grow our economy and create jobs,” Snyder spokesman Ken Silfven said. “It’s a great win for Michigan because we get thousands of short- and long-term jobs, and a modern international crossing, at no cost to our taxpayers thanks to the generosity of our Canadian friends. You can’t beat that.”

Governing was unable to reach Kenneth Dobson, the Ambassador Bridge’s director of governmental affairs, by phone Wednesday morning.

The campaign for the proposal drew strong rebukes from a variety of observers, including many of the state’s top newspapers, which called its advertisements misleading. The effort was “a blatant attempt to bamboozle Michiganders into protecting the selfish interests of a single family,” according to a Lansing State Journal editorial.

Still, the defeat of the amendment doesn’t mean the bridge will open — or even begin construction — anytime soon. A bridge authority charged with soliciting bids must be formed. The structure of a deal with a private partner needs to be determined. Enviromental reviews need to be completed. Land needs to be acquired. And state officials say they fully expect a slew of lawsuits related to the project, which makes it challenging to predict a timeline.

Silfven says state officials are hoping to soon get a federal permit for the bridge, which is required for all new international border crossings. “Once that happens, other pieces can start falling into place.”

Manufacturers praise Ontario-Michigan bridge vote

Hank Daniszewski & John Miner | The London Free Press

LONDON, Ont. — Manufacturers are breathing a sigh of relief after an attempt to block a new bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich., was shot down by Michigan voters Tuesday.

The voters turned down a proposal to require a referendum on the issue despite an intense media campaign by the billionaire-owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

In an amendment to the Michigan state constitution, Proposition 6 would have required a state-wide vote before a new bridge could be built.

Many auto parts plants and other manufacturers in the London, Ont., area depend on exports to the U.S., most of if passing through the Windsor-Detroit corridor.

Andy Mavrokefalos, chairman of the London Region Manufacturing Council, said a second bridge is essential to keep goods flowing freely from manufacturers on both sides of the border.

“We need that bridge. This will be very positive for both Canada and Michigan,” he said.

A total of 2,091,763 Michigan voters rejected the proposition while 1,339,460 voted in favour, according to unofficial results posted on the Michigan Department of State website Wednesday morning.

The Detroit Free Press called the results “a stinging rebuke” to Manuel Moroun, the 85-year-old businessman fighting the planned New International Trade Crossing bridge.

The Ontario Trucking Association has been one of the most vocal groups lobbying for a new bridge. OTA president David Bradley said Michigan voters “got it right.”

“It looks good on the people of Michigan. There has been so much misinformation bandied about but they weren’t buying it. It restores your faith in democracy.”

Bradley said even if the Ambassador Bridge is not backed up with traffic, the route requires driving through downtown Windsor and Detroit.

“When you drive a truck from Toronto to Miami you go through 16 stoplights, and 15 of them are in Windsor,” said Bradley.

A new freeway approach is already under construction in Windsor to provide a direct connection to the future bridge.

Bradley said he expects Moroun will continue to launch court actions to delay the project.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a deal for the bridge in June under which Canadian taxpayers bear much of the upfront cost of the $3.5-billion project. The cost would be recovered through future toll revenue.

Harper called the new bridge the most important public works project his government will build, and said it’s worth the risk and investment.

“Whatever battles lie ahead, this bridge is going to be done,” Harper predicted.

Moroun reportedly spent $33 million fighting the bridge. Michigan airwaves were saturated with ads claiming the state’s taxpayers would be stuck with paying for the bridge for generations to come.

Politics Wrap: Moroun goes anti-Detroit to fight bridge

Dustin Block | Mlive.com

November 4, 2012

Billionaire bridge owner Matty Moroun’s last-ditch effort to stop construction of a new bridge to Canada involves blasting Detroit. Moroun sent a flyer out in recent days with the headline, “More of your money for Detroit?” The ad also says, “Don’t let the politicians give away more pork projects and ‘special giveaways’ for the new bridge.”

The anti-Detroit sentiment is Moroun’s latest attempt to sway voters to reject the New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. Moroun owns the Ambassador Bridge, which generates billions of dollars in tolls as the most active border crossing between the U.S. and Canada.

Moroun-backed organizers collected signatures for a Constitutional amendment requiring a state and local vote before any new bridge or tunnel is built to Canada. The question on Tuesday’s ballot is referred to as “Proposal 6.”

Moroun’s ad was denounced in the Detroit Free-Press by bridge supporters, who claim no taxpayer money will go to pay for a new bridge. The project will benefit the Delray neighborhood, but a developer will recoup costs through bridge tolls.

The Free-Press quotes a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder called Mouron’s anti-bridge campaign ads “distortions of reality.” “There is no taxpayer money involved in the building of the bridge,” Snyder spokewoman Geralyn Lasher told the Free-Press.

Despite investing $31 million into his anti-bridge campaign, Moroun’s Proposal 6 is trailing in polls. The Free-Press had the measure failing 47-42 percent in a poll released last week. The Detroit News had Moroun’s proposal trailing 52-37 percent.

Canada and the US Need This Bridge Now: Get the Facts

Dear Connect2Canada Friends,

On June 15th, Prime Minister Harper and Governor Snyder agreed to build a publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit, the New International Trade Crossing.

The rationale for this bridge is clear. Over Eight million jobs in the US, including 237,100 jobs in Michigan, depend on trade and investment with Canada. Much of this relies on the Ambassador Bridge, which saw more than $120 billion worth of trade cross over it in 2011. This is fully one quarter of Canada-US trade in goods, making it the most important bridge crossing in the world.

However, the Ambassador Bridge is 83 years old, is too narrow for today’s needs and lacks adequate customs plazas. In addition, access to the bridge is located in downtown Windsor, which requires trucks to travel through residential streets and 16 traffic lights to reach the on-ramp. Any plans to expand the current bridge do not therefore solve the larger congestion and delay problems.

With truck traffic conservatively predicted to increase 128% over the next 30 years, it is imperative that a solution is found. The New International Trade Crossing is that solution. It will be six lanes wide, with dedicated lanes for pre-screened cargo, and a direct freeway-to-freeway connection that avoids downtown Windsor and Detroit, thereby reducing delays and the massive costs associated with them.

There have been a number of misleading advertisements about the bridge and its costs — here are the facts:

  • There will be no cost to Michigan. Michigan’s share of the bridge cost, estimated to be $550 million, will be paid by the Government of Canada and recouped through bridge tolls. Any cost over-runs or revenue short-falls will be paid by Canada.
  • The bridge will be built with US and Canadian steel. The waiver to Buy America allows for Canadian steel to be used, but not steel from other countries.
  • The bridge will create 10,000 – 15,000 direct construction jobs in Michigan.These well-paying construction jobs will provide a direct boost to Michigan’s economy. The New International Trade Crossing has the support of Governor Snyder, the Governments of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, the Chambers of Commerce of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, as well as automobile manufacturers, building trades and steel workers unions and farm organizations. In fact, the only real opposition comes from one company trying to protect its current monopoly on the Ambassador Bridge.

This bridge is needed to increase the competitiveness of our manufacturing sectors, create jobs on both sides of the border and ease travel between our two countries. I hope that I can count on your support in seeing this project through.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Doer

Ambassador of Canada
to the United States of America

Bridge proposal opposed by a wide diversity of people

Kalamazoo Gazette

Proposal 6 is a constitutional amendment that would require voter approval for any new bridge or tunnel from Michigan to Canada. Though the language is broad, it’s specifically aimed at the proposed New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor. It was filed by billionaire Manuel “Matty” Maroun, owner of the 82-year oldAmbassador Bridge, to maintain his monopoly on international bridge traffic and tolls. Maroun paid roughly $2.3 million, mostly to the People Should Decide Ballot Committee, to collect the signatures needed to put the Proposal on the ballot.

The Oct. 7 Kalamazoo Gazette printed two lengthy articles analyzing Proposal 6, plus comments by an opponent and a proponent. Rather than rehash that material, I want to focus on a list of four individuals and 177 organizations that oppose Proposal 6, which I found on http://www.michiganradio.org in a report called Bridging the Border. Because of the list’s length, I’ve recapped it as follows: four surviving past governors, three automakers, 25 Chambers of Commerce, 13 labor unions, 56 businesses, 25 transportation and municipal leaders, 6 agricultural business organizaitons, 35 business organizations and community associations and 13 newspapers.

This list of Proposal 6 opponents is extraordinary not only in its diversity, but even more so because some of its groups are more often than not on opposite sides of an issue. In pursuing his nefarious goal of embedding Proposal 6 in our Constitution, thereby assuring his family’s stream of income from the ancient Ambassador Bridge will continue, presumably until it crashes into the Detroit River, Maroun is spending freely from his billions. In addition to the $2.3 million mentioned earlier, he has spent $9 million on TV ads last year.

All things considered, I intend to vote no on Proposal 6, and I urge everyone else who believes in good governance to do the same.

DON SHERBURNE/Kalamazoo

Grand Rapids area chamber president: Proposal 6 is bad economics, will result in disastrous public policy

By Rick Baker and Sandy Baruah | Mlive.com

There are 31 million reasons and counting to vote “no” on Proposal 6. That’s the amount of money – $31 million – reportedly committed by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun on Proposal 6. Why would one person spend such an unprecedented amount of money trying to thwart Michigan’s economic recovery? The quick answer is he wants to buy your vote so he can protect his lucrative monopoly.
The Detroit Regional Chamber and Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce represent hundreds of organizations and thousands of businesses from East and West Michigan that are united on this issue. Proposal 6 is bad economics for Michigan and will result in disastrous public policy. Our members are committed to moving the economic needle and moving Michigan forward, but Proposal 6 would be a giant step backward.

Legal experts have analyzed the language in Proposal 6 and have determined it could require a statewide and local vote for any bridge, tunnel or overpass built in Michigan after January 1, 2012. This flawed language could require voters to approve by statewide and local elections any new bridge or tunnel built in Michigan. Our state could essentially be forced to wait until the next election before being able to build a bridge anywhere in the state.

Major projects that could be impacted by Proposal 6, like the New International Trade Crossing and Detroit rail tunnel, are infrastructure projects Michigan needs to compete in the global economy.

Canada is Michigan’s largest trading partner with more than $70.2 billion in trade in 2011. About 237,000 Michigan jobs depend on Canada-Michigan trade. In fact, one in seven jobs in West Michigan and one in eight jobs in Southeast Michigan rely on that trade. Keeping this trade relationship robust is crucial to our economic success.

Michigan’s current infrastructure is not equipped to accommodate the growing demands of international trade. Over 8,000 trucks cross the Detroit-Windsor border daily, 99 percent of which cross the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which has no direct freeway-to-freeway access.

Traffic is forced to travel seven miles on a commercial street with 17 stoplights to reach Highway 401. In the global market, minutes of delay costs businesses millions of dollars, particularly for the auto industry which depends on just-in time delivery. These frequent delays caused by traffic jams on the Canadian side of the current bridge significantly hinder economic expansion and our businesses’ ability to compete.

Windsor-Detroit truck traffic is projected to increase by 128 percent over the next 30 years. This will only exacerbate the congestion problem and as delay time at the border grows, so will the likelihood that national and global businesses will look for a more efficient route to the market. The international border is one of Michigan’s greatest economic assets. Businesses in every corner of the state benefit from this flow of commerce and investment. Proposal 6 will erode this advantage and sends the wrong message to investors across the globe.

The dark days of 2008 and 2009 proved one thing – the global economy is ruthless. Fierce competition drove Michigan’s auto industry to the brink of collapse. The global economy will not stop evolving and international trade will flow along the path of least resistance.
States – like Michigan – that fail to invest in the future and stay ahead of competitors will fall behind. A No vote on Proposal 6 will help ensure that doesn’t happen. Support Michigan’s future, protect our constitution and vote no on Proposal 6.

Dave Murray is the Grand Rapids community engagement specialist. Email him at dmurray@mlive.com and follow him on Twitter @ReporterDMurray or on Facebook.

Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, and he writes this with Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.
The chambers oppose Proposal 6, which would require the approval of a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each municipality where “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” are to be located before the State of Michigan may expend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels.

The proposal defines a “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” that means, “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.”

Say no to the Troll

Jack Lessenberry | Metro Times

Oct. 31, 2012

The last word on Matty Moroun’s Proposal 6

Next week, Michigan voters will make a vastly important choice, and if they choose wrong, it may cripple any attempts to revive our economy — forever.

If you vote yes on Proposal 6, you’ll be selling out your state, your democracy and your constitution so that one lying, bloated, greedy billionaire can get even richer at our expense.

His name is Manuel “Matty” Moroun, and he has spent a fortune — $31 million so far — in an attempt to confuse voters into giving him the right to ruin their hopes for a brighter future and preserve his monopoly for all time.

Moroun is, most likely, the worst citizen in this state who isn’t currently behind bars — and that’s saying something. He’s an 85-year-old slumlord whose symbol is the hulking ruins of the mammoth train station people see as they drive into Detroit from the south. Moroun and his family also own the Ambassador Bridge, the only way heavy automotive components can cross the Detroit River.

He also owns a vast trucking empire, and his trucks get preference crossing the bridge. He makes hundreds of millions every year from diesel fuel and gasoline stations at the bridge.

Diplomats, especially perhaps Canadians, tend to be very cautious about what they say about citizens of other countries. But monsters are different. Here’s what Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, says about the Morouns, meaning Matty, his wife, Nora, and his son, Matthew:

In all his years in government, many of which were spent in Washington, “I saw special-interest behavior that would make you cringe. But never did I see such a comprehensive effort by one interest to bend the entire system to its will.

“The Morouns act as if, by virtue of being billionaires, they are entitled to do whatever they want … and if you are above the law, as the Morouns seemingly think they are … they’ve decided to get even.”

Getting even isn’t the right term for it. The Morouns want to preserve their monopoly by any means necessary — lying, legalized bribery, endless lawsuits, you name it.

Proposal 6 would prevent any new international bridge from being built without a statewide vote. Which is a laugh, since the Morouns own enough state lawmakers to prevent any referendum from ever getting on the ballot.

If they win, it’s bad news for the rest of us. Anyone who takes any time to understand what’s really going on here is apt to be blown away by the nakedness of the Moroun family’s lies.

Here’s the scoop: Every major corporation wants a new bridge over the Detroit River. Every politician not on the take from Matty Moroun knows a new bridge is necessary.

The economies of Michigan and Ontario are terribly dependent on trade. Billions of dollars’ worth of heavy manufacturing components cross the Ambassador Bridge every year. But it was built in 1929, and it’s wearing out.

If anything were to happen to it — say, a terrorist attack — there’s no backup, and our economies would plunge into crisis. Incidentally, it takes years to build a new bridge.

Knowing that, those who really care about our future want to build one now. The new bridge is even more important for Canada than the United States — so much so, that they’ve offered us one of the world’s all-time sweetheart deals.

Canada will make sure we get the bridge, free of charge. Actually, it’s a much better deal than that. Canada will shell out the estimated $550 million the bridge will cost Michigan.

Eventually, we’ll pay that back to them — without interest — from our share of the tolls collected. But we get an added bonus: If Michigan accepts Canada’s money, Washington will allow us to count it as federal highway matching funds.

That means we get an extra $2.2 billion dollars from Washington to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. Obviously, our federal government knows we need a new bridge.

But that doesn’t please Moroun. He and his paid mouthpieces, Dan Stamper and Mickey Blashfield, are capable of saying in the same sentence that a new bridge isn’t needed — and that they want to build another one, right next to theirs.

Idiots who have been fooled by them sometimes say, “Yeah, why not let them build it? Private enterprise is better.”

But there are a few small problems. The Morouns don’t own enough necessary land on either side of the border. Plus, there’s no way Canada would or should let him twin his bridge. It would be a logistical and environmental disaster.

Heavy trucks crossing the Ambassador now face 16 traffic lights and horrendous backups before ever making it to the freeway.

That’s another reason a new bridge is needed. Gov. Rick Snyder tried to secure legislative approval — but Moroun paid off key committee heads in the form of “campaign contributions” and other donations. The governor couldn’t even get the Legislature to take a vote. But Snyder found a legal way to circumvent Moroun and struck a deal with Canada.

The two governments agreed on a New International Trade Crossing two miles downriver. Besides the other benefits, the NITC will create at least 10,000 good-paying jobs, many of them permanent ones. Enraged, Moroun shelled out millions to canvassers to collect enough signatures to get Proposal 6 on the ballot. Since then, he’s coughed up roughly another $31 million, mainly for incessant TV ads that are nonstop lies.

“You should believe nothing said in those ads,” Norton said, correctly. “None of what they say is true. None of it. These ads are an insult to the people of Canada, which is why I’m so active in speaking out.

“These ads, it’s worth remembering, are paid for by the same scoundrels who reneged for six years on the Gateway project, designed to improve U.S. access to their bridge, taking the people of Michigan for a $230 million ride.”

Gateway, remember, only got done after a judge threw Matty Moroun in jail last winter, took the project away from the Morouns, and made them pay the state to get it done right. Some people really are bad to the bone.

Can Michigan voters be so stupid as to sign their rights and their hope for a better future away to this gang?

The answer is entirely up to you.

High Noon in the library stacks: Thanks to the current Supreme Court’s reading of the Second Amendment, and millions of morons who cling to their weapons the way a baby does his blanket, we live in an age of insane gun worship.

That means a never-ending series of entirely predictable atrocities, from the losers who murder their children, to the creature who shot up the theater in Colorado last summer.

Yet this wasn’t enough for two judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals. Last week, Henry Saad and his comrade Jane Beckering ruled that Lansing’s Capitol Area District Library could not continue to ask people carrying guns to leave.

Why? Well, they said Michigan law says that local units of government aren’t allowed to set different firearms rules. There was one dissenter: Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, long one of the brighter lights in the Michigan judiciary, who said the law her colleagues cited doesn’t even apply to district libraries.

But common sense wasn’t what her conservative colleagues had any interest in. As Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press observed, “My problem isn’t that (they) have decided to enforce a law I don’t like; my problem is that they don’t seem to have read the law they’re claiming to uphold.”

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.