Construction of new bridge vital to state’s economy

Opinion

Daily Tribune

Gov. Rick Snyder announced his support for construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

We’re glad see some positive news about a project that will help the state. It’s needed to balance a very negative ad campaign under way over the past couple of months that has tried to stop the new bridge. The ads claim that construction isn’t in the best interest of the public. In reality, the only one whose “best interest” will be affected is the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, 84-year-old Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who is financing the public relations blitz.

Over a year ago, we expressed support for the new bridge and we haven’t seen any data to change our minds.

The campaign against the new structure is slick, well written and excellently executed. Moroun appears to be getting his money’s worth. We just hope he doesn’t get his way.

At best, the campaign is misleading and, at worst, it is a deceitful attempt to denigrate a project that truly would benefit Michigan.

In a news release, Snyder outlined some reasons why a bridge is not only desired but needed. He notes that trade with Canada supported 237,000 Michigan jobs; commerce between Canada and Michigan grew to $62 billion, which is a 42-percent increase over 2009; Michigan and Canada are each other’s largest trading partners; and Michigan exports more goods to Canada than any other state.

The economic numbers involved are staggering. The bridge would bring an estimated $1.8 billion in investment to the Detroit-Windsor area, create 10,000 construction jobs in Michigan and generate another 30,000 indirect jobs in Michigan and Windsor. Also, the Canadian government has offered to pay the $550 million cost of the work. Once constructed, its operation is expected to be supported through tolls. In addition, once financing is in place, the state would be in line for funds from Washington.

The project has the support of Chrysler, General Motors and Ford auto companies. Other advocates of the New International Trade Crossing, formerly called the Detroit River International Crossing, include Toyota, Honda, automotive suppliers, West Michigan businesses, including Amway, Steelcase, Meijer and Wolverine World Wide Inc., chambers of commerce from Marquette to Muskegon to Detroit and statewide business and agri-businesses, including the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Manufactures Association and Business Leaders for Michigan, labor unions, including the Michigan AFL-CIO, and political leaders across the state.

Considering the overwhelming support, it is amazing and sad that Moroun has managed to hold up the project.

We understand his desire to maintain his monopoly on local bridge crossings but figures indicate he will ultimately also benefit. It’s not as though the new bridge will put him out of business.

What’s needed now is for the state Legislature to pass the enabling laws that will allow the Michigan to contract with Canada and get the new bridge constructed.

Last year that legislation was stalled. This year, we hope our Lansing leaders look past a billionaire’s money and do what’s right for the state.

Don’t believe that ad!

Dave Hornstein

Detroit National Politics Examiner

When all else fails, lie.

That seems to be the strategy of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Maroun in running TV commercials that falsely claim the proposed competing publicly-owned New International Trade Crossing (NITC) would cost Michigan taxpayers $100 million a year.

In fact, the $550 million Michigan share of the project would be covered by the Canadian government and be repaid from NITC toll revenues. This Canadian bridge money, in turn, would be used as matching funds by Michigan to get $2.2 billion in federal highway money over the next 10 years. Money for building the $950 million bridge would be raised by issuing bonds, which would also be repaid from toll revenues, and Michigan taxpayers would not be held liable in case of default. The total cost of the project, which would be completed in 2016 or 2017, would be $3.8 billion, with the largest portion, $1.7 billion, paying for the proposed Windsor-Essex Parkway, which would connect the NITC to Highway 401, the route to Toronto.

It seems strange in the first place for a private individual to own and control an international border crossing, let alone the busiest one on the U.S.-Canadian border. Customs and border security are, after all, government functions, and the only other privately-owned crossing on this long border is at International Falls, MN. As it is, the Ambassador Bridge, built in 1929, has seen better days and is inadequate for carrying existing traffic.  Maroun wants to build a twin span next to the Ambassador at a cost of $500 million, but that proposal has been rejected by Canadian authorities.

The NITC, which would be owned by the U.S., Canadian, Michigan and Ontario governments, would be located two miles downriver from the Ambassador, making the Detroit area less vulnerable to border shutdowns from a bridge being closed, whether from terrorist attacks, repairs or unforeseen problems. The project is expected to generate 10,000 construction jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs, thereby increasing tax revenue.

As it is, Maroun now has a virtual monopoly at the Detroit River border, for the only other crossing, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, is unsuited for heavy truck traffic and carries very little of it. While Maroun claims a competing NITC would take away 75 percent of the Ambassador’s traffic, it is clear that from competition alone, his bridge would be less of a gold mine for him. But who has any sympathy for an 84-year-old billionaire who has raked in monopoly profits for decades and now has more money than he’ll ever be able to spend?

While Maroun is spending some of his money on dishonest commercials to try to build up public opposition to the NITC, his spending on the legalized bribery of campaign contributions to stop the project has so far been more effective. Last year, the NITC, then known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), was before the legislature with the support of then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. It passed the then-Democratic-controlled House by a 56-51 vote, with all Republicans and nine Democrats opposed. When the bill reached the state Senate, then-Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) refused to schedule it for a vote.

Granholm’s Republican successor, Rick Snyder, supports the NITC, and Republicans now control both houses of the legislature. Other Republicans supporting the NITC include Oakland County Executive Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and former Govs. John Engler and William Milliken. Business backers of the project include the automotive Big Three, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Meijer, Steelcase, Kellogg and Amway. The NITC is also supported by such Democrats as Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and former Gov. James Blanchard, as well as labor unions. But when the choice for legislators is between legalized bribery and the public interest, all bets are off.