Trump could light a fire to move the Gordie Howe Bridge project forward

A bridge not far enough? Repairing roads and bridges comes with pros and cons

By Kathy Hoekstra – Watchdog.org – – Monday, January 9, 2017

A few months ago, a Detroit Free Press headline asked, “Will the Gordie Howe bridgeever get built?”

It’s a fair question for the $2 billion, publicly funded project launched more than a decade ago to relieve growing congestion on the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Planners say construction could begin as soon as mid-2018.

If that’s not soon enough, how about this year? Or this spring?

A transition team adviser for President-electDonald Trump tells Watchdog.org that all it would take is “just a phone call from Trump.”

Norman F. Anderson is president and CEO of CG/LA Infrastructure and an adviser to the Trump “infrastructure task force.” That group is charged with prioritizing and coordinating the president-elect’s ambitious $1 trillion infrastructure program — that is, $137 billion in tax incentives used to lure the remainder from private investment.

Mr. Anderson said the task force already has identified 68 projects across the country that could begin this year — although he did avoid the term “shovel-ready” — for a total investment of $262 billion and the potential for 700,000 jobs.

The bridge would bear the name of the Red Wings immortal near the top of the list. Other examples provided to Watchdog.org are the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project, Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail, the Southwest Pass dredging project south of New Orleans, the Yakima River basin water pumping station and Veterans Affairs hospital construction.

Whom would Mr. Trump call to push the Gordie Howe International Bridge to the starting line?

Many who have followed the bridge saga would likely agree on billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun. He and his family own the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which charges $5 for cars in the U.S. to cross. He has raised some of the biggest roadblocks to a publicly funded bridge that would compete with his family’s $60-million-per-year enterprise.

The latest gambit is a lawsuit claiming Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, is doing an illegal end run around the Legislature to get the bridge built.

Mr. Anderson demurred on the phone call speculation, saying the 2017 projects compiled by the task force all have the same unmistakable impediment to progress.

“All are projects that would be ready to go, simply lack the final approval, permit or push,” he said. “The point is that there are projects, many of them across all sectors, tied up in the soon-to-be former administration’s lack of leadership, willingness to take risks, and indecisiveness. And that’s not a political point. It’s just a fact.”

Mr. Anderson also chided the Obama administration for not having the right infrastructure professionals at the table, which led to misplaced spending.

“The failure of the Obama people to identify good projects and invest in those projects doesn’t logically mean there aren’t good projects; it just means that they sucked at it — radically underestimating the complexity, setting mediocre people to the task of execution and not following through,” Mr. Anderson said.

Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the free-market-oriented Mercatus Center, is equally critical of President Obama’s infrastructure efforts, especially his signature American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the $800 billion stimulus package that kicked off his administration.

A 2011 Mercatus paper that Ms. de Rugy co-wrote, “Would More Infrastructure Spending Stimulate the Economy?” challenged the notion that a quick infusion of government money for infrastructure projects instantly creates shovel-ready jobs and jump-starts economic growth.

“President Obama had roughly $47 billion in direct infrastructure spending, and the idea was to invest it into ‘shovel-ready’ projects. And it would take the place of the private sector during the recession,” she explained to Watchdog.org. “And once the economy picked up, the private sector would then come back.”

The federal government’s final report in 2014 shows that $30 billion of that money went to transportation infrastructure, while the bulk of the rest went toward shoring up state and local governments and sudden paperwork-laden grant programs.

“President Obama himself had to acknowledge that there are just not that many ‘shovel-ready’ projects,” Ms. de Rugy said.

Ms. de Rugy said that even though Mr. Trumpaims to encourage more private investment through tax incentives, the plan likely will go down the same unsuccessful path. It’s not the mix of government and private spending, she said. It’s which projects are chosen and why, often a choice based on politics and popularity rather than merit.

A project as high-profile as the Gordie Howe Bridge is a no-brainer for investors, who can expect ribbon-cuttings, outsized press coverage and perhaps a cut of revenue. After all, the Ambassador Bridge pulls in $60 million per year.

But how eager are investors to fix crumbling highways in Detroit that get motorists to the bridge?

“One of the things we may actually need is maintenance. But I don’t think that’s what [Mr. Trump is] going to have in mind — to just do maintenance. It’s not that lucrative for the private sector,” she said. “So I think they’re going to find that the administration’s grand idea is going to be a whole lot of misallocation of capital or that there’s no amount of tax credit that can actually attract the private sector to do some of the stuff that would be useful to do.”

Another pitfall the incoming administration needs to avoid, Ms. de Rugy said, is considering government infrastructure spending a “jobs” program. It is a popular notion, especially among Democrats looking to recapture the votes of American workers who have defected to Mr. Trump.

“If we need to build infrastructure, try to get the highest quality for the lowest price and try to ignore the ‘economic impact’ or the ‘jobs impact,’” she said. “That’s not your reason to do it. It’s because you need it.”

Mr. Anderson blames infrastructure sluggishness on a market shackled by regulations, the “incompetent, slow and sleazy execution of studies” that cause endless delays, and leadership unwilling to challenge the regulatory status quo or revitalize the public sector.

Ms. de Rugy and Mr. Anderson agree, however, that time is of the essence.

“The infrastructure is a very, very bad tool to try to stimulate the economy in the short term,” Ms. de Rugy said. “It has to happen fast. And that’s actually really just hard to put in place.”

The ever-optimistic Trump team thinks not.

Here is a Shocker!

Ambassador Bridge owners sue Snyder, state over new bridge

By TRACY SAMILTON • 29 MINUTES AGO

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit are suing Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Transportation over the proposed new Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Former Attorney General Mike Cox is representing the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit claims only the state legislature is authorized to approve a new international bridge, and since the legislature didn’t do so, the agreement between the Snyder administration and Canada (which is paying the entire cost) is illegal.

A spokeswoman for the governor says, “We disagree, and we are proceeding as planned.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a long string of efforts by the Moroun family to stop the new bridge, including a failed statewide ballot proposal in 2012 that voters rejected by a wide margin.

The new bridge is expected to compete with the aging Ambassador Bridge and siphon a significant portion of its customs revenue.  The lawsuit says the Ambassador Bridge will be forced to close as a result.

The Moroun enterprise has attempted to forestall the new bridge by pledging to build a new span, next to the existing Ambassador Bridge span.  The pledge received support from Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature, but not from Governor Snyder and MDOT, who said it was a terrorism risk to have two spans next to each other.

But the Morouns’ plan is also vehemently opposed by most people who live in Windsor, because it would dump even more traffic onto already congested roads in the city. The Morouns are also despised by some residents because they purchased properties in some neighborhoods near the site of the proposed second span and allowed them to fall into disrepair.

The bridge couldn’t be built without permits from the city, from the province of Ontario, and from Canada, and that appears highly unlikely.

http://michiganradio.org/post/ambassador-bridge-owners-sue-snyder-state-over-new-bridge

Check out the Video story of the New Bridge and the Delray community

The Bridge Comes to Delray

Detroit’s downtrodden Delray neighborhood has been waiting for the new bridge to Canada for well over a decade. The bridge means hundreds of families will be relocated.

Plans for the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) started in earnest in 2004, a way to speed traffic to and from Canada, especially trucks, providing another way across the border than the Ambassador Bridge, built in the 1920s.

Artist conception courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation

Artist conception of the DRIC courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation

Artist conception of the DRIC courtesy Michigan Department of TransportationDelray seemed to be the best choice for the bridge to land. Many people have already left and a lot of vacant property had already been acquired by the city. Trouble was, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Manuel “Matty” Maroun, kept fighting the DRIC with legal challenges, even funding and losing a statewide ballot proposal to stop the DRIC.

Meanwhile, both Governors Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, and Rick Snyder, a Republican, led the charge for the new bridge despite opposition from his own party. There was talk the bridge might be open in 2016. That possibility has long passed. The residents of Delray suffered, not knowing when or if or when they’d have to leave and if they’d be properly compensated. Then there are the residents who’ll still be there to see all the construction and truck traffic coming their way.Last year, 2015, brought signs the project was moving ahead. The DRIC was rechristened the Gordie Howe International Crossing. More community meetings were held but the buyout offers for the hundreds of residents came slowly.

Now its December 2016, with clear signs the bridge is really coming. The Michigan Department of Transportation is moving fast, buying more homes. More people are relocating. About half the affected residents have struck deals to sell so far but it’s estimated about half of them are leaving Detroit. They can’t afford the city anymore as home prices keep rising.

MDOT expects to have all its property buyout offers for residents and businesses by the end of the year. It’s expected the state will have to take some properties by eminent domain. Barring any more delays, this bridge may open in five years, maybe sometime in 2022.

Detroit Public Television, through the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, looks into the lives of some Delray residents with the bridge coming in.

Bridge Authority Has a New Chairman

http://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/duncan-named-permanent-chairman-of-bridge-authority-board

Bridge RFP Process is in Full Swing

http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/big-names-europe-and-ame7ricas-run7ning-21bn-u7s/

Work under way on Ontario’s Herb Gray Parkway (Creative Commons)

Big names from Europe and the Americas in running for $2.1bn US-Canada bridge

14 November 2016 | By GCR Staff 0 Comments

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority announced last week that three consortiums have been formally requested to bid for the job of designing, building and operating the Gordie Howe International Bridge over the Detroit River.

The $2.1bn bridge, which may be cable-stayed or suspended, will take over from the Ambassador bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, which presently carries about 2.5 million cargo trucks a year, around 30% of all lorry traffic between the US and Canada.

The shortlisted teams are:

  • Bridging North America, which contains 14 companies. This is led by the Canadian arm of Spanish giant ACS and its Dragados and Turner Construction subsidiaries. It also includes Fluor Canada, Canadian contractor Aecon and US engineer Aecom; design is by Toronto architect Moriyama & Teshima and New York-based Smith-Miller + Hawkinson.
  • Legacy Link Partners. This is led by Canadian engineer SNC-Lavalin and Vinci with finance from public–private partnership specialist John Laing Investments. The consulting engineer is Nebraskan firm HDR, and the architect will be Berlin-based Leonhardt, Andrä and Partners if the bridge is cable-stayed and Aas-Jakobsen of Oslo if a suspended deck is chosen.
  • The third team is CanAm Gateway Partners, led by Bechtel with design and engineering by a joint venture between UK companies Arup and Mott McDonald Design, together with Denmark’ NORR Associates and Bergmann Associates, which is based in Rochester, New York.

The crossing will connect Interstates 75 and 94 in Michigan with the newly built Herb Gray Parkway connection in Ontario. This will allow faster traffic flow than the current configuration, which connects to city streets on the Canadian side.

The bridge was first proposed by Canadian authorities in 2004, but was opposed by Detroit businessman Manuel Moroun, who owns the Ambassador.

A Canadian federal Crown corporation, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, was established in 2012 to handle the procurement process. The project was approved by the US government in April 2013. The following month, the Canadian government allocated $25m to begin land acquisition on the Detroit side.

The authority said in early 2015 that it hoped to issue the request for proposals at the end of that year, but this was delayed by the need to assemble the site on the American side.

Construction Dive website reports that one issue was the need to acquire a 42-acre plot of land owned by Mr Mouron using eminent domain powers. All in all, the state will pay $370m for some 30 packets of land.

Andy Doctoroff, special project adviser to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, said in a statement: “It is great news because it demonstrates that the Gordie Howe International Bridge project is moving full steam ahead, and it reflects the fantastic working relationship that Michigan has with Canada and all of its project partners.”

Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s minister of infrastructure and communities, said: “The Gordie Howe International Bridge is one of the most significant infrastructure projects in North America because of its vital role in maintaining and growing Canada’s most important trade relationship and closest partnership.”

The bridge will be named after Saskatchewan ice hockey player Gordie Howe, who was best known for his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings.

Image: Work under way on Ontario’s Herb Gray Parkway (Creative Commons)

Delray residents near new bridge looking for a buyout

Jarvis: Detroit residents near new border bridge look to Canada for help

Jarvis: Detroit residents near new border bridge look to Canada for help

Cedric Jones stands in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on  Nov. 3, 2016.
Cedric Jones stands in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Share Adjust Comment Print

DETROIT — Beulah Jones was the first black teacher in Roseville, a suburb of Detroit. She worked all her life.

She didn’t drink, smoke or curse. She went to church until she wasn’t able to.

“I couldn’t ask for a better mother,” said her son, Cedric.

Yet Beulah spent the last 10 years of her life, until she died Aug. 31 at age 83, fighting for decency and respect from the people building the Gordie Howe International Bridge that will link Windsor and Detroit.

When the mostly black, Latino and low-income residents who live next to where the bridge is planned hear about the amenities on the Canadian side, they see a difference. And they don’t think it’s fair. They believe that Canada, which is leading the project, should also protect its foreign neighbours.

“We have this international project straddling these two communities, and when it lands on this side, it doesn’t have the protections that it has when it lands on the other side,” said Simone Sagovac of the community advisory group established by Detroit’s city council to advocate for residents. “We are looking for Canada to be leading in a way that will be fair on both sides of the border.”

Cedric Jones, of the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, on Nov. 3, 2016 holds a copy of minutes from a meeting at which he says he was promised his house and his mother's home would be purchased to make way for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Cedric Jones, of the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, on Nov. 3, 2016 holds a copy of minutes from a meeting at which he says he was promised his house and his mother’s home would be purchased to make way for the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

What Beulah Jones faced defies belief. She lived on South Harrington Street, off West Jefferson Avenue. Her neighbours across the street, including her son and caregiver Cedric, were bought out. So was everyone on her side, up to her block. The land at the other end of her block is also part of the project.

That left Beulah and one neighbour, Vietnam War veteran Elmer Johnson, on a sliver of land.

Theirs were among about 50 houses in small, isolated clusters left dotting the boundaries of the planned truck plaza south of I-75 — the busy interstate highway that will connect to the new bridge.

Beulah had lived in her house for more than 60 years. She didn’t want to move. But she didn’t want to be left all alone.

“In a multibillion-dollar project, they’re nickel-and-diming these people whose lives are so impacted,” said advisory group member Gregg Ward.

“Have some morals,” Cedric said. “I don’t know no politicians, no higher-ups who would allow their mothers to live under those circumstances. If it’s not good enough for your mother, why is it good enough for my mother?”

Beulah spent her days calling the advisory group, the city, the state. Some people believe the stress hastened her passing.

“It made her have to worry about something she shouldn’t have had to worry about,” said Cedric.

Longtime Delray residents Albert and Myrtle Green talk talk about the impact of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project Nov. 3, 2016.
Longtime Delray residents Albert and Myrtle Green talk talk about the impact of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Albert and Myrtle Green live several streets west, on Crossley Street. They bought their house in 1948. It was an industrial neighbourhood, but it was vibrant — Hungarians, Armenians, Italians and lots of kids. There was a house on every lot, schools and stores. The Greens ran a nearby variety store and lunch counter for 56 years.

The announcement of the bridge quickened the neighbourhood’s decline, said their daughter, Debra Williams, another member of the advisory group. People who could afford to move left. Landlords stopped repairing their buildings. Scrappers picked apart the remains. There was illegal dumping.

Now, the Greens’ house, with their garden of petunias and marigolds, is one of only two occupied houses on the block. They’re 89 now, married almost 70 years.

They’re five blocks away from the plaza. Still, “with my age and the surroundings,” Myrtle said quietly, her walker next to her chair, “I would like a buyout.”

She’s worried about more pollution, noise and isolation.

“I don’t think I could sell because nobody wants this,” she said.

“They worked hard to build the business,” said Williams. “They worked hard on their home. They pay their taxes. They’re good citizens. The time they have left, they should have a good quality of life and I don’t think that’s asking a lot.”

Debra Williams stands in front of her childhood home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray on Nov. 3, 2016. Her parents still live there.
Debra Williams stands in front of her childhood home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray on Nov. 3, 2016. Her parents still live there. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Albert and Myrtle Green's former store is now closed in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray as shown on Nov. 3, 2016.
Albert and Myrtle Green’s former store is now closed in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray as shown on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The north side of I-75 is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Detroit. There are more children than in any other part of the city. They’re more than 70 per cent Latino and largely low-income. The ramps to and from the bridge and interstate will rise about 30 feet in the air — within about 100 feet of some homes. On the south side, traffic will exit I-75 and almost T-bone an apartment building before turning to go around it.

There will be noise walls between the service roads and interstate but nothing to protect all those families from the diesel particulate and noise from the steady stream of trucks on the ramps.

“It may be a small number of people, but they will experience a dramatic change in their lives,” said Sagovac.

The advisory group is calling for a minimum 300-foot buffer between the entire project and the houses. It cites studies showing that high levels of particulate from vehicles settle in areas within 300–1,500 feet of major highways, causing higher rates of heart disease, cancer, asthma and premature and low birth weight babies.

Particulate is the most harmful type of pollution, and it’s most dangerous within 300 feet of a major road. That’s where the smallest particles, which are carried deepest into the body, are concentrated. Children face the most risk, according to studies cited by the advisory group, because they breathe more air relative to their body weight than adults, are more active and are outside more.

Homes in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray are shown on Nov. 3, 2016.
Homes in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray are shown on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Michigan can’t buy out more homes because there is no money in the state’s budget for the bridge. That’s why Canada is fronting the initial cost. The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, the Canadian Crown corporation building the bridge, is responsible for funding property acquisition only within the right-of-way, spokesperson Heather Grondin said in an email.

So Michigan state Rep. Stephanie Chang asked Infrastructure Canada for money for more buyouts. The answer was no.

“I understand their reason why,” said Chang. “They’re Michigan’s properties, and they’re not responsible for outside the footprint.”

She and others also understand that the neighbourhoods on the American side faced more challenges than those on the Canadian side before this project, and that Windsor fought long and hard to get the amenities along the Herb Gray Parkway that leads to the bridge site.

Still, she said, “the general idea of protecting people’s health, protecting people’s quality of life needs to be a priority on both sides.

“Obviously,” she said, “Canada plays a very large role because the funding is entirely from the Canadian side. I would say to Canadians and Americans with any giant development project that is going to have enormous consequences and bring a lot of economic benefits to both countries, we need to make sure the host communities on both sides are treated in a way that really protects their quality of life and makes sure people are reaping economic benefits.”

A sign marks a recently purchased piece of property in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
A sign marks a recently purchased piece of property in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The former Detroit River International Crossing study recognized that the new bridge would have a “disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income population groups.” But the impact will be “fully addressed,” said Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeff Cranson. There are “rigorous” guidelines for reducing noise, monitoring emissions, buffers and aesthetics. The final details will be determined after the builder is chosen, but “we have listened to the community and are confident that mitigation measures … will adequately address the community’s concerns,” Cranson said.

The bridge authority is also meeting with groups on both sides of the border and is committed to a crossing that is “respectful to neighbouring residents and businesses in Canada and the U.S., Grondin said.

Related

The Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS), an anchor in the neighbourhood for 40 years, is just south of I-75. Most of its patients are women and children, most without health insurance. Most live on the other side of the interstate and don’t have cars. They walk along Junction Street over the highway to get to the centre. But Junction will close to accommodate the ramps connecting I-75 to the bridge’s truck plaza.

Denise Pike, development director for the Community Health and Social Services Center in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, is shown at the centre on Nov. 3, 2016.
Denise Pike, development director for the Community Health and Social Services Center in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, is shown at the centre on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

A new pedestrian crossing will be built at Morrell Street 300 yards away. The state promises it will be wider, well-lit and maintained all year. Still, CHASS patients will have to traverse eight to 10 lanes of traffic. They’ll have to cross service roads on either side. They’ll land on the south side by a truck stop known for prostitutes. Some of them will do this pushing baby strollers.

“That would make me afraid,” said CHASS development director Denise Pike.

The bridge authority said it would consider putting stop signs or lights on the service roads, but their engineers told the centre it must request this in writing, Pike said.

“They’re designing the project,” she said. “They should make sure they’re not cutting businesses off from their customers. This has been made clear several times. It’s not as if (Michigan’s transporation department) and the (bridge authority) are not aware of it.”

Pike suggested that the project pay for transportation for some patients or extend the pedestian crossing across both service roads, but has the impression the state and the bridge authority won’t consider it.

An abandoned home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
An abandoned home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

A destroyed home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016.
A destroyed home is shown in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

The offers being made for land needed for the bridge are also being questioned. On the Canadian side, Heritage Park Alliance Church in LaSalle received $17.9 million for its 15 acres when the parkway was built. The former Hellenic Banquet Hall in Tecumseh got $14 million for its 12 acres — like winning the lottery, its president said at the time.

Meanwhile, First Latin American Baptist Church in Detroit was offered US$411,000 for its smaller property.

“Canada’s approach to community benefits has been praised as an example to follow,” Pastor Kevin Casillas said in an email. “It would be a peculiar legacy for those overseeing the international project … to have millions of dollars to relocate churches (and) businesses on one side of the border, including $17.9 million for one church and funding to protect the eastern fox snake and Butler’s garter snake, but for some reason on the other side of the border, Latino and African American residents, businesses and churches end up receiving proportionately much less.”

Some Americans call this Canada’s bridge. It’s not fair to put everything on Canada, said Ward, who operates the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. Users, not governments, will pay for most of the crossing through tolls.

But the people who will pay the most, potentially sacrificing their quality of life, will be those like the Greens and the women and children at CHASS, who live near it, he said.

And they’re expecting Canada, the country known for decency, the country leading the project and fronting initial costs, to take care of them.

“It’s embarrassing to say but I believe from my experience of 28 years at the border that Canada will take better care of residents than the U.S.,” Ward said.

“Protecting these people — it’s just right,” he said.

ajarvis@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/winstarjarvis

Elmer Johnson sits in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016.
Elmer Johnson sits in front of his home in the Detroit neighbourhood of Delray, near the site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, on Nov. 3, 2016. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Gordie Howe Bridge process picks up steam

MDOT files to take church for Gordie Howe Bridge project

The State of Michigan has filed what appears to be the first lawsuit against a large property owner in southwest Detroit’s Delray district to acquire land for the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The so-called condemnation lawsuit filed this week revealed that the Michigan Department of Transportation offered $411,000 to buy the First Latin American Baptist Church at 6205 W. Fort St. in a “good faith offer” on July 25.

Alan Ackerman, a Bloomfield Hills attorney representing the church, said the offer was too low because the church needs at least $2 million to relocate to a new site nearby and improve it to the same condition as its current location.

Since the church refused the MDOT offer, the State of Michigan filed suit this week to take the property. Under the state’s eminent domain law, the amount to be paid will now be determined in court.

► Related: Date uncertain on work, completion of Gordie Howe bridge
► Related: Gordie Howe Bridge could be one of 5 longest in North America

“MDOT is working with the church to provide ample time for relocation prior to the state taking possession of the property,” said MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson in an e-mail. “MDOT will continue discussions with the church on acquisition issues in hopes of reaching agreement.”

The condemnation lawsuit marks the first of what is expected to potentially be a rash of such legal squabbles over how much MDOT must pay for land in Delray for the Gordie Howe Bridge and its approaches, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza, and connections to I-75.

State officials have said they need to purchase an estimated 673 parcels in Delray for the bridge project at a projected cost of about $370 million. Good faith offers have already been made to a majority of the property owners, many of whom own small residential parcels.

But one of the biggest battles may still lie ahead. The state needs to acquire some portion of a 42-acre trucking terminal at 7701 W. Jefferson that is owned by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family. Moroun’s son, Matthew, said recently the company would fight any attempt by MDOT to take its property for the Gordie Howe Bridge that will compete with the family’s Ambassador Bridge.

The Gordie Howe International Bridge remains in planning stages. Canadian authorities in charge of the massive project estimate it will open to traffic in late 2020. But delays in moving forward may push that completion date out beyond that.

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.