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.