Editorial: Finish the Gateway Plaza project

Ambassador Bridge owner, while fighting new span, is unreasonably delaying completion of a toll plaza

The Detroit News

Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and his company, fighting for the right to build a new bridge to Canada next to the Ambassador, often appear to be their own worst enemies. Their drawn-out court battle with the state has delayed completion of a new $230 million toll plaza at the Ambassador Bridge.

They are airing new TV commercials that make debatable assertions about a proposed new public bridge to connect Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, farther downriver. That’s part of a $4.7 million ad campaign intended to defeat the publicly owned, privately operated bridge, sought by Gov. Rick Snyder.

It’s hard to see how this adversarial relationship ends the way Moroun and company wish: the U.S. and Canada entrusting them with a continued monopoly on a vital commercial crossing that carries one-quarter of all the merchandise trade between the two countries.

A new international crossing, to ease commerce and address national security concerns, is a top priority for Snyder. A 2004 study found that cross-border traffic supports 150,000 jobs and $13 billion in annual production. Snyder and Canadian officials believe a new span could send those impressive figures considerably higher.

But the legal twists and turns involved in the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project, alone, call into question the ability or willingness of Moroun’s company to be the kind of trusted private partner the two countries need to build and run such a span.

In April 2010, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ruled the Detroit International Bridge Co., Moroun’s firm, had failed to comply with a court order issued nearly three months earlier.

The Feb. 1, 2010, ruling effectively required the bridge company to remove some toll booths and parts of a fuel station and duty free shop to clear space for freeway ramps and direct access routes that were supposed to be part of the new plaza.

Bridge company leaders said they’d start work on the court-ordered reconstruction while making an emergency appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. Two months later, the state’s High Court rejected the appeal, in effect, leaving the judge’s order in place. Bridge officials again pledged to “work cooperatively” with the state but called the Supreme Court ruling an “interim decision.”

But in January this year, Judge Edwards briefly jailed bridge company president Dan Stamper after finding the firm in contempt for failing to comply with his reconstruction mandate.

In February, he again ordered the bridge company to clear away its structures and build the required approach ramps.

In July, a year and a half after Edwards’ initial order, the parties were back in court. The judge expressed doubt Moroun’s company would meet his deadline for completing the reconstruction by early next year and asked the company’s bond holder to take a greater role in overseeing the work.

The bond holder, an insurance firm, subsequently claimed it lacks the ability to handle such a task.

At some point the battling must end and the project must be completed. Moroun’s firm signed a contract. The delaying and obstructionism has to stop — or there should be additional consequences.