The Globe and Mail
The busiest crossing between Canada and the United States is in private hands. That’s worked well enough for decades, but the owner is now getting in the way of a much-needed expansion of capacity at the border. He should end his campaign of obstruction and alarmism.
Matty Moroun of Grosse Pointe, Mich., has a good reason to protect his 81-year-old Ambassador Bridge – the sole above-ground span linking Windsor, Ont., and Detroit. More than two million trucks have crossed the bridge this year; that’s 7,200 a day, and this is a bad year. The trucks carry cargo equal to about one-quarter of all trade between Canada and the U.S., worth around $150-billion. Together with millions of passenger vehicles, the trucks rumble to or from the bridge through an overwhelmed customs plaza and onto the streets of downtown Windsor. Delays can stretch into hours, costing businesses in the two countries’ manufacturing heartland millions of dollars.
The bridge and its related infrastructure are too old and too small to meet the current or future needs of North American businesses and local residents.
There is a solution on the table with financing and the backing of state, federal and provincial governments. The plan – a second, publicly owned crossing, run by private operators, fed by a new parkway that connects with Highway 401 and avoids traffic in downtown Windsor, with a new customs plaza on the Canadian side – would meet our needs for decades to come. The American portion would be financed through a bond issue, and Canada has offered to put up $550-million to help build approach roads on the Michigan side, to be paid back with toll revenue.
Mr. Moroun, his monopoly at risk, is opposed. He alternately suggests that a new crossing isn’t needed, or that he would oblige by building a new bridge beside his existing bridge – a move that would mean more money coming his way but, in the absence of new approach roads or a customs plaza, create further congestion in downtown Windsor.
Either way, he stands in the way. He has run inaccurate ads on both sides of the border (including during Ontario’s provincial election campaign), claiming that the bridge will cost Michigan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. He and his family donated a total of $565,000 last year to 45 candidates now sitting in the state’s senate and lower house, and now he’s leaning on them, Republicans in particular, to fight the plan; a crucial committee vote to authorize the plan was delayed last week.
Mr. Moroun may have a bridge monopoly, for now, but he doesn’t have a monopoly on good policy or on political will. New transportation infrastructure is needed, and Michigan legislators will have to fight a private interest in defence of the public interest.