BY JOHN GALLAGHER
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Near the Ambassador Bridge, construction crews have been hard at work building a new ramp to expressways. Nearby, duty-free fuel pumps have been removed and relocated about 50 yards away.
It’s all part of work on the much-disputed Gateway project, an effort in the planning stages since the 1990s to connect the bridge directly to I-75 and I-96 through a series of new ramps.
The big question hovering over this work is: Will it be enough?
Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. is due back in court Thursday to hear Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards rule on whether the company is in contempt of court for delaying the completion of the Gateway project.
Edwards ruled in February 2010 that Moroun’s company had broken its agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation on how to build the project. Rather than building the new ramps as MDOT demanded and as a contract urged, Moroun’s company built its portion of the project in a way that kept thousands of trucks daily on Fort and other local streets.
In place of where new truck routes were to go, Moroun built a duty-free store and lucrative duty-free fuel pumps. Edwards ordered those removed as necessary for Moroun to comply with the original plan, even if it cost him millions of dollars.
Since then, Edwards has heard lengthy and disputed testimony and arguments from MDOT and the bridge company over whether the company was complying with his order.
At the bridge last week, Stacey Kehr, president of Moroun’s Ammex Global Marketplace, the duty-free facilities, said there’s no reason for Edwards to rule against the company Thursday.
“You can see there’s been major progress made here,” she said. “This is not just a little gesture. We are investing millions to reconfigure the plaza in the manner the judge ordered us to.”
MDOT disagrees, and last week filed a motion asking Edwards to appoint a receiver to take the Gateway project from Moroun’s company.
“A receiver? But we’re almost finished,” Kehr said last week. “We are clearly on a path. We are making great progress.”
MDOT contends that the work is too little, too late.
Edwards briefly jailed bridge company President Dan Stamper last January for failing to comply with his February 2010 order to rebuild the company’s portion of the project. Edwards also asked Safeco, an insurance company that issued a performance bond on the project, to tell him whether it could take over the project, but Safeco said that was not possible.
Short of appointing a receiver over the bridge company, Edwards also has the power to levy financial penalties on the company to force it to complete the project.