Moroun bridge victory could be short lived

Michael Gonyea

Detroit Political Buzz Examiner

The Windsor Star has, once again, made a rational, informed case for constructing a new publically-owned bridge linking Detroit and Windsor.

Among other things, its editorial (which appeared Saturday) pointed out that:

  • Bilateral trade supports more than eight million U.S. jobs, including 220,000 in Michigan. Currently one in three Canadian jobs relies on U.S.-Canada trade.
  • Canada is Michigan’s largest trading partner, purchasing 58 per cent of all Michigan’s foreign-bound goods. In 2008, trade between Canada and Michigan reached $67.4 billion.
  • Annual trade between Canada and the U.S. is more than $500 billion a year and one-quarter of that trade relies on the Windsor-Detroit crossing.
  • Commercial truck traffic is expected to increase more than 100 per cent by 2035.

These are just a few of many reasons that a new international bridge — called different things by different people—makes sense.

Canada’s willingness to put up $550 million for  bridge infrastructure that would be needed on the Michigan side, and its guarantee to take full responsibility for bonds issued to finance it, resulted in a no cost, no risk “win win” for Michigan taxpayers.

Throw in the fact that the U.S. Government agreed to make Canada’s $550 million investment eligible for matching funds to repair Michigan roads, and the fact that it would create thousands of much needed Michigan jobs, the decision to proceed with the bridge project was a no-brainer for many.

It had broad support among a coalition of business, labor and political leaders, and a cadre of experts on both sides of the border (not to mention every living former governor of Michigan). But the bills that would have authorized the project flamed out in the Michigan senate.

They were defeated by a coalition of one. Manuel “Matty” Moroun—the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge—wants to build a second private span adjacent to the existing one instead.

He knows of course that this is physically impossible. The last thing that Windsor needs is an adjacent bridge that worsens the traffic gridlock that already plagues the existing one. The choices are a new international bridge several miles downriver, or no new bridge at all.

Determined to protect his monopoly, Moroun spent millions of dollars on false and misleading advertising. His barrage was designed to convince Michigan taxpayers that they could get stuck with (a) a loser bridge that would cost them $100 million per year, and (b) a monument to Gov. Rick Snyder that would prevent Michigan from investing in its own crumbling infrastructure…neither of which were true.

He used countless millions more to line the pockets of state lawmakers who would vote on the measures.

His payoffs paid off.

After stalling for most of the year, the senate’s development committee gave up completely on the measures in October, without even putting them to a vote.

Gov. Rick Snyder has promised to try to get revamped bridge bills through his GOP-controlled legislature in 2012. But he has hinted that, if push comes to shove, there’s more than one way to build a bridge.

Snyder has already shown that he’s willing to push hard on issues he feels are important to Michigan’s future growth. If he can’t work his bills through legislature this time, odds are he’ll find a different way to get it done.