Bridge Co.’s Stamper says work on Gateway Project completed correctly
By Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News
Detroit — Ramps and revenge are the two reasons why the hotly disputed Gateway Project still isn’t completed, according to the president of the Detroit International Bridge Co.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, DIBC President Dan Stamper said the bridge company had correctly completed its portion of the $230 million Gateway Project.
His comments come less than a week after he and Grosse Pointe Shores billionaire and trucking magnate Manuel “Matty” Moroun spent a night in Wayne County Jail after a judge found them in civil contempt of court for defying court orders related to the project that was to be completed alongside work done by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Stamper also on Wednesday strongly implied that objections by MDOT to the DIBC’s building of Pier 19 — often referred to as the “bridge to nowhere” — was in retaliation for the bridge company’s fight against MDOT building a second international bridge Downriver, which is backed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
“The entire process broke down” with the state’s plans for the Detroit River International Crossing (now known as the New International Trade Crossing), Stamper said.
Stamper also shot down assertions by MDOT that the DIBC had failed to transfer property needed to finish the section of a ramp leading to Interstates 75 and 96.
“We issued rights of entry to MDOT in 2007 that gave them the right to come on to our property and build that ramp,” Stamper said. “But they haven’t finished the last section because 60 days before construction they would have to open ramps they built and closed two years ago.
“Those ramps would take traffic directly from the freeways to the bridge, but they won’t do it.”
On Thursday, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards jailed Stamper and Moroun for defying his ordered compliance in the $230 million Gateway Project dispute. A day later, the state appeals court intervened and ordered their release as they appeal Edwards’ ruling.
Edwards said he felt jailing was the only meaningful act the court could select to coerce the bridge company to comply with his orders, saying the maximum fine the court could and would impose was only $7,500.
Other possible sanctions that could have been implemented included putting the bridge company’s portion of the work into receivership and having the Safeco bonding company complete the project, or having MDOT appoint another construction company to complete the bridge company’s work.
Last week was the second time that Edwards has jailed Stamper. On Jan. 10, 2010, Stamper was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and briefly jailed. Edwards released him after the bridge company began work on court-ordered changes at the bridge plaza.
The Gateway Project, which began construction in February 2008, realigns Interstates 75 and 96 to create new entrance and exit ramps to the Ambassador Bridge, as well as Mexicantown, and seeks to remove truck traffic from residential streets in southwestern Detroit.
Doing so would remove up to 10,000 trucks a day from secondary and residential streets in the area.
In lengthy court hearings over the years, the bridge company has argued that its contract with the state gave both parties the right to change construction plans and that design orders from MDOT were ambiguous.
Over the past two years, the Detroit International Bridge Co. and the Michigan Department of Transportation have been at odds over the following points:
Attorneys for the bridge company have pressed two main arguments to the court: that the contract gave each side the right to make changes to the plan, and that MDOT’s drawings were unclear and ambiguous. Both arguments were rejected by Edwards.
According to MDOT, the bridge company failed to build required ramps and roads leading to and from the freeways. It also failed to transfer bridge property to MDOT so it could complete its portion of the project.
MDOT also objected to the placement of fueling stations directly in front of the duty-free shop on the bridge plaza. The DIBC did relocate the stations as part of Edwards’ earlier ruling.
Over the years, the bridge company has accused MDOT of denying relief to the residents of southwest Detroit by refusing to open access ramps to the bridge plaza. According to MDOT, opening the plaza would jeopardize up to $170 million in federal matching funds for the project, putting taxpayers on the hook for the money.
The other major obstacle is the location of Pier 19, which looms over Fort Street.
The pier was built as the cornerstone of Moroun’s planned second span to the Ambassador Bridge — which puts him at odds with Snyder’s plan for a publicly backed bridge. But according to MDOT, the location of the pier is in line with a road that would move truck traffic from Fort Street and directly to the freeways.
While the bridge company did relocate fueling stations that were built in front of the duty-free store, Pier 19 remains in place.
In January 2010, Edwards found the bridge company in contempt and ordered it to relocate toll booths, refueling stations and a portion of a duty-free shop. It also was ordered to build roads and ramps by Jan. 10, 2012.