Ambassador owners plan to take bridge battle to November ballot

“Better to ask voters if they want Moroun’s company – which lacks respect for our courts and the rule of law – to be holding disproportionate power over our international border.”

By John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Business Writer

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are hoping to take their fight to block Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed new Detroit-Windsor bridge to the November ballot.

The Detroit International Bridge Co. said Friday that it is undertaking a drive for a statewide referendum in November that would require Michigan voters to approve any new bridge or tunnel to Canada.

Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co. and owner with his father, Manuel (Matty) Moroun, of the Ambassador Bridge, said voters deserve to have a say on whether the state should commit resources to a new bridge project.

“That’s a vote that we’d have to live with if we lost, and that’s a vote that (Snyder) would have to live with if he lost,” Moroun said Friday.

The State Board of Canvassers will review the proposed petition, and then backers would have to collect more than 300,000 signatures of registered voters to put the measure on the ballot.

The bridge company has been fighting for years to block the new public bridge project, dubbed by Snyder the New International Trade Crossing and also known as the Detroit River International Crossing.

Matthew Moroun said Friday, “Michigan voters should determine the priorities of where the state invests resources. We believe such a decision should require the vote of the people.”

The bridge company is organizing the drive under the heading “The People Should Decide.” The committee is in the formative stages and will be under the direction of Mickey Blashfield and Jennifer Dennis, two employees in the Moroun business network.

The effort includes a website,

Bob LaBrant, a retired official of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce who now works as a consultant on ballot initiatives, said the Morouns can gather enough signatures if they’re willing to hire professional petition managers who gather signatures for drives across the country.

“Michigan closely resembles California in that there is a petition-management industry,” he said. “If you pay $4.50-$6 a signature, you can probably qualify a proposal for the ballot.”

But the Morouns have begun their drive relatively late to get on the November ballot, he said. Depending on the exact language and whether the Morouns are seeking a constitutional amendment or a statutory change, the signatures would be due no later than mid-July.

And, although the bridge company said it would need to gather around 325,000 signatures, LaBrant said, “They probably want to be over 400,000 to make sure they don’t have duplicates or unregistered signatories.”

Opponents of the bridge company scoffed at the notion of a ballot referendum.

“Better to ask voters if they want Moroun’s company – which lacks respect for our courts and the rule of law – to be holding disproportionate power over our international border,” Gregg Ward, operator of an independent hazardous materials truck ferry to Windsor, said in an e-mail to the Free Press on Friday.

Tom Shields, a spokesman for the Coalition for the New International Trade Crossing, said in a statement, “We believe the voters will reject an attempt by Mr. Moroun to guarantee his monopoly in our state’s constitution. If this measure gets to the ballot, Michigan voters will certainly vote to reject Mr. Moroun’s proposal to line his own pockets at the expense of our state’s economic future.”

Snyder, like former Gov. Jennifer Granholm before him, has been stymied in his efforts to win legislative approval for the proposed new bridge to Canada. That has led to suggestions that Snyder might explore non-legislative venues for approving a new bridge, such as an executive order or some sort of compact with Canadian authorities.

Canada has offered to pay $550 million in advance to cover Michigan’s share of the project and be paid back through bridge tolls. Snyder and bridge supporters say Michigan taxpayers would be insulated from any shortfall in bridge revenues by ironclad legislation.

But the Morouns insist there’s no guarantee that Michigan residents won’t get stuck with covering any shortfall.