Editorial: Ballot question is Moroun’s newest ploy to stall public bridge

Detroit Free Press

The latest trick to emerge from the Detroit International Bridge Co.’s bag of stall tactics to maintain a monopoly and maximum profits at the Detroit border is a particularly odious plan to push for a statewide referendum that would require Michigan voters to approve any new bridge or tunnel to Canada.

Voters should not be fooled – and Gov. Rick Snyder should not be cowed into waiting for this latest diversionary effort to play out.

This is just more of the same from the bridge company’s owner, Manuel (Matty) Moroun. So far, the bridge company has blocked construction of a new public bridge – called the New International Trade Crossing or Detroit River International Crossing – largely by buying off the Legislature and befuddling the public. It’s only a sample of what Michigan would get during a ballot issue campaign.

Mickey Blashfield, who heads government relations for the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, said the referendum is a constitutional protection for taxpayers. The Mackinac, Blue Water and Zilwaukee bridge projects, he said, all cost taxpayers more than estimated.

“This is about who makes the determination,” Blashfield told the Free Press editorial page Monday. “All we’re doing is ensuring that it’s not just one guy, such as a disgruntled governor who moves forward on an executive order. We believe a vote of the people should be required for an international bridge. If this is a data-driven decision, it should be no problem for proponents to make their case.”

In truth, if the merits of the arguments – and not hardball politics – had prevailed, the bridge debate would have ended a long time ago.

Despite the bridge company’s assertions that the proposed public bridge would cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year, private investors would bear all the risks. Enabling legislation would prohibit the state from assuming any liability for bridge costs, or for paying back the $550 million Canada offered to front Michigan.

Equally important, the public bridge proposal, two miles south of the Ambassador, is the only plan Canadians support.

A statewide vote on the bridge would also set a poor precedent by injecting too much politics into transportation decisions. Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., said voters should determine investment priorities. By that standard, every major transportation project, including the South Beltline freeway in Grand Rapids and rebuilding I-94 in Detroit, ought to be subject to a public vote, a frighteningly impractical idea that would prevent transportation planners from making long-range decisions in the broadest public interest.

Appeals by Matthew and Manuel (Matty) Moroun, co-owners of the Ambassador Bridge, to direct democracy are almost amusing, considering the way they have pushed their business interests at the border over those of the public’s, and the disregard for the law they showed in long ignoring a judge’s order to rebuild part of the $230-million Gateway Project that connects the Ambassador Bridge directly to expressways.

The bridge company’s efforts to delay a second crossing have left Detroit with a single aging structure that eventually will neither handle the region’s needs to move people and goods nor protect the nation’s security in a disaster.

It’s time to end the big stall, not prolong it with an imprudent and impractical ballot initiative.