Each day a quarter of a billion dollars in goods crosses the aging Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. An additional bridge is desperately needed but a long way off from being built.
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Every day more than a quarter billion dollars worth of goods passing over a single U.S. border crossing – the Ambassador Bridge – which stretches across the Detroit River, from Detroit to Canada. U.S. and Canadian officials say traffic jams on that bridge are hampering the flow of international commerce and they say a second major crossing from Ontario to Detroit is needed. The question, now, is who would control that bridge. We have a report from Quinn Klinefelter of WDET.
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QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: A steady stream of semi-trucks pour off of the Ambassador Bridge, spanning the river between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Officials from Detroit, the state of Michigan and the Canadian government agree there’s far too many trucks for a single crossing.
At a town hall meeting in the Detroit neighborhood of Del Ray – where the smell of diesel drifts among blighted, broken buildings – residents like Shawn Yando know they would host the U.S. side of a proposed second bridge. She hopes a new bridge means fewer trucks in Del Ray.
SHAWN YANDO: The fumes that we’re getting from the trucks, the hazard; we go to church locally, and to get across the traffic, it’s very scary with the children cutting across traffic with the trucks coming in.
KLINEFELTER: Michigan and Canadian officials argue the bridge would help redirect the current traffic flow, though it would also force some in Del Ray to re-locate. That is if it ever becomes reality. The project is mired in a protracted fight between the governments and the owners of the existing Ambassador Bridge who want to build on their site, about half-a-dozen miles away from Del Ray.
But the company failed to meet state deadlines to ease traffic congestion near the current, aging four-lane bridge. And a judge briefly jailed the ownership for contempt of court, ruling that in essence only the threat of prison would force the company to fulfill its obligations.
Now, Canadian Member of Parliament Brian Masse says the company cannot be trusted to build the vital second bridge crossing.
BRIAN MASSE: It’s not often where the CEO and, you know, the manager end up in prison because they have violated, you know, basic laws and tenants of a nation. That’s an extreme situation on something so important to our economies.
KLINEFELTER: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to loan Michigan millions of dollars to build a new bridge in Del Ray. Governor Rick Snyder says the state could pay the money back from toll revenues. The Ambassador Bridge owners counter that they can build with private funding, and, in fact, are spending millions of dollars touting their proposal.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: …because Governor Snyder wants to build his own $2 billion bridge. Instead an activist Detroit judge, whose son the Governor just appointed to the bench, put the Ambassador Bridge people in jail. Oh, and the new bridge? You have to pay for it.
GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: Let’s not let special interests hold back a great opportunity for job creation. Especially since this project can be done without any Michigan taxpayer dollars.
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KLINEFELTER: That’s Governor Snyder who’s still pushing for the bridge in Del Ray even though a plan to help build it died in committee in the state legislature, as the Ambassador Bridge ownership is quick to note.
Matthew Moroun’s family owns the Ambassador Bridge.
MATTHEW MOROUN: This is a very big deal. A border crossing is a multi-billion dollar venture.
KLINEFELTER: The company is pushing for a ballot referendum on which bridge should be built.
The battle for control itself has become so pronounced, it’s taken on a life of its own. University of Michigan student Amy Krings is writing her dissertation on the debate.
AMY KRINGS: There’s sort of this David and Goliath story taking place here. Two national governments, a state government, and all these groups have different interests. And I don’t think any of them inherently are interested in the well-being of Del Ray.
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KLINEFELTER: So residents in Del Ray play a waiting game for now, while a flood of trucks continue to roll off of the Ambassador Bridge.
For NPR News, I’m Quinn Klinefelter in Detroit.