Stephen Henderson: Powering past Moroun’s myths about the new bridge

By Stephen Henderson
Editorial Page Editor

If Manuel (Matty) Moroun had not bought and paid for the Michigan Legislature, or key members of the state’s congressional delegation, Gov. Rick Snyder wouldn’t have to make a deal on his own for a new bridge across the Detroit River.

But Moroun’s millions have so clouded legislative thinking on this issue that Snyder is left with no choice. If he believes the bridge is necessary, he’ll have to go it alone. Michigan law empowers him to do so, as long as he avoids spending state money. And the economic implications of the new crossing are clearly to the state’s benefit.

Word is that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet is set to approve a bridge agreement between Michigan and Canada as early as today. It will still require federal approval, but really, the only thing left to do will be to build it. And it’s about time.

Let’s be clear: The new bridge to Canada has been fantasized into controversy by Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge. But it’s really a straightforward public works project.

It’s a road across the water. Not materially different from roads the state builds, tears down or repaves all the time.

Moroun, who stands to lose millions if a second crossing opens, has argued, with a very loose fidelity to the facts, that this is somehow different, and that taxpayers in Michigan have much to fear.

And he has dumped as much as nearly anyone else in the state into our politicians’ pockets to get them to disseminate and defend his lies.

That’s all about emotion, though. The Canadian government has offered to front the money to build the new bridge, and it will be repaid with tolls. Even if those tolls fall short, Snyder says Michigan taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook to repay the money.

Even if he’s not right, though, the upside of building the bridge clobbers the potential downsides.

It will enhance the opportunity for trade across the river. It will create jobs prepping the site and building the bridge. It will give closure to a neighborhood in southwest Detroit that has been in limbo for years as the Morouns have stalled a decision about the crossing.

Those benefits would be worth paying for, in my opinion. They are long-term investments that we’ve scrimped on over and over in Michigan, expecting that it would never harm our lives or economy.

Look around. The signs of that kind of disinvestment are everywhere.

The bridge will be a towering beacon of turnaround in that attitude.

Snyder is doing what he must to get this bridge built.

The Morouns will keep pushing back, defending their own interests. But it may no longer matter how aggressively they’ve co-opted the rest of our government.