Lt. Gov. Brian Calley: There’s room for two international bridges in Detroit

By Gus Burns | fburns@mlive.com

DETROIT, MI — The political joust between Detroit billionaire Manuel “Matty” Maroun and the state of Michigan endures.

But for those with a seat outside the political coliseum, many seem to be be in agreement on one thing: A single U.S.-Canada bridge crossing in Detroit — especially one that is 83 years old and holds fewer vehicles than less-traveled crossings, such as the Peace Bridge in Buffalo — isn’t sufficient.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley on Thursday met with the Society of Hispanic Business Owners & Professionals to discuss the new crossing, which is planned to originate in Detroit’s Del Ray neighborhood in southwest Detroit and connect Interstate 75 with Highway 401 in Windsor.

Calley believes Maroun’s bridge is essential to the border-crossing equation.

“I think the Ambassador Bridge is an integral part of our transportation system and will remain as long as the life of that bridge continues.” Calley said. “That is an infrastructure asset we can’t do without.

“We believe that we need the new bridge and we need that bridge. If something were to happen to the Ambassador Bridge, it’s going to need to have to be replaced. We have to have two crossings… The risk is too great to rely on one crossing.”

Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Company Holdings Inc has mounted a number of strategic moves to discourage the building of a public bridge, including spending $9.4 million million on advertisements in the last two years, according to the Detroit News, and most recently, collecting 609,220 of a required 322,609 signatures to add a ballot proposal in November which, if passed, could alter the state’s constitution to require a statewide referendum bridge construction.

Should the initiative pass on the Nov. 7 ballot, Calley said it won’t affect construction of the new span, because “the contract is in place and protected by the Michigan Constitution.”

“You can’t retroactively impact a contract by changing your constitution,” said Canadian Consolate General Roy Norton, who joined Calley Thursday and represented Canada’s interest. “I’m more concerned from the point of view of game plan.

“If (Maroun) persuades Michiganders to vote against the bridge, he will then say for the next two years of the governor’s term that the governor is defying the will of the people.”

Canada and federal funds are being spent to construct the $1.3 billion bridge and Michigan residents won’t pay any of their state taxes toward the project, said Norton.

“I think it’s almost a political objective on his part to undermine the governor in the hope that maybe he’ll get a governor in the next election that will be more amenable to his point of view,” said Norton.

Upon receipt of a Presidential Permit, which Norton hopes is issued by the year’s end, planners will commence with land acquisition and soliciting construction bids.

He supplied a rough projection of early-2014 for groundbreaking.

The commercial traffic, which is growing at an average rate of 21.6 percent each year according to Calley, is sufficient to support both bridges.

“I absolutely believe that he’ll not only be able to operate that bridge, but operate the bridge very profitably,” Calley said. “It just won’t be a monopoly-level profit.”

Much of Calley’s presentation during the two-hour session refuted allegations made by Maroun’s company in commercials that say, “In the past 10 years the number of cars and trucks passing from Michigan to Ontario dropped by half” and the bridge will “stick Michigan taxpayers for $100 million every year.”

Calley argues that the Ambassador Bridge is putting companies that use the crossing at a “competitive disadvantage.”

The Ambassador Bridge, with a toll crossing cost of over $5 per axle, is the most costly among seven other comparable crossings.

“Why can they charge the highest toll?” Calley asked. “When you’ve got over 99 percent market share, in other words a monopoly, there’s a monopoly premium you can charge… let alone the inefficiency of the border and the inadequacies.”