Michigan residents should brace for a barrage of political ads this fall aimed at killing or delaying a new international bridge in Detroit. Billionaire bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun apparently hopes he will be as successful in befuddling the public over the next few months as he was in buying off the Legislature.
Moroun knows he can’t stop a second crossing indefinitely. Still, every day he delays it, either through subterfuge or suits, means more profits by maintaining a monopoly at the border. The people of Michigan should not let this happen.
To maintain his grip, Moroun has already spent more than $3 million this year on TV ads in Michigan to block Gov. Rick Snyder’s New International Trade Crossing bridge project. And the Detroit International Bridge Co. has lined up more airtime for another barrage of ads after Michigan’s Aug. 7 primary election, reports the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
This year’s spending comes on top of $6 million the bridge company spent last year on TV ads, which helped kill enabling legislation for the bridge project in the state Senate.
The bridge company has launched a referendum drive for the Nov. 6 ballot called “The People Should Decide,” which would amend the state Constitution to require a vote on any new international bridge or tunnel project. Ads suggest Michigan taxpayers will be on the hook for enormous costs.
The deal has Canada paying Michigan’s $500-million bill — to be paid back by tolls — making Michigan’s cost zip. Investors will decide whether to put up the money, based on whether they believe the bridge’s future revenues will pay the costs, and knowing Michigan taxpayers will not be liable if the project fails.
Moroun’s conduct to date has not only discredited him but also debunked the notion that he can run a critical transportation operation in the broadest public interest. He has removed any doubt about whether he should continue to hold a monopoly on an important international border crossing.
A second bridge is needed not only to handle future traffic and commerce but also to supply another route in case of a disaster. And here’s one thing Moroun won’t tell you: Canada will not allow him to replace his 80-year-old bridge because a twin span would create untenable traffic jams in Windsor. Without the second bridge, the pivotal Detroit border will remain stuck with a single, aging crossing owned by a self-serving billionaire.
Normally mild-mannered Lt. Gov. Brian Calley unleashed a couple of jabs at Moroun last week, calling him, in effect, a liar for his multimillion-dollar ad campaign against the proposed new international bridge. The Canadian consul general to Detroit, Roy Norton, speaking with Calley at a town hall meeting in southwest Detroit, was equally blunt. “There’s been something like $10 million spent on advertising, and it’s not yet bought one word of truth,” he said.
Moroun is interested in one thing: protecting his profits, which will certainly shrink with a new bridge about two miles downriver. Competition at the border may not be good for Moroun, but it’s good for the public — no matter how much money Moroun spends to convince the people of Michigan otherwise.