Proposal 6: Call for public votes on new Detroit-Windsor bridge defeated

By David Eggert | MLive

LANSING, MI – Voters on Tuesday rejected Proposal 6, which called for public votes before construction can begin on a new bridge from Michigan to Canada. The defeat came despite a $33 million campaign to support it.

The Moroun family, owners of the aging Ambassador Bridge that spans the Detroit river to Windsor, provided the unprecedented campaign funding to stop the second bridge in its tracks.

With 20 percent of precincts reporting, Proposal 6 had 711,379 votes for and 420,192 votes against – or 37 percent to 63 percent.

Taxpayers Against Monopolies, a business-backed group opposing the ballot initiative and supporting the new bridge, declared victory shortly before 10:30 p.m.

“Michigan voters were asked to decide, and they did,” spokesman Tom Shields said. “Michigan voters today overwhelmingly voted to move our state forward by affirming Michigan’s agreement with Canada to build the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) connecting Detroit and Windsor, Michigan and Ontario, the US and Canada.”

Proposal 6, the “People Should Decide” measure, would have amended the state constitution to require a statewide and local vote before any new international bridge or tunnel for motor vehicles is built.

The ballot initiative was an attempt by the owner of the only border bridge in Detroit, the 82-year-old Ambassador, to slow down or halt construction of a government-owned bridge two miles down the Detroit River. Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his family – who own the span through their Detroit International Bridge Co. – spent more than $33.5 million on the proposal – a state record for one side of a ballot measure.

The project was first recommended in 2004. After receiving environmental approvals from the American and Canadian governments, it ran into opposition in the GOP-led Michigan Senate, both when Democrat Jennifer Granholm was governor in 2010 and when Republican Rick Snyder took up the cause in 2011.

The Morouns spent $6 million on TV ads opposing the bridge in 2011, when it was being considered by lawmakers.

“We call on Matty Moroun to put down the lawsuits and call off the lawyers and stop this insistent effort to delay this vital project. It’s time to move forward. It’s time we build the bridge,” Shields said.

In June of this year, the Snyder administration sidestepped legislators by signing an “interlocal agreement” with Canada to construct the New International Border Crossing.

For $950 million ($2.1 billion overall including roads and customs plazas), Michigan and Canada agreed to build a new bridge to be paid for entirely by Canada, which will recoup the expense from tolls. Canada will hire a private entity to design, build, operate and maintain the bridge through a 40- to 50-year partnership.

Canada will cover the cost of buying land in Michigan to make way for the bridge. If necessary, the state Department of Transportation will seize property from owners who do not want to sell.

Canada also will pay for an interchange to connect the bridge to Interstate 75 in Detroit. The $550 million fronted by Canada for the state’s share will be eligible for $2 billion in federal matching funds for highway construction projects here.

Michigan taxpayers will not directly be on the hook for the price tag, except $263 million in their federal dollars to build a customs plaza on the U.S. side.

Canadian officials bill it as the most important infrastructure project in North America, relieving congestion and speeding up trade at the busiest border crossing between the two countries.

Supporters say having just one aging bridge for commercial trucks carrying goods to and from Canada – many cannot fit on the Detroit-Windsor tunnel and the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron is farther away – is foolhardy given congestion problems around the Ambassador.

But the Morouns, some key lawmakers and anti-tax/limited-government groups do not agree, saying there will be cost overruns not covered by what they see as overly rosy toll revenue and traffic estimates not backed up by data. They also worry about traffic being diverted from existing crossings to the new bridge, leading Snyder and others to accuse the Morouns of just wanting to protect their “monopoly.”

Critics, however, say Snyder’s agreement violates budget laws written specifically to prevent a bridge by prohibiting state agencies and bodies from working on the project unless legislators pass enabling legislation.

Tuesday’s vote may not have mattered because supporters of the new bridge say the interlocal agreement is binding regardless.