Last month Matty Moroun was asked by Fox 2 New reporter Charlie LeDuff if he was going to continue his fight to thwart a new public international crossing between Windsor and Detroit.
Moroun’s answer seemed to suggest he needn’t bother. “I don’t think it’s possible for them to build another bridge,” said the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge. “They have too many problems.”
In fact, it’s Moroun who has the problems now. A lot has happened since last January, when he and bridge president Dan Stamper were sent to jail for failing to remove illegally erected piers, and for blatantly rerouting an access road so it would lead directly to his duty-free plaza.
His assertion that the bridge could never be built only served to highlight what a difference a year can make. It was June when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the deal to build a $1-billion government-backed crossing linking Brighton Beach to Delray.
Moroun was intent on throwing every legal obstacle their way, up to and including getting Proposal 6 on the November election ballot. He hoped Michiganders would take his side and vote “yes” to a plan to take bridge approval out of the hands of government and put it in the hands of the people. The people said “no.”
Last week, Moroun was told by Judge Prentis Edwards, the man who sent him to the slammer, that he must pay the Michigan Transportation Department $4.5 million for taking over the cleanup at the bridge.
It’s chump change to a billionaire, but that’s not the point. For Moroun, it must be irritating to lose one battle after another, just as the DRIC project gains steam. Suddenly, Michigan appears ready to fast-track the process, although speed is relative when you compare it to what’s happened on this side of the border.
The Herb Gray Parkway is scheduled to open in 2014; if we’re lucky, Michigan will have at least expropriated the land and called for tenders by then. Even if all the dominoes fall into place, it will take four to five years to complete the bridge, the new plaza and feeder road connecting to I-75.
Nonetheless, this is progress, and the new crossing has the support of every major manufacturer and business organization stateside. This week 17 separate groups representing construction workers, contractors, suppliers and smaller manufacturers sent an urgent plea to President Barack Obama to “swiftly approve” the build.
They rightly want Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to expedite this by signing the necessary presidential permit that paves the way. One huge hurdle has already been crossed with a waiver of the Buy American provision. The U.S. has agreed to use Canadian steel in the construction, and why not? Canada is forking over Michigan’s $550 million share of the cost to get this done.
Moroun will continue to put up roadblocks. There’s no doubt about that. But Harper has made it clear the Ambassador Bridge owner will not stop this new joint partnership bridge from being built. The prime minister has also introduced legislation to protect Canada from potential lawsuits and exempted dozens of environmental assessments to expedite things.
This project has gone too far to turn back, no matter how fierce the opposition. With Michigan eager to get rolling, all that’s needed is for Obama to put pen to paper. There’s nothing stopping him now, not even Matty Moroun.