Suits seen as unlikely roadblocks to bridge

Permit in hand, but fight continues

By Bill Shea and Dustin Walsh

Crain’s Detroit Business

Legal challenges thrown up to block a second Detroit River bridge are more speed bumps than roadblocks, at least according to Gov. Rick Snyder.

The state “has a winning track record” in defeating such lawsuits, he said Friday after announcing the U.S. Department of State had approved the critical presidential permit needed to advance the $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing linking the highways in Detroit and Windsor. And they won’t halt its construction.

TRADE CROSSING FAQS

• The New International Trade Crossing is estimated to cost $2.1 billion. The I-75 highway interchange was predicted in 2010 to cost $385.9 million, and the U.S. plaza, $413.6 million. The nearly $1 billion bridge itself would be financed by Canada through a private-sector concessionaire, and the remainder of the $2.1 billion price tag is on the Canadian side of the project.
• Canada has pledged to cover any construction and operational deficits. It also will cover all capital costs on the Michigan side of the project, including $264 million that project organizers want the U.S. government to pay for. If Ottawa and Washington can’t reach a deal on that cost, Canada will pay it.
• Under a deal reached in June 2012 among the Michigan, Ontario and Canadian federal governments, a Canadian company called the Crossing Authority will be in charge of the design, construction, finance, operation and maintenance of the six-lane bridge, which it is expected to bid out under public-private partnership deal to a private company for a 40- or 50-year concession.
• All of Michigan’s share of the crossing tolls will go to Canada to pay back its costs. The state will not receive any toll revenue until that money is paid back and after the concession agreement ends in four or five decades.
• Tolls will be determined by the private-sector concessionaire during the bidding process. However, the models used by MDOT to justify need for the new span are predicated on using the same toll rates as the Ambassador Bridge.
• The Crossing Authority will fall under a joint authority, and half the bridge will be owned by Michigan and half by Canada.
• The deal was swung by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder with Canada to bypass the Michigan Legislature, which balked at approving any money for the bridge project because of concerns about its necessity — border traffic has declined since 2001 — and whether it would unfairly affect the competing privately-owned Ambassador Bridge.
• Backers tout the new jobs and increased trade they predict the span will fuel. Snyder said the project will create 12,000 direct jobs and as many as 31,000 indirect jobs.
• Supporters also say the bridge will eliminate a traffic bottleneck at the border, and provide redundancy for the Ambassador Bridge two miles away.
• The Detroit-Windsor border — which encompasses the bridge, a tunnel and ferries — is the busiest in North America and carries a quarter of all U.S. trade with Canada, which was $120 billion last year.

Source: State of Michigan, Crain’s research

“I view (such lawsuits) as unfortunate because it takes away resources from the state,” Snyder said after a news conference in Detroit at which he and others touted the permit and bridge project.

The leading opponent of the project is Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the commercial trucking industrialist who has said the new span will bankrupt his bridge by taking lucrative commercial truck traffic. He’s owned the bridge since 1979.

Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. and Canadian Transit Co. in February filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., against the U.S. and Canadian governments and other agencies, arguing they don’t have the authority to approve the bridge permit.

Mickey Blashfield, the DIBC’s director of governmental relations, declined to comment Friday.

Also suing to halt the project is State Rep. Fred Durhal, D-Detroit, who is challenging the state’s right to create the agreement it has with Canada that governs how the span will be built, owned and operated.

Durhal has links to Moroun: He previously received $7,000 in campaign contributions from the Moroun family, and his attorney, Godfrey Dillard, used to work for the Ambassador Bridge owner, MLive.com reported on April 9.

Observers say the lawsuits are last-gasp delaying tactics that have little hope of postponing the inevitable for more than a few months.

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