Michigan can‘t afford it. Unemployment is the highest in the nation. The state government is struggling to close a massive deficit. There is no money for a new bridge.
Those in favor of the Detroit River International Crossing Project, or DRIC, argued it would be well worth the expense. The Ambassador Bridge, built in 1929, wasn’t designed for today’s heavy trucks and tomorrow’s traffic volumes.
Billions of dollars in trade, mainly heavy components for the auto industry, move across the Ambassador every year. If something were to happen to it, there is no backup except already overused facilities in Port Huron and in Buffalo, New York.
And there is virtually no security.
Complicating all this is the fact that the Ambassador Bridge is owned by a private individual, the billionaire trucking magnate Matty Moroun. Mostly, he relies on the president of his bridge company, Dan Stamper, to deal with government and the media.
For years, Stamper and Moroun have tried to have it both ways on a number of issues.
They’ve claimed neither Canada nor the U.S. have the right to inspect the Ambassador Bridge and at the same time, that it is not subject to Michigan law because it is a “federal instrumentality.” The U.S. District attorney has, by the way, asked a court to make them stop using that term.
They argued for years that a second bridge isn’t needed - and then announced they would twin the Ambassador Bridge instead. Part of the way they prepared to do that was to construct unapproved ramps and buildings, which they have been ordered to tear down.
Unfortunately for Moroun, just about everybody opposes twinning the Ambassador Bridge.
Canada has made it clear it won’t allow it, no matter what. For years, both countries have been carefully planning a second bridge, to be built two miles south.
They say it would create as many as ten thousand construction jobs. But for it to proceed, the Michigan legislature has to approve some preliminary funding - it’s not clear how much - by June 1.
And money is tight. Yesterday, however, that argument was taken off the table. Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that the Canadian government would front our expenses.
Canada has agreed to pay up to $550 million of Michigan’s cost of the proposed publicly owned bridge. This isn’t a gift; they propose to get it back through toll revenues. In fact, the total amount Michigan was expected to have to pay is much less - maybe $100 million.
The governor now solidly supports the new bridge. Her Department of Transportation has been saying for months that the DRIC is needed. This makes it hard to see what justification the legislature now could have for not continuing work on the project.
True to form, however, Dan Stamper did his best. He questioned the governor’s loyalty, saying she was “selling the border to Canada.” He argued that the project would create only Canadian jobs, take twenty years, and bankrupt the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.
None of that seems to be reality-based, but in politics, it’s never over till it is over. The final decision is up to the legislature.
The Ambassador Bridge folks have proven this, however: Losing gracefully is a lost art.