Detroit’s International Bridge: Make That a Double

April 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

This past weekend I was in South Haven, Michigan, on Michigan’s dazzling western coast.  Although this remote lakeside town is usually pretty quiet, nowadays the airwaves are abuzz with television ads attacking Rick Snyder, the state’s Republican governor, for his proposal to build a second international bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Right now, the Ambassador Bridge is the only thoroughfare connecting Detroit to Windsor, the busiest commercial border crossing in North America.  The importance of the Detroit-Windsor corridor for both the Midwest and the US in general cannot be understated.  So what’s so upsetting about Rick Snyder’s plan for a second bridge?

Absolutely nothing, its supporters say.  “More than 10,000 businesses throughout the state,” says Mike Johnston of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, “rely on the corridor to transport goods, supporting more than 220,000 Michigan jobs.”  The problem, Johnston argues, is that all of this activity has relied on the Ambassador Bridge, an 81-year-old structure that just isn’t big enough to handle the volume of cross-border shipping, especially post-NAFTA.  The traffic bottlenecks and stalling pace of travel across the bridge raise the environmental cost of doing business.  This is probably why the bridge has overwhelming bipartisan support, including Snyder and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, as well as the support of Michigan’s auto companies, unions, transportation officials, and the business community.  Federal grants from Washington and Canada’s government as well mean Michigan residents won’t foot the bill.  And improved links with Canada, the state’s most important trading partner, make more regional cooperation (not competition) in the future increasingly likely.

This brings us back to those attack ads, paid for by the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), the private business that currently owns the Ambassador Bridge.  DIBC’s owner, billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun, has approached members of Michigan’s congress with donation money to scuttle the new bridge project.  He has run attack ads all over the state.  Most recently, he challenged the construction of the bridge on environmental grounds, but this month a federal judge upheld the Federal Highway Administration’s 8-year review, making construction on the new Detroit River International Crossing more and more likely.

For Moroun, at least, there is reason for fear: a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor means DIBC loses its monopoly on cross-border transit.  But for the rest of us in the Midwest, there is a lot to gain from more regional cooperation–and the bridges we build to get there.

Mark Jacobs edits the MSCS Blog

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§ 2 Responses to Detroit’s International Bridge: Make That a Double

  • JoeBlog says:

    Unfortunately there is so much missing from your comment that it is difficult to know where to start. I will just make the following points:

    –Moroun wants to build a second bridge at no cost to taxpayers
    –His company has the exclusive right to build a bridge as granted by statutue
    –The “Governments” bridge has not been demonstrated to be financially viable since traffic is 40% lower than its peak in 2000
    –There is NO US Federal money available for northern border crossings and Canada has NOT allocated one single penny yet for the bridge project.
    –Michigan taxpayers will be on the hook for billions over the 50-100 year term of the proposed P3 plan because toll revenues will be insufficient

    • Thanks for the response, Joe. I must say, I haven’t seen any challenges to the bridge’s viability. I defer to the opinion of nearly every chamber of commerce in Michigan, who support the bridge. Canada has actually put up $550m and the US government has allocated infrastructure funding. I have no preference for a publicly or privately held bridge–all I can say for certain is that the project is necessary (but the way Moroun has conducted himself doesn’t make him a desirable owner).

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