Matty Moroun

Four years ago, it looked as if efforts to build a badly needed new bridge over the Detroit River were doomed to failure.

Matty Moroun, the now 87-year-old owner of the Ambassador Bridge, had managed to corrupt the Legislature through that form of legalized bribery known as campaign contributions.

He poured hundreds of thousands into the campaigns and causes of influential legislators, most notably former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.

In fact, as Jim Blanchard, the former governor and ambassador to Canada told me, Bishop broke his promise to the people. He had promised to allow a vote in the state Senate on whether or not to allow a partnership with Canada to build the bridge.

This is a bridge, by the way, that just about every business and corporate leader in Michigan agrees we need to stay competitive.

Last week, I went to see Douglas George, Canada’s top diplomat in Detroit, mostly to talk about where things stand with the New International Trade Crossing Bridge over the Detroit River.

The bridge is now almost certain to be built, but there are a few hang-ups, and one is the concerns of the residents in the Delray neighborhood where the American footprint of the bridge will land.

Those who live there want to make sure they aren’t trampled on. Now, they finally are having their voices heard, thanks in part to Detroit’s new system of electing council members by district.

Exactly a month ago, Detroit City Council was expected to approve the sale of 301 city-owned parcels of land in that neighborhood to the state of Michigan.

Michigan would then buy them with money provided by the government of Canada, and transfer the land to the new International Authority, which is to oversee bridge construction.

But the land sale was delayed.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT -- A federal judge won't stop the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing a permit for a new bridge between Canada and Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington, D.C., disagreed with private owners of the existing bridge, who claim a permit would cause "irreparable harm." It was a defeat Friday for Manuel "Matty" Moroun, whose family controls the Ambassador Bridge and wants to build its own second span.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Canada are trying to build a bridge over the Detroit River that would compete with the Ambassador Bridge. Canada is willing to pay for it and be reimbursed through tolls.

The Moroun family says the bridge could take up to 75% of traffic from the Ambassador Bridge.

So whatever happened to the New International Trade Crossing Bridge?

For years, an epic battle raged between those who knew we needed a new bridge across the Detroit River, and Matty Moroun, the 86-year-old man who owned the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge, the only game in town.

Moroun held up a new bridge for years, mostly by buying off Michigan legislators with bribes thinly described as campaign contributions, but that ended when Rick Snyder became governor.

Snyder found a way to bypass the lawmakers and conclude an agreement with Canada. That was almost two years ago, however, and ground has yet to be broken.

So what’s happening?

This time the culprit is not Matty Moroun, but, bizarrely, Barack Obama.

President Obama has been supportive of a new bridge. There was no difficulty gaining a presidential permit to build it. Money was not a problem, because our friends the Canadians are paying for almost all of it. They are advancing Michigan’s share of more than half a billion dollars, which we don’t have to pay back until the bridge is up and tolls are being collected.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The owner of the Ambassador Bridge is asking a judge to stop the U.S. Coast Guard from giving a permit for a new bridge connecting Michigan and Ontario.

Lawyers for the bridge company say it has an exclusive right to provide a bridge between the U.S. and Canada. It wants to build its own second span. The Detroit Free Press says a federal judge in Washington could hold a hearing early in April.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - A Canadian official says his government plans to start buying land in Detroit for the U.S. portion of a new bridge linking the nations. It's a way to bypass opponents of the project and overcome the U.S. government's failure to allocate the money.

Outgoing Canadian Consul General Roy Norton tells the Detroit Free Press that the project is too important to delay.

Canada is paying most of the project's $2 billion-plus cost on both the Windsor, Ontario, and the Detroit sides of the river, recouping costs from future tolls.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says a new bridge connecting the U.S. and Canada is being delayed partly because Washington doesn't seem to want to pay for a customs plaza on the American side.

Snyder tells the Detroit Free Press it's a "difficult-to-understand attitude." He chalks it up to other similar logjams in Washington but says there's still time to resolve the issue.

Canada has agreed to pay for most of the Detroit-Ontario bridge and then get repaid through tolls. But the U.S. government needs to be responsible for a $250 million inspection plaza.

We’ve been thinking a lot about Detroit lately, for obvious reasons. Opinions differ, but pretty much everyone agrees on this: There are too few jobs and not enough money. Unemployment is high, the tax base is low. The city is officially bankrupt.

Yet there’s a project out there that should be a huge shot in the arm: The New International Trade Crossing Bridge. Estimates are that it will create at least 10,000 good paying jobs that will last four to five years. Ripple effects from those jobs will create thousands of others, some of which will be permanent. 

Canada is going to pay nearly all the costs of the bridge and all Michigan’s costs, pumping nearly four billion dollars into the economy. Exactly what the doctor ordered. So … what’s holding things up?

Peter Martorano / Flickr

In this Week in Michigan Politics, Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss a proposal to block abortions from being covered in basic health plans, how Warren Buffett is backing millions of dollars in an initiative to help small businesses in Detroit, and look to next week when Judge Steven Rhodes will decide if Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy.

Michigan Central Station Preservation Society / Facebook

Detroit’s Michigan Central Depot is looking a little more cheery today.

For the second year in a row, the former train station which now serves as the quintessential symbol of Detroit's urban decay, is decking the halls with holiday lights. According to The Detroit News, Matty Moroun, who bought the building in 1996, came up with the idea of sprucing up the 18-story abandoned station with the help of his family.

“Since we’ve put electricity back in, we decided to light it up, and it looks really nice,” President of the Detroit International Bridge Co. Dan Stamper said. “We’ve gotten a lot of nice comments and we just hope everyone has a happy holiday.”

Electric lighting has returned to the building as part of an effort to (slowly) give the station a facelift. Back in 2011, the International Bridge Co. began to replace windows and stairwells in MCD. 

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Dave Hogg / Flickr

If you're in Detroit, and you drive south down Woodward from Midtown to downtown, you’ll see things that weren’t there four years ago: new developments, pop-up businesses, more people, a new demographic, a Whole Foods,

Peter Martorano / Flickr

Earlier today we posted a story with a map of all of Dan Gilbert’s properties in downtown Detroit.

That got us thinking, who else owns a lot of property in Detroit?

In 2011, the Detroit News compiled an interactive map that shows private landownership. Click on each person or company and you can see how much land they own across the city – it’s a lot.

So who owns the most?

Michael G. Kelly, an unassuming investor from Grosse Pointe Woods.

http://buildthedricnow.com

Get ready Michigan – Canada is taking serious steps toward building a new bridge over the Detroit River, according to Dave Battagello from The Windsor Star:

The Canadian government has dedicated $25 million in its recent budget to start buying property in Delray for the new Detroit River bridge, while U.S. federal administrators debate the size and scope of the customs plaza, Canada’s Consul General Roy Norton said Wednesday.

If you aren’t familiar with the bridge project (known as the Detroit River International Crossing or the New International Trade Crossing) you certainly saw the commercials for Proposal 6 last November.

Proposal 6 was an attempt by Ambassador Bridge owner, Matty Moroun, to require voter approval for any bridge or tunnel between Michigan and Canada.

Proposal 6 did not pass and the new bridge is moving closer to reality.

Three years ago, it seemed possible we’d never see a new bridge over the Detroit River. True, most businesses and corporations felt that one would definitely be needed.

The existing Ambassador Bridge is more than 80 years old, but carries 25 percent of all the trade between the United States and Canada -- more than $3 billion a week.

There is no backup for it, and even a temporary shutdown would wreak havoc on the economies of Michigan and Ontario.

But thanks to lavish campaign contributions, Manuel J. “Matty Moroun” had been able to effectively buy off the Michigan legislature, to the point where they would not even allow a vote on the issue.

Once, when I asked U.S. Senator Carl Levin if anything surprised him about Detroit, his answer was “the incredible power of Moroun.” Yet last Friday, there stood a triumphant Governor Rick Snyder with an array of Canadian officials.

Secretary of State John Kerry had just issued a presidential permit allowing a New International Trade Crossing Bridge to be built.

http://buildthedricnow.com/

Backers of a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor are expected to announce that the project has cleared one of the final hurdles later today.

The Windsor Star reports that Governor Snyder and other supporters of the Detroit River International Crossing will announce that the bridge project has finally received a permit from the U.S. Department of State. .

A forty year old federal law gives the State Department the authority to approve international bridges.

The permit is seen as a key step in the 2 billion dollar bridge project.  

Last year was a major milestone in the epic battle to get a new and badly needed bridge across the Detroit River. Frustrated by the Michigan Legislature’s unwillingness to even vote on the issue, Governor Rick Snyder found a legal way to bypass the lawmakers.

Snyder found a clause in the Michigan Constitution that allowed him to conclude an “interlocal” agreement with the government of Canada. This didn’t make Matty Moroun, the 85 year-old owner of the 84 year old Ambassador Bridge, happy.

Moroun then spent close to $40 million attempting to get Michigan voters to ratify a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have essentially given him monopoly control of our nation’s most important border crossing for all time.

If you want proof we need sterner ethics laws for Michigan’s elected officials, you need only consider former State Rep. Paul Opsommer, who until this year was chair of the House Transportation Committee. 

Term limits then forced him to give up his seat in the legislature. While he was there, he supported his fellow Republican, Governor Rick Snyder, on most issues. Except for one: Whether to build a new bridge across the Detroit River.

Opsommer, who lives in the small town of DeWitt, outside Lansing, was rabidly opposed to the New International Trade Crossing. He did all he could to stop it.

We haven’t heard much about the great Detroit River bridge debate since the November election. That’s when Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun’s attempt to amend the state constitution to preserve his monopoly.

Earlier last year, Governor Rick Snyder bypassed the Michigan legislature and used a little-known  provision of the constitution to sign an agreement with Canada allowing for a New International Trade Crossing to be built south of the existing bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge is currently the only way heavy freight can be moved across the river, at least between Port Huron and Buffalo. The governor and virtually all business interests agree that a backup is essential.

So why aren’t shovels in the ground? Well, the short answer is bureaucracy.

This has been a bad year for Matty Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge. In January, he was thrown in jail overnight, for failing to comply with court orders to live up to an agreement he’d signed to finish a road project near his bridge.

Lead in text: 
After spending around $40 million to try to block a new international bridge downriver of their Ambassador Bridge, the Moroun family issued a statement that said in part "like any family business, we would do it again - and will in different ways - to defend economic freedom and limited government." Now the new bridge moves forward.
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