Matty Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge across the Detroit River, turned 90 earlier this month. I don’t know how he celebrated, but I do know something happened last week that may well have ruined his birthday.
For years, Moroun has been savagely fighting any attempt to build a new bridge across the Detroit River.
Anyone who looks at this objectively knows one is badly needed. This is the most economically important border crossing in the nation. Billions of dollars in trade, largely heavy manufacturing goods, move over the bridge every week.
There’s no other way to get them between the United States and Canada. The Ambassador Bridge was built in 1929, is aging badly, and wasn’t built for today’s huge tractor-trailers. After years of struggle, a new bridge has finally been approved.
Moroun has fought this every step of the way and is still filing lawsuits, though he’s lost every time, but there was another barrier to the new Gordie Howe International Bridge.
The American side will land in Delray, an area that was a thriving Hungarian neighborhood 90 years ago. It’s been in decline for a long time, but there are still 2,000 to 3,000 residents there, white, black and Hispanic. Some were slated to have their houses taken for bridge construction, but many others aren’t, and they worried about life after the new bridge came.
They feared their neighborhood would be more or less ruined, and they worried about breathing the exhaust from thousands of trucks every day, so they formed a group they called the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition to demand they get something out of this, too.
Well, now they will.
Friday, Detroit Mayor Mile Duggan announced a major, $48 million deal that will, among other things, set aside money for community benefits in Delray, including job training and funds to monitor health issues.
Perhaps most importantly, the city will use about half of that to help relocated homeowners who live in the bridge area, but whose houses wouldn’t necessarily be taken by the giant structure’s footprint.
They’ll be able to pick a vacant house elsewhere in Detroit, and the city would pay moving costs and up to $60,000 in renovation expenses. Simone Sagovac, the spokesman and director for the Community Benefits Coalition, said she was pleased.
But I wanted to know what Gregg Ward thought.
Ward, who operates something called the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, is more knowledgeable about bridge issues than anyone I know. He told me this was “a huge step forward,” in part because it will allow the Michigan Department of Transportation to begin the work of relocating major utilities.
Ward does have some worries. He thinks council is certain to pass the agreement, but fears some members may try to skim off some of the money for their areas. He also worried that if it isn’t approved quickly, it could be delayed till after the November election.
That would push the timetable for the bridge back further still.
Any delay, by the way, helps Matty Moroun, because it means he continues to maximize his monopoly profits for another year. However, this agreement is a huge step forward. The sooner traffic starts moving across a new bridge, the better the economic future will look for us all.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.