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Baffled over Canada's bridge decision

Sep 7, 2017

No matter how bizarre your fantasies, reality is sometimes crazier. Nobody could have written a script for what’s happened in national politics.

Nobody ever thought we’d be in some kind of nuclear standoff with North Korea. And few if any expected the Canadian government would ever grant Matty Moroun permission to build a new bridge next to his old Ambassador Bridge.

But that’s what happened yesterday, a development that even seemed to briefly stun the Moroun family.

Canada has been fully committed for years to building the new Gordie Howe International Bridge about a mile south of the Ambassador.

They are so committed, in fact, that they are picking up Michigan’s share of the costs, which is supposed to be repaid someday out of toll revenues.

Moroun, the sole private owner of the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge, has spent millions trying to stop the new one.

He’s taken both countries to court countless times, and lost every time. He has fought the acquisition of land needed for the new bridge, lobbied legislators and congressmen, you name it.

Without any doubt, Moroun has slowed construction of the Gordie Howe bridge, where the selection of a contractor to actually build it was recently put off until next year.

After originally saying a new bridge wasn’t needed. Moroun switched his tune and said he wanted to build a new bridge next to his old one. Both Canadian and U.S. officials didn’t like the idea. They had grave environmental concerns, and the location doesn’t make sense.

Trucks now have to snake through residential neighborhoods and endure at least a dozen traffic signals before reaching Canada’s main freeway. But there have been signs that the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau is less hostile to Moroun than the previous conservative government had been.

And yesterday, they gave his firm, the Canadian Transit Company, permission to build a new span – provided they tear the old bridge down within five years after the new one is built.

Brian Masse, the member of Canada’s parliament who represents Windsor, said he was shocked. He was especially stunned that the announcement was not made by the government of Canada, but by the Moroun family, with the government press releases coming only hours later.

Canada finally weighed in, saying it is still as committed as ever to the Gordie Howe bridge, and said it would allow Moroun to build a new one because “this critical trade corridor needs two viable border crossings,” which has been their position all along.

What many people missed, however, is that this is still not a done deal.

The Moroun family cannot just start building a new bridge. They have to get all sorts of approvals on both sides of the border, and deal with lawsuits from angry residents. There is still property and permissions they need to acquire. And Governor Rick Snyder noted that nothing would happen “unless and until further governmental approvals in the U.S. are obtained.”

You can bet he has no desire to help the Ambassador Bridge company get those approvals. It could even be that the Morouns get so bogged down fighting for their new bridge that they no longer have time to sabotage the other one.

You might even wonder if that’s what Canada intended all along.

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.