Investigative
5:15 pm
Thu July 12, 2012

Detroit Windsor Tunnel closing bad; bridge closing much worse

Updated

A reported bomb threat closed the Detroit Windsor Tunnel today for several hours. Almost all of the tunnel’s traffic is passenger cars. Traffic was diverted to the only other alternative to cross the border, the Ambassador Bridge. Congestion slowed traffic.

It was certainly an inconvenience for travelers, but the economic impact of the tunnel closure was minimal.

However, if the Ambassador Bridge were closed for hours or days for any reason, it would be a much different story.

If the Ambassador Bridge were shutdown or restricted, manufacturers would figuratively start countdown clocks. They’d calculate when they would run out of inventory and have to send workers home. With most companies following "just in time" delivery practices, inventory would run out quickly.

Commercial trucks between Canada, our biggest trade partner, and the United States have only that one bridge crossing between Ontario and Detroit. There are no convenient or economical options.

Many manufacturers in Michigan rely on components from Canada, or they ship needed parts to Canadian plants. A closure of the single bridge crossing would slow or close hundreds of plants and put thousands of Michiganders out of work.

Since the Ambassador Bridge is 83-years-old, the more likely scenario is some kind of repair which could restrict traffic or close the bridge, putting the economy in Michigan at risk.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed an agreement with Canadian officials to pursue a new bridge to span the Detroit River. Canada will put up the money for improvements needed on the Michigan side. There would be no Michigan money at risk.

The Ambassador Bridge owners are fighting the new public/private bridge tooth and nail. The owners have sponsored $9 million in TV ads, sponsored a ballot initiative to try to politically block the bridge from being built, and have given $775 thousand in political contributions during the last two election cycles. They're all seen as an attempt to prevent the state of Michigan and Canada from building a second public/private investment bridge. Members of the state legislature blocked the bridge project. The Governor has circumvented the legislative process.

The Ambassador Bridge owners, the Maroun family, suggest they will build a second bridge, but obstacles in Canada and the U.S. make that practically impossible. Critics say a twin span to the Ambassador proposed by the Maroun family is a “fake bridge” to distract the public from the real goal of stopping a public/private bridge and keeping the monopoly of the Ambassador Bridge.

Correction: this story originally incorrectly stated all $775 thousand political in donations were to state legislators' campaigns.