The Governor and the Bridge

Jan 4, 2012

Governor Rick Snyder had an amazing year last year, getting far more of his program through the legislature than anyone could have predicted. His one major defeat was, in a way, shocking.

That was, of course, his attempt to get a new bridge built over the Detroit River, a bridge that wouldn’t cost Michigan taxpayers anything, and which business leaders say is vitally necessary.

Ford Motor Company wants the bridge. So does Chrysler, General Motors, the Michigan and Detroit area chambers of commerce, Oakland County Republican leader Brooks Patterson and the Democratic executives in Wayne and Macomb Counties.

Only one man really doesn’t want the bridge—Matty Moroun, who with his wife and son, own the eighty-three year-old Ambassador Bridge, the only way that heavy freight can now cross the river.

And, that one man prevented a vote on the bridge from even being taken. The way he did that was simple: Money.

Moroun has spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on direct and indirect contributions to legislators. He spent something like $5 million on a TV advertising campaign independent experts all said was riddled with falsehoods.

Despite the evidence, Moroun simultaneously claims that a new bridge is not needed, and that he intends to build a new one next to the Ambassador Bridge, even though that is impossible for many reasons, one of which is that Canada will never allow it.

Last fall, the governor told me that the thing that had surprised him most was, quote “the power of this one special interest.” He also said that regardless of what happened in the legislature, he did not intend to give up. And he repeated his mantra that the way to accomplish anything is through “relentless positive action.”

Well, we’re in a new year, and there are signs that the governor intends to do something about the bridge, soon.

On New Year’s Eve, the Windsor Star newspaper published a strong editorial on the subject, saying “the sense is that Snyder will move to push the project forward in the new year, and he will do so with the full support of President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and virtually everyone in the Canada-U.S business community who understands that our essential trading relationship can no longer be held hostage by a few individuals.”

The newspaper added that more than one-quarter of all trade between Canada and the United States—more than $125 billion a year—is now solely dependent on that bridge. Commercial truck traffic is expected to double by 2035.

Canada knows we need that bridge so much it is willing to pay Michigan’s up-front share of the costs. Washington believes that bridge is so necessary it will give Michigan $2.2 billion in federal highway funds if we accept Canada’s money.

Not building this bridge is crazy. There are ways to build a bridge that don’t require legislative approval, including a special bonding authority. This is a matter of great public interest, and we have a legislature which refuses to take any action, and which has many members with a severe conflict of interest.

Governor Snyder owes it to us to find a way to get this done.