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Waiting even longer for the Gordie Howe Bridge

Aug 24, 2017

There was a story two days ago that was almost entirely ignored in America, but which has significant implications for this part of the world. Dave Battagello of the Windsor Star reported that the new Gordie Howe International Bridge will be delayed another full year.

Last week, the three giant consortia competing to build the several billion dollar project were told that their full, detailed bids wouldn’t be required until next year. They were supposed to all be in this fall. A winner was supposed to be chosen by Christmas, and construction begun -- finally -- next summer. But now, that’s not happening.

According to the Star, a number of “specifications and requirements” for the new Detroit River bridge have changed. The benefits agreement with the residents of Detroit’s Delray community is part of this. But there’s also been a decision to add bicycle and pedestrian lanes. Once a winning bid is accepted, the whole process will have to be reviewed by a fairness monitor. Public works have a lot more safeguards these days.

What all this means is that you shouldn’t hope to drive across a new bridge before 2023 -- if then, if there are no more delays. And I have yet to see an ongoing major construction project that wasn’t hit with a whole series of sometimes small, unexpected delays.

Brian Masse, the member of Canada’s parliament who represents the area, told Battagello this was “extremely disappointing news,” and added “it’s become a bit of a nightmare.” It has indeed.

Consider this: Every week, nearly two billion dollars in heavy industrial freight, mainly automotive components, move across the aging Ambassador Bridge, which was built during the Prohibition era. It wasn’t supposed to last this long, and wasn’t built for today’s enormous tractor-trailers. Pieces of concrete fall off it into residential neighborhoods.

Should terrorists blow this bridge, the resulting damage to the economies of Michigan and Ontario would be far greater than that caused in New York by 9/11. There is no backup to move that freight that makes economic sense. Yet we still drag our feet.

You can bet, however, that one man was very happy about this news: ninety-year-old billionaire Matty Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge. Every year of delay means more enormous profits for him. Thirteen years ago, Forbes Magazine calculated that he made about $60 million a year just from the bridge, but that’s almost certainly more now.

Plus, he makes vast profits from the sale of duty-free gasoline and diesel fuel he is allowed to sell – millions every year. He is makes 60 cents more a gallon than any other fuel retailer. Naturally, Moroun wants to prevent any new bridge he doesn’t own. That’s why he has spent millions in legal efforts to stop the Gordie Howe bridge from being built, or failing that, to at least slow it, which he has done.

President Donald Trump proclaimed again that his top priority is border security. Well, if that were true, he’d be a lot more concerned about getting this done than about erecting his dubious wall. You might ask why one man can own our nation’s most economically important border crossing, and why we’ve allowed him to continually sabotage our security.

I would be very interested in the President’s answer.

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.

UPDATE: The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority has released a statement correcting what it says is some incorrect information from the Windsor Star article referenced by Jack.