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Ambassador Bridge

Matt Moroun testifies against new bridge crossing

Jun 16, 2011
Mike Russell / creative commons

A member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Canada testified before a state Senate committee in Lansing today.

He spoke with a handful of lawmakers who appear annoyed by conflicting information.

Matt Moroun told lawmakers that a proposal to build a publically owned bridge between Detroit and Canada is unnecessary because traffic is down, and tolls would not cover the construction costs.

But he also says the company is prepared to build a second bridge.

That prompted this question from Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen:

“If you receive a permit, will you build a second span?”

Moroun answered:

“The next day we’ll start. Promise.”

Republican state Senator Mike Nofs asked why the Ambassador Bridge owners would want to build a second bridge.

“Why would you build a second bridge the next day if you can’t make the money? The tolls aren’t going to be there. The traffic isn’t going to be there," Nofs said. "It’s going to cost you a lot more money, and you have to expand the roadways on both sides, and you have a government against you apparently right now - Canada - why would you build a second span?”

Moroun says his family’s company needs to build another bridge because the Ambassador Bridge is about 80 years old, and costs a lot of money to maintain.

Democratic state Senator Virgil Smith from Detroit says the Ambassador Bridge owners are controversial figures in the city.

“If you want to proceed with this – with the new project, with the new bridge – I think you’re going to have to clean up a number of your actions in southeast Michigan to do so, or I don’t see it happening no time soon," Smith said.

Many state senators expressed frustration with what they view as a slew of contradictory studies about whether a publically owned bridge would be profitable to taxpayers, or a burden.

Hearings on the bridge issue will continue next week.

Patricia Drury / Flickr

In his state of the state address, Governor Rick Snyder urged the legislature to approve the construction of a new bridge span between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Michigan Radio’s Political analyst Jack Lessenberry sat down with Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White to talk about the role the Ambassador Bridge has played in its 82 year history, and the reasons why a new bridge may be necessary. 

Billions of dollars a week move across the Ambassador Bridge. “It’s the most important trade crossing between the United States and Canada, and perhaps in the world,” says Jack.

The Ambassador Bridge was built largely as a beacon of prestige for Detroit in the roaring twenties, and would eventual grow to be a massive economic asset.

Jack would remind us though that “nothing lasts forever.” While the Ambassador Bridge was state of the art in 1929, it’s no longer adequate for the amount of traffic or the size of today’s tractor trailers.

--Cade Sperlich, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Patricia Drury / Flickr

A state Senate committee opened hearings yesterday on legislation that would start the process of building a new bridge connecting Detroit to Canada.

The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor-Ontario.

Governor Rick Snyder would like the Legislature to approve the initial stages of the bridge project by the end of the month.

Representatives of Governor Snyder’s administration and the Canadian government were on hand to insist the new bridge is an economic necessity that would not cost Michigan taxpayers any money.

Canada has committed to pay all the construction costs with repayment coming from tolls.

Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general to Michigan, says both Michigan and Canada would benefit from expanded border access.

“There are jobs in almost every county of Michigan that depend on companies being able to move things back and forth across the frontier with Canada,” said Norton.

The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are trying to stop the project.

Matthew Moroun’s family owns the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun will testify today before the state Senate Economic Development Committee.

“We intend to show the actual statistics," said Moroun. "You know, we’ve been in the bridge business for 30-some years, and you learn a lot about the bridge business from being in the bridge business, I can tell you.”

Moroun says the state and Canada cannot credibly guarantee taxpayers’ money is not at stake in going ahead with a new bridge.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is the governor’s lead negotiator to win legislative support of the bridge. He says a new border crossing in southeastern Michigan is critical to the economic future of the entire state.

“Our biggest customer is Canada," said Calley. "We sell more to Canada than anybody else. They buy more of our goods than anybody else, and so we need more access, better access to that market if Michigan is to be successful.”

Calley and the Snyder administration face skeptics in the Legislature.

Opponents of a new bridge say traffic studies show there’s no need for a new bridge. They also say the state should not be backing a public bridge to compete with a private business.

Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they remain skeptical the deal would be good for Michigan taxpayers or that a new bridge is necessary, and they say it will take more before they’ll cast a vote in favor of it.

A member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit has acknowledged giving money to a group that’s working to stop the construction of a competing bridge – including plastering a neighborhood with fake eviction notices.

But Matthew Moroun says his family had nothing to do with the flyers.

Andrea_44 / flickr

A judge in Detroit has adjourned a hearing without ruling on the state’s request to levy sanctions against the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

It’s part of an ongoing court fight over the bridge company’s failure to build on-ramps to the bridge, and remove fueling stations and part of a duty-free store that were built without the state’s permission.

Deb Sumner is a community activist and long-time critic of the bridge company. She says without the on-ramps, thousands of trucks are forced to rumble through her neighborhood every day:

Beyond the Law?

Jun 9, 2011

Let’s say that I seized a portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park for my own uses. I erected a fence, and put up phony signs saying “No Trespassing Due to Homeland Security.”

Later, I ignored court orders to tear it down, and said that I could do this because I was sort of an agent of the federal government, or as I put it, a “federal instrumentality.”

Then, when a federal judge ruled that I was nothing of the kind, and ordered me to stop claiming to be, quote, “any type pf arm, appendage, or agent of the federal government,“ I ignored him.

Residents in a Southwest Detroit neighborhood found what appeared to be eviction notices on their front doors Monday. The notices were actually flyers distributed by the group Americans for Prosperity in the city’s Delray neighborhood. The flyers warned residents that the state will seize their homes, if legislators approve a plan for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

SteveBurt1947 / Flickr

I’ve just arrived here on Mackinac Island with Tracy Samilton and Lester Graham for the 2011 Mackinac Policy Conference. Governor Rick Snyder welcomed guests to the conference earlier this afternoon. Snyder used the address to talk about what he believes is the need to build a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada. Last month, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley said the administration will push the legislature to approve a second bridge as soon as this month. Calley said the state needs to create competition with the Ambassador Bridge Company and its monopoly at the crossing.

“The takeaway of Snyder’s speech is that he is going to use the conference to push his goal of getting the legislature to approve the bridge,” Michigan Public Radio Network’s Rick Pluta says.

Not all Republicans are on-board with the idea of building a second bridge. As Pluta explains, “this isn’t the first intra-party fight that he [Snyder] has had.”

Pluta is referring to the controversial tax on some retiree pensions that was part of Snyder’s budget proposal. Pluta predicts the battle over a second bridge will be bigger than the fight Snyder had over the pension tax.

We live in highly polarized times. But even by those standards, it is remarkable how much those who support a new bridge over the Detroit River, and those who oppose it, differ.

Differ not just on the merits of a new bridge, but on the most basic facts. Those who oppose the new bridge claim that Michigan taxpayers could be stuck for a hundred million dollars a year. Those who oppose the new bridge - mainly, those who work for the owner of the Ambassador Bridge - Matty Moroun - say that traffic has been declining and another structure isn’t needed.

But they say Moroun is willing to build one anyway, at no cost to the taxpayers, and that this is best left to private enterprise. Those who want a new bridge say it is very much needed, that this is not “socialism” but a public-private partnership. They say the old bridge is wearing out, there is no backup, and that a new one will be desperately needed if Michigan is to be economically competitive.

The Detroit River.
Patricia Drury / Flickr

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says the governor’s office will push the Legislature to approve a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada as soon as next month.

Calley says they plan to introduce a bill after budget and tax deals have been ironed out. He says the state needs to create competition with the Ambassador Bridge Company and its monopoly at the crossing.

"The governor started out, right out of the blocks, advocating for a fix to that problem. A fix that doesn't really hold or contain any risk at all for the people of the state of Michigan, but instead put the power of the private sector behind a new project and says that 'we're not for monopolies anymore, we’re for competition.'"

Calley appeared at a speaking engagement with Roy Norton, the Canadian consul general to Detroit. Norton says the Ambassador Bridge is more than 80 years old and carries more than 10,000 trucks a day.

"One, very old bridge, by itself, carries almost 30% of the world’s largest two-way trade relationship, with literally millions of jobs in Canada and the United States depending on everything working right every day."

Norton and Calley reassured Lansing’s business community that the cost of a second, publically owned bridge would fall on the Canadian government, and not Michigan taxpayers.

They say the project would be paid for over time by tolls. And they say tolls for the new bridge would be cheaper than they are now at the Ambassador Bridge.

Meanwhile, the Ambassador Bridge Company appears to be ramping up its campaign against the proposed bridge project. The bridge company wants to build its own second bridge instead.

Were you aware that there’s a legal difference between print media and broadcast media in this country?

Print media, and the internet, are essentially completely free to print and say whatever they want to, although of course they can be sued if they commit libel or violate privacy laws. Broadcast media are different, however. The government, through the Federal Communications Commission, has the right to regulate them.

Stations can have their licenses revoked or not renewed if they violate FCC policy. Thirty years ago, stations could be in big trouble if they failed to provide news, or public service programming.

Those restrictions have now been largely relaxed. But stations can still risk their licenses if they broadcast hate speech, or programming that is either clearly racist or obscene.

The reason, by the way, that the government can regulate the broadcast media is that the airwaves are public property, like the national parks. And while you could theoretically have an infinite number of print publications or web sites, there’s only so much space on the spectrum for radio and TV transmissions.

Being granted a place on the dial is a privilege that carries certain responsibilities. However, the question is what those responsibilities should be.  Increasingly, I wonder whether stations should be allowed to broadcast advertising that is plainly false.

You might say that deception this is the very nature of most advertising, and to a point you’d be right. Nobody really believes that if you start drinking a certain brand of soda that beautiful young things will suddenly frolic on the beach with you.

We expect ads to stretch the truth. But every so often, they do more than that. As witness a last-ditch, highly expensive propaganda campaign being waged by Matty Moroun, the billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River. He is desperate to prevent the building of a competing bridge, something Governor Snyder wants. Most commercial interests in both the United States and Canada also say the bridge is badly needed. But, Moroun fears his profits might be affected, and is currently waging a hugely expensive ad campaign to try and sway legislators.

A conservative group against a proposed second bridge span between Detroit and  Windsor, Ontario is running negative ads about the project in districts of Republicans who have not taken a stance against the bridge. They want voters to call and pressure the lawmakers to oppose Governor Rick Snyder’s bridge proposal.     

Scott Hagerstrom is with Americans for Prosperity-Michigan. He says the cost of a second bridge would fall to taxpayers, unless it is paid for completely by private money.

J Powers 65 / Flickr

Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, says Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to build another bridge connecting Detroit and Ontario should be stopped.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press on Monday, Moroun said, "I don't know what the governor's doing... He's probably going to win. I can't stop him, but he should be stopped. He's doing the wrong thing."

From the Freep:

Supporters of a publicly owned bridge say it will create construction and spin-off jobs near the new development and meet future traffic needs.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Snyder's point person on the proposed New International Trade Crossing, said the Moroun family's recent high-profile advertising campaign against the project cannot stop it...

By stressing the jobs that might be lost at his bridge and trucking companies if the public bridge is built, Moroun is clearly trying to influence the Republican-controlled, business-friendly Legislature that will soon decide the fate of Snyder's plan, he said...

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who opposes the Snyder plan because it would siphon traffic and revenue away from his privately owned span, sought to frame the debate this week as jobs in Michigan versus jobs elsewhere...

During the past couple of years, the Moroun family and associates have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash to both Republicans and Democrats to try to help block the public bridge project. During last year's gubernatorial campaign, however, Snyder did not take any contributions from the Morouns.

Governor Rick Snyder has said he wants lawmakers to introduce legislation to authorize a new bridge when they come back from their Spring break. Lawmakers will be back in session next week.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes to introduce legislation next week that would move forward with construction on a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada. A similar proposal has met stiff opposition for several years among Republicans in the Legislature. Snyder says it is time for another international crossing:

“Doing the new international trade crossing is the right thing to do. At the same time, when I did my analysis I believe there’s viable opportunity to have the Ambassador Bridge continue, the Windsor Tunnel, the Blue Water Bridge, and clear up at the Soo. We’ve got great crossings, we just need another crossing.”

Democrats in the Legislature say Snyder will need their votes to approve the bridge project. They say if the governor wants their support he will also need to work with them more during budget negotiations.

Lawmakers return next week from their spring break.

MichaelNPatterson / Flickr

It’s being reported this morning that Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owner of the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, plans to replace the roof and windows of the tattered train station. From the Detroit News:

After decades of looking like a bombed-out relic, the iconic Michigan Central Train Depot is set to receive a mini face-lift…

Created by the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, the building at one time was the largest train station in the world and known for its rich décor.

Decline and decay pulled into the station soon after the last train departed in January 1988. Scrappers looted the building.

Over the years, several ideas have been pitched for the building, including a new police headquarters. None has panned out. Nor has a 2009 resolution from the City Council to demolish it.

Because of its look of urban decay, the depot has been used in several films, including "Transformers," "The Island," "Four Brothers" and "Eight Mile.”

Moroun also owns the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Detroit News quotes Bridge Company President Dan Stamper as saying, “We're applying with the city to replace the roof and the windows…We're doing it because it would be much easier to help a developer to come up with a package to use the depot if some improvements were made … so that's what we're doing.”

Sarah Cwiek/Michigan Radio

The Detroit International Bridge Company, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, has settled a lawsuit with the owners of a bait shop.

Lafayette Bait and Tackle sits near where the Detroit International Bridge Company hopes to build a second span. The company purchased the land to remove what it saw as a final obstacle to their plans.

Both sides in the case agree fault lay primarily with the bait shop’s former landlord, a group called Commodities Export.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The controversial plan for a new bridge linking Detroit with Windsor, Ontario has a new very high profile supporter: Michigan’s new governor.

Rick Snyder voiced support for the Detroit River bridge project in his State of the State address last night. Last year, Republican state lawmakers rejected Canada’s offer of $550 million to help pay for Michigan’s share of the bridge.

But the Republican governor says he’s come up with a way to make the bridge a reality.  

Transportation Director Kirk  Steudle and I have secured a unique agreement with the federal Highway Administration to use this $550 million investment in our infrastructure towards the matching funds required for all federally funded highway projects across our state.

The bridge still faces opposition. The owners of the Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge have waged a long fight against a new bridge built and operated by anyone other than them.

Ambassador Bridge
J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Governor-elect Rick Snyder announced yesterday that he'll keep Kirk Steudle as Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation in his new administration. That could mean continued debate over whether to build a new bridge to connect Detroit to Canada, Laura Weber reports. As Weber explains:

Steudle has drawn heat from Republican lawmakers over the past few years for his support of a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada. The legislators were unhappy with a detailed traffic report from the department, but Steudle says that information will be rolled into continued analysis of the bridge. Governor-elect Snyder says just because he tapped Steudle to continue as director doesn’t mean the bridge will be built. But the discussion will continue.

The proposed Detroit River International Crossing would compete with the Ambassador Bridge.

Lafayette Bait and Tackle
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The owner of the Ambassador Bridge and the Michigan Department of Transportation are back in court over a disputed construction project. One Detroit business owner says that project is forcing him out. Lafayette Bait and Tackle is literally stranded here in the midst of the Gateway Project, as trucks rumble overhead. That project was a $230 million effort to better connect the Ambassador Bridge to surrounding highways. It’s also the subject of a long-running legal dispute. The Michigan Department of Transportation says the Ambassador Bridge Company violated project plans when it built entrance ramps and a duty-free plaza. The Bridge Company has lost several rounds in court. But the ongoing legal drama has left Lafayette Bait and Tackle cut off from the surrounding neighborhood. Business owner Dean Aytes says his landlord hasn’t paid the taxes on the property. And a lawyer for bridge owner Mattsay Moroun says the landlord has now agreed to sell the property. Aytes says that means the shop will have to close for good. He says “that billionaire, Matty Moroun, put me out of business.”

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The push to build a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor appears dead. 

The Associated Press reports: 

A final effort to pass a measure this year that could have cleared the way for a second bridge connecting Detroit and Canada has failed.

Democrats in the Michigan Senate wanted a vote on the issue Thursday, likely the final day of the Legislature's 2009-10 session. But a motion to discharge the legislation and send it to the Senate floor failed, getting only 11 votes in the 38-seat Senate dominated by Republicans.

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