detroit bridge

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council is poised to vote today on a land deal that makes way for a new bridge to Canada—but their decision might not matter.

The proposal would transfer 301 parcels of mostly unoccupied, city-owned land to the Michigan land bank for $1.4 million.

It’s just the start of the US-based land acquisition process for the proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Canada is footing the bill for the project.

When I heard the first news flashes about the Michigan Court of appeals ruling yesterday, it appeared briefly that the Ambassador Bridge company had won. Indeed, the court said Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards was wrong to rule that Matty Moroun, the bridge’s owner, and Dan Stamper, his top employee, had to stay in jail until they lived up to an agreement with the state.

Most people remember Upton Sinclair, the crusading twentieth century writer, as the author of the novel, The Jungle, which exposed conditions in the food packing industry in Chicago. If you haven’t read it, it’s enough to make a butcher become a vegan for a week.

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.

Last week I received an indignant angry e-mail from a Republican woman I’ve known for many years, someone who has worked for Republican officeholders and in many campaigns.

She wrote after getting a flyer in the mail from an outfit called “Americans for Prosperity,” which has been acting as a front for the Ambassador Bridge owners, the family of Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

For a brief moment, a couple weeks ago, it looked like things might finally be moving on the governor’s plan to build a new Detroit River bridge a plan heavily supported by business.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville seemed to have  enough votes to move the bridge bills out of the economic development committee and on to the full senate.

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Governor Rick Snyder gave an address on infrastructure today at Southfield's Lawrence Technological University. His plan focuses on improving Internet access, roads, and sewer systems.

Here to take a look at what was mentioned and what was left out are Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

 

 

There now seems to be an increasing likelihood that Governor Snyder may bypass the legislature and find another way to build a new bridge across the Detroit River. Late last week, a spokesman for the Ambassador Bridge Company said that would be outrageous.

He said it would be a perversion of the process to build a new bridge after the legislature said no. If that were the case, he might have a point. But that’s not at all what happened.

So what happened yesterday?

For months, everybody interested in the possibility of a new bridge over the Detroit River had waited for the State Senate Economic Development Committee to take a vote.

Not that this would settle much of anything -- except to decide whether to let the full senate decide whether to vote. Most of the committee members have taken political contributions from the owner of the ancient Ambassador Bridge, Matty Moroun.

Here’s something you may not know about journalists: We have a pretty high standard of integrity, especially when it comes to conflicts of interest. We normally don’t cover any events in which we have any kind of personal interest -- especially economic interest.

Any time we even suspect we may have any conflict, we are obliged to tell our bosses, and our public. There are some gray areas, but I can tell you this. If I did a commentary urging you to support someone who gave me thousands of dollars, I’d be fired.

The state Senate is planning a vote on Wednesday on a new bridge from Detroit to Windsor, the Detroit News reports. From the News:

The Senate Economic Development Committee, which is considering legislation to create a public authority to take bids on the bridge, will hold hearings Tuesday and Wednesday and vote on the two bridge bills at the end of Wednesday's session, according to a schedule released Friday.

Governor Snyder’s administration has been pushing for a new span across the Detroit River since January, when the Governor signaled his support for the new bridge during his first State of the State address.

But, as the Detroit News notes, it’s unclear whether the Legislature will pass the bills, “in fact, it wasn't clear Friday if there were enough votes to get the bills out of committee, which has five Republicans and two Democrats… Republicans have generally opposed the public bridge, while Democrats have supported it.”

The News explains:

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun is opposed to the project, which he sees as unfair government encroachment on his private business. He has spent millions on TV ads and lobbying against the public bridge.  The Michigan Chamber of Commerce recently joined most other business and labor groups in supporting the project.

Snyder has said the bridge will be publicly owned, but privately financed, built and managed. The legislation says the bridge is to be built at no cost and no risk to taxpayers. Opponents say they are skeptical of that promise.

Canada has offered to front $550 million to pay Michigan's share of the project costs and would recover the money from bridge tolls. The bridge is estimated to cost just less than $1 billion. The total project — including plazas and connecting roadways on both sides of the river — is estimated to cost about $3.6 billion.

Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry has been writing extensively over the years about the bridge controversy:

Pretend you are a judge, let me give you some undisputed facts, and then tell me how you would make up your mind.

The top business leaders of this state strongly support a new bridge over the Detroit River. So do the major leaders of both political parties. The bridge wouldn’t cost the taxpayers of Michigan a cent.

What’s more, the bridge would instantly mean billions of dollars and thousands of desperately needed jobs for our poor battered state.  Not when it was completed, but right away, right now.

That’s because the federal government has agreed to count money Canada is giving us to  cover our costs as state matching money for federal highway funds. That would mean two point two billion dollars to fix our roads and bridges.

A Bridge Too Far

Jun 16, 2011

Once upon a time, two businessmen wanted to build a bridge across the Detroit River, using their own money to do it. 

The politicians were skeptical. It won’t make money, some said. They’ll sell bonds to finance construction, and people will lose their shirts. Detroit’s mayor had a different objection. He said that if the bridge was successful, the owners would get rich off the public. Funny, but I thought that’s how private enterprise was supposed to work. Eventually, a city-wide referendum was held, and people overwhelmingly voted for the bridge.