Cynical Synapse

Fri, 12 Feb 2010

Michigan’s Bridges to Nowhere

Filed under: Budget, Business, Detroit, Driving, Economy, Environment, Government, Military, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 3:22 pm

Aerial view of the Ambassador Bridge

Never mind that taxpayers ponied up $230 million for the Gateway project to link I-75 and I-96 with the Ambassador Bridge. Presently, the project is incomplete because the Detroit International Bridge Co. (DBIC), owners of the bridge, failed to build their portions, even though there are contracts in place requiring them to do so. As a result, the ramps connecting I-75 and I-96 to the Ambassador Bridge Plaza and from the Plaza to I-96 and southbound I-75 remain closed.

Ambassador Bridge Gateway project

So, the project that shut down I-75 for 17 months is still incomplete because of Manuel “Matty” Moroun and his DIBC. Trucks are still using local roads instead of directly connecting to the bridge. Moroun and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) have been, uh, contentious partners in the project. There are contract documents and involvement by the City of Detroit, Federal Highway Administration, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, and concurrence by the Federal General Services Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Department of Homeland Security.

DBIC has simply failed to live up to its part of the bargain and its contractual agreements. In one of many law suits between Moroun and MDOT, the transportation agency prevailed recently. Moroun must tear down the duty-free store and gas station he built on illegally seized city of Detroit property. Many see this as a moral victory against the DIBC, which has had a rather adversarial relationship with the local community, at best.

Building a second Detroit River bridge has been under consideration for years to help ease trade along North America’s busiest international border crossing. Moroun wants to twin the present Ambassador Bridge. Neighborhoods near the bridge on both sides of the river oppose the idea. In fact, even though his permit was revoked, Moroun’s already built approaches for the twin span on the Detroit side. DBIC needs part of the city property ordered returned for the second span.

Approaches to planned twin span

The freep reported February 10th Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) director Kirk Steudle wants a second Detroit River bridge. MDOT’s plan is a span about 2 miles south of the Ambassador Bridge. It’s a great concept, but Moroun has been blocking it with myriad lawsuits. He’s even said cross-border traffic is down due to the economic slowdown and recent GM and Chrysler bankruptcies. Odd Moroun still wants to twin the Ambassador, however.

DRIC concept

In fact, the US and Canadian goverments and Ontario and Michigan transportation agencies have been working on this for some time now. Planned for about 2 miles downriver from the Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit River International Crossing project environmental studies are done. There’s a rare garter snake along the route in Ontario, but officials say they’ve got solutions to the problem.

When DRIC proponents get through all of Moroun’s law suits, how will they pay for the new bridge, estimated to cost US$2.26 billion? Michigan turned back $475 million in Federal road money because it couldn’t spare the $84 million state matching funds. The state cancelled road projects last year, too. Yet, Gov. Granholm including DRIC funding in her 2010-11 budget proprosal. MDOT and Transport Canada jointly Request for Proposal of Interest for the project with an eye toward a public-private partnership.

One other item of interest in the DIBC/Moroun legal arena. The company is used to operating as though it is above the law. So much so that Barbara McQuade, newly appointed US Attorney in Detroit, filed a brief stating DIBC is not a federal instrumentality. “DIBC is not a federal instrumentality, of any kind, or any other type of arm, appendage, servant, or agent whatsoever of the United States,” she wrote in the brief.

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