By Katie Burke, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 23, 2012
Billionaire Matty Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador bridge that connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario has spent years fighting the construction of a second span across the Detroit River, and this fall he is taking the battle to Michigan voters.
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Proposal 6, which is backed by Moroun, would require a citizen majority vote before any new international crossings are financed and built. The measure defines international crossings as non-public bridges or tunnels.
The measure is aimed at stopping a proposed second bridge that will be entirely financed by the Canadian government. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce support the building of the second bridge and oppose the proposal.
“While the proposal is intended to protect one company’s monopoly on truck crossings between Detroit and Canada, it was sloppily written and jeopardizes any bridge construction today that won’t be completed by January 1, or any bridge built thereafter,” Snyder said in a statement.
A second bridge has been in development for years, starting in 2005 while former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm was still in office. The Michigan Department of Transportation reported then that another bridge was necessary to relieve traffic congestion at the crossing.
Granholm was not successful in building the bridge due to Moroun’s continued influence on legislators.
When Synder took office after Granholm, he indicated the construction of a second bridge was one of his top priorities as governor.
Despite the Legislature’s continued disapproval of bills for the new bridge, Snyder signed an agreement with the Canadian Government in June for the bridge’s construction where Canada agreed to pay for the construction.
Before Snyder made the agreement, the Legislature passed a supplemental budget which indicated no tax dollars could be spent on a bridge between Canada and Michigan.
The 82-year-old Ambassador bridge is one of the busiest international border crossings in North America and about 10,000 vehicles cross it each day. Advocates of the second crossing say the region will lose shipping traffic to other border crossings if another bridge isn’t built.
“The new bridge will be a great benefit for our state, and we shouldn’t let one billionaire and his special interest monopoly get in the way,” Snyder said in the release.
Business Economics Prof. Thomas Lyon said in an Oct. 17 panel discussion at the Ford School of Public Policy that the new bridge construction would make funds available for other resources in the state.
“(The bridge) would actually generate $2.2 billion in additional federal highway money that will be freed up and be given to the state of Michigan as a gift if we have the bridge,” Lyon said.
Lyon said the only obstacle to the endowment is Moroun and his interest in maintaining ownership of international crossings.
“Well there’s one guy that doesn’t like (the deal) … it’s the monopolist trying to block free money coming into the state, so the message is to vote no on Proposal 6,” Lyon said. “This one should be a no brainer.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said The People Should Decide committee, which is behind the proposal, has been campaigning for the proposal.
“There’s a very heavy ad campaign behind (Proposal 6), and the message of that ad campaign is somewhat compelling,” Irwin said. “People generally have that initial reaction of having a vote by the people on these kinds of things, what could be wrong with that?”
The commercials, which have been making claims that the state will be losing state-funded programs due to the cost of the bridge, have cost an estimated $10 million, which has been funded by Moroun. Snyder has refuted the claims the ads are making because the bridge is to be funded entirely by the Canadian government.
Irwin said the United Auto Workers support the construction of a second bridge because of the opportunities it would provide for shipping and transportation, and having a vote on such construction could slow down or halt the progress.
“We’ve heard repeatedly in the Legislature from the auto companies and from the UAW that building this new span … would be a real benefit to the auto industry,” Irwin said. “It would be more of an impetus for (the auto industry) to invest more here in Michigan.”
Representative Mark Ouimet (R–Scio Twp.) said other states have implemented policy similar to Proposal 6 and it has proven to be inflexible.
“California operates a ballot initiative, and it ties the hand of legislative process to work through (crossing construction), regardless if they are Republican or Democrat,” Ouimet said.
Ouimet added that such measures should not be included in statewide, permanent law and could have negative future implications.
“I just don’t think it’s good that (Proposal 6) be in our Constitution,” Ouimet said.