New Detroit-Windsor bridge to go ahead—what kind of midsummer dream is this?

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Both the Globe and Mail and the Windsor Star have reported there will be an announcement tomorrow (June 15) to finalize the deal on the new Detroit River International Crossing. Expected to be on hand would be Michigan governor Rick Snyder, perhaps Ontario’s premier Dalton McGuinty, and maybe number one supreme leader Stephen Harper if he gets some sleep after defeating the oppositions’ 800 ammendments to the contentious omnibus budget bill.
The politicians will gush about trade and partnership, the longest undefended border, freedom loving Canadians and Americans, while Ambassador bridge owner Matty Moroun will be wringing his hands at his mansion in Grosse Pointe and considering his next move.
Moroun rarely talks to the press, but his actions are always drama-inducing. Back in January, the 83 year old spent 30 hours in a Wayne County lockup for contempt. In brief, the tycoon was cited after refusing to cooperate with the Michigan DOT after being ordered to do so. A deal was struck back in 2004 for the Moroun family-owned Detroit International Bridge Co., to share expenses in the $240 million Gateway Project to build ramps from I-75 and I-94 to the Ambassador Bridge to take traffic and trucks off feeder streets around the crossing. Moroun and the DIBC was sued by the MDOT in 2009 when it became apparent they weren’t going to do their share. Instead Moroun had built a roadway that took automobile traffic past his lucrative duty-free shops and did nothing to take truck traffic off Fort Street.
The Ambassador Bridge was built in 1929, and Moroun bought the structure in 1979, now estimated to be worth $1.5-3 billion. Although it’s a magnificent span, its best days as a gateway for motor transport have long-since passed. 25% of the commerce between the US and Canada comes across the bridge, some $100 billion yearly, and something like 8,000-10,000 trucks use it every day.
Forward thinking analysts and politicians have long argued that another bridge should be built a couple of miles south of the present structure. The congestion on the Windsor side has been palpable for years. The alternative route tunnel under the river cannot handle much truck traffic, and truck traffic is channeled off the 401 along Talbot Street to Huron Church Line. No fun for higway travellers or residents in the area.
The new crossing (Detroit River International Crossing) is so important to Canada, that the gov’t has agreed to pay the US portion of the project, and hopes to recoup the more than half a billion dollars in expenses by collecting tolls when the bridge opens. Undoubtedly, the only way this concept could be sold to Americans was by insisting it wouldn’t cost them one cent.
The new route through Windsor will be called the Windsor-Essex Parkway and it is already reportedly 30% completed. This is a major undertaking on the Canadian side. The final plan has been “greened” considerably. According to an MTO press release: “The Windsor-Essex Parkway provides a 11 km, six- lane below-grade freeway, 11 tunnels, separate service roads for local traffic, 20 kilometres of new trails, and more than 300 acres of green space. It also meets the communities’ and study team’s goals of improving quality of life, getting trucks off local streets and improving the movement of traffic across the border.”
The new route also traverses a uniqe Tall Grass prairie, and the authorities are evidently taking special pains to preserve environmentally sensitive plants and animals species. Butler’s garter snakes and rare Eastern fox snakes will be caught and given a new habitat. Something like 200,000 plants and trees will have to be moved to accommodate this initiative.
These are certainly lofty ideals, but I can also see the cost overruns already gaining the upper hand. Burying a freeway is no easy matter, one has to only look at the fiasco of the “Big Dig” in Boston where estimated costs grew exponentially, month by month.
But the DRIC is a big deal for transportation people in North America. It’s such an important gateway that it’s only right that the respective governments stand up to the antics of the spoiled billionaire.
Moroun is listed by Forbes as one of the top 500 billionaires and he oversees a real estate, transportation and logistics empire that is embedded in the Motor City, but stretches around the globe. Those are his yellow Central Transport trucks with the American flag decal on the back door exclaiming, “Support our Troops, wherever they Go! No comfort for the enemy, No Way!”
Moroun has announced that he is suing the Canadian and US governments over the DRIC, and has thrown lots of money at shill organisations fighting the DRIC, (much like the Railway lobby group CRASH, which claimed to represent citizens but was really a mouthpiece for the Railways hoping to wrest more freight from trucking concerns). With that much cash to throw around, he’s most certainly got some Republicans in his pocket. But the tide has been turning against the diminutive scion of Lebanese descent. As the forces were lining up against him, and getting stronger, he announced last year that he would undertake to build a new bridge himself. This is not going to happen, as neither the US or Canadian governments would grant him the permits to do so.
But don’t expect Moroun to go gently into that goodnight. This has been a long saga, and it’s not by any means over. The octogenarian transportation magnate, is the wild card in all this. He hates to see his bridge monopoly eroding, particularly his stanglehold on duty-free gas sales, but he’s still got a few moves up his sleeve. Love him or hate him, the irascible, petulant billionaire has got a lots of greenbacks to throw around, and if past practices are any indication, he’ll do whatever he can to throw a spanner into the works. Expect lots of challenges before the first truck rolls across the DRIC.

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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  • oh yeah, I forgot to predict that Harper will make several references to the War of 1812 during the presentation. His speech writers have been working on this for a month. “Looks like we won,” he’ll quip.