The Billionaire's Bridge (And His Big, Blighted Building)
Just read an excellent column by the big homie Jack Lessenberry at Dome about the ongoing struggle to build a new international bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. As Jack explains, the city's sole current bridge, the Ambassador Bridge, is the conduit for as much as 25 percent of all trade between the United States and Canada, its traffic worth about $115 billion in trade annually. And it's old and worn, having been built in 1929. Even folks at opposing ends of the political spectrum agree that it's well past time we built another bridge between the two countries...
If something happened to knock out the bridge, the economies of Michigan and Ontario could be plunged into depression.
With that much at stake, with new plans ready, and wide agreement across the political spectrum, is a new bridge certain?
Well, maybe not. Two men stand in the way.
One is, not surprisingly, Moroun, a reclusive, 82-year-old billionaire who has been savagely fighting any new bridge, using methods both legal and, according to the courts, illegal.
His motives are clear: preserving his monopoly.
While Jack also takes to task Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt), the state Senate Floor Majority Leader who is carrying water for the bridge's owner on this one, it was the mention of the name of Manuel "Matty" Moroun that got my blood bubbling hot. Because, if you ask me, Matty Moroun -- the private owner of the Ambassador Bridge -- has been nothing short of a scourge to some desperately needed development in Detroit.
Truck magnate Moroun has been impacting politics around here for decades, using his wealth to influence local politicians, push around grassroots opponents and thumb his nose at anything that might be good for Detroit development if he thinks it'll interfere with his business. In addition to owning the Ambassador Bridge, Moroun also owns Michigan Central Station, the huge, bombed-out train depot that is so often the centerfold pin-up in the volumes of "ruin porn" used to depict the decline of this city. Notes Jack:
For years, Moroun has refused to renovate or demolish it, so it just sits there, trashed by vandals and teenagers.
For many of those years, Moroun has also fought tirelessly against Detroiters who live around the bridge to prevent a new span from going up, despite predictions by the Michigan Department of Transportation that a new international bridge project would enhance safety and security, generate as many 10,000 jobs during its construction and otherwise boost our ailing economy. (MDOT also recently released a report that underscored the need for a new bridge.) But Moroun wants to duplicate his own bridge instead, an idea that Canada and most local governments state-side rightly oppose.
Mind you, nobody is saying shutter the Ambassador Bridge. And the MDOT report says neither Moroun's money-maker nor the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel are likely to have their viability threatened by a second bridge. Still the high-handed billionaire keeps flipping everyone off, same as with the train depot. As Jack's piece notes...
Earlier this month a Wayne County Circuit judge ruled that he had illegally constructed a duty-free store and gas pumps on land owned by the City of Detroit — and ordered him to remove them. Evidently, they were built in anticipation of his being allowed to build a second bridge. Last fall, another Wayne County judge ruled that Moroun had illegally occupied and fenced off part of a Detroit city park and ordered him to vacate it within 90 days.
But he has not done so, and belatedly filed an appeal.
Of course, I'm even more ticked at Moroun's "enablers," those bought-off political lackeys who for years have just shrugged their shoulders and sat quietly while he has played games with these vital pieces of Detroit's development puzzle. After all, Moroun's a major business man, so I'm certainly not expecting him to do "the right thing" if he can't see a way to make a buck. But the politicians who help men like this get away with imperious neglect -- be they named Cropsey or Kilpatrick -- need to be held to account for doing the bidding of political sugar daddies at the expense of voters' interests.
And political leaders who continue to choose greedy obstructionists over the best interests of this city and region need to be abandoned themselves, much like a certain Detroit train depot Moroun owns.