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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.

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  • 1

    Those "bought-off political lackeys" are numerous and bipartisan.
    Sandra Svoboda reported in Metro Times last June:
    "Moroun and his associates have given at least $1.1 million to campaigns and political action committees during the last two decades. And that amount doesn't include direct lobbying expenses.
    "The collection of reports shows that Moroun money has gone to Detroit City Council members, state lawmakers, political action committees, congressional candidates and U.S. presidents named Bush." []
    This is election finance, American-style. Campaign checks from Matty, Friends and Family are legal, customary, even an admirable part of democracy to some (of his fellow DAC members, that is). They grease the path of access to decision-makers whose ears Matty needs . . . and whose support has bottom-line impact.
    Elected recipients of Empire Moroun generosity have influence over MDOT, MEDC, public activity bonds, zoning, permits, street closings and other items critical to the Detroit International Bridge Co.
    Naturally, recipients insist their actions have absolutely no relation whatsoever to contributions. And that may well be true in at least some instances.
    But a businessman who controls how at least $1.1 million is doled out has more influence than any individuals or groups in Corktown, Southwest Detroit or perhaps all of Southeast Michigan.
    That right there is part of what kindles efforts for campaign finance reform and public underwriting of political spending.

    • 1.1

      Now see you're ahead of me yet again, DoubleD. Didn't realize that third link is to the very article excerpted ^
      Worth an echo, actually.

  • 2

    Ken Cockrel in the brief time that he was Mayor may well have bitten the bullet by opposing what Matty was doing and extracting the public promise that he would restore the Train Station.

    Remember it? Clearly in the Free Press. Matty's guys said that the were in the process of restoring the station.

    I guess that Mitch Albom's best editorial is the one about Business Lies.

    Matty Lied to us, to Ken, and has made a number of bull moves.

    It will be interesting to see what happens.

    Do you think that he was at the party? If you were and didn't want it known, it might be good reason to keep coughing up.


  • 3

    Screw a bridge, we could water-taxi service from hart plaza (new port authority pier, maybe?) to downtown Windsor. It's cheaper, easier, and would generate (not re-route) more traffic than a new bridge.

  • 4

    I wonder if the Feds heard his name in all the years of wire-tapping that has been going on in this city. The sign should read, "Maroun: A billionare obstructionist...unless it is something that he and his family want to build...or demolish...."

  • 5


    The picture illustrates the facts that surround the statistics... The Ambassador bridge has experienced a decreasing load for a while... look at the gaps between vehicles - even with telephoto lens shots that exagerate compression/congestion..!

    Why are we 'busting the spheroids' of the bridge's owner... too financially successful???

  • 6

    Darrell Dawsey is part of the problem with the whole DRIC process; diseminating knee jerk attitude as if what he writes is actually fact. I would direct you to for years of factual reporting of the ins and outs of the tug-of-war for the Ambassador Bridge. There ypu will find the real motivation for the Canadian Government's desire to own the bridge, the dirty tricks being perpetrated on tax payers in both countries, and total needless waste of money trying to sell the new crossing idea when traffic has dropped to 1999 levels.

    Answer this Darrell; why should tax dollars be spent on a new crossing when Moroun is willing to foot the bill on his own?

    • 6.1

      Oh my, that's the most amusing claim I've heard since . . . well, since a certain ex-mayor's last restitution hearing.
      Surely you jest, 'lineosight,' by suggesting blogger Ed Arditti delivers "years of factual reporting."
      The activist attorney, as you presumably know, is widely recognized across the river Windsor as a longtime bridge partisan and past leader of a group opposing a former truck tunnel project. In a front-page Windsor Star article a year or two ago, Dave Battagello 'outed' him as a Detroit International Bridge Co. shill who consulted on strategy with president Dan Stamper.
      Evidently you've also swallowed the monopoly defenders' Kool-Aid. Can't imagine why else you'd describe a one-note drumbeat of bridge propaganda as "years of factual reporting." May as well pretend the sun rises in the west.

  • 7

    Alan, I invite you to refute (factually) anything Ed Arditti has written. It's typical of the looney-left to attack the writer when the issues can't be challenged, and I see you've adopted their methods.

    You don't like Moroun. That's fine. But let's talk about Michigan's lack of money, the bottom dropping out on the P3 industry, and the fall off of traffic to the level of 1999. Let's also talk about why public money ($4-8 Billion) should be used to to construct a road and bridge when Moroun can do it quicker and with private funds.

    Let's talk facts around the issue and not just your dislike for a man.

  • 8

    One of the aspects that most stories on the new downriver bridge miss is that the DRIC has planned the bridge as a linkage of the U.S. Interstate Highway System with the Canadian 400 series superhighways. Even a new Ambassador bridge would require the Canadians to design and build a link to 401 that the residents of Windsor and their suburbs are vehemently against as it would take all that truck traffic into congested urban areas. While the American side of the bridge has major construction, it has relatively little impact compaired to the Canadian side. Because of NAFTA the Canadian & American economies are substantinally interlinked (not that they weren't before to a lesser extent). That significantly increased trade is continental in scope, requiring an Interstate / 400 series capacity interlink. No government on either side of the border, no local, State or Provincial, or Federal is comfortable with such a critical link to be owned & operated by a single private individual, no matter how altruistic and Manny Moroun is clearly not altruistic. So his efforts to jam a monkey wrench into the DRIC process by buying off various politicians & illegally grabbing public lands, in the long term, is doomed to failure as were the efforts of various robber barons along the Rhine river during the Middle Ages.

  • 9

    Well-thought-out post, up to a point. The big misconception everyone has is that Matty (not Manny) Moroun owns the bridge all by himself. The bridge was publicly traded until 1979, when Warren Buffett and Moroun bought up large blocks of shares. Moroun ended up with more than 50 percent and took the company private, which means you can't buy its stock on any exchange. But people can, and do, still invest. Of the hundreds of millions of dollars Moroun has invested for upkeep and enhancements over the years, I doubt whether he's reached into his pockets very much. He can sell shares privately and he goes to the bond market. What you can safely say is he's majority owner, but still answerable to others. It is impossible to believe that anyone in any government thinks much about Moroun when deciding about policy about the bridge. Linking public policy to one individual is the stupidest thing you can do (think Saddam Hussein and Iraq). Make a $4.5 billion commitment to build a new bridge because you don't like one guy? Let's say you spend $1 billion and suddenly Moroun is out of the picture, for whatever reason. Let's say everybody loves the person replacing him and cooperation knows no bounds. What then? That's why injecting Moroun into the discussion is merely a diversion from the real issues. Moroun is no more powerful than the majority owner of any privately held company, or professional sports franchise, or he would have built his second span already. Paying him this much attention only gives him more power, while diverting everyone from real issues. Go ahead, keep enabling him.
    Harry: Why couldn't Windsor make Huron Church Road a freeway for the 1.5 km from the bridge to 401? Wouldn't that be cheaper and less destructive than going all the way to Brighton Beach? If Canada bought the bridge from Moroun, don't you think Huron Church would be a freeway in a heartbeat, and the DRIC idea would die?

  • 10

    Harryr11, How many border crossings between Canada and the US are publically owned? Why is it such a concern that the Ambassador must be publically owned? Just because people don't like playing ball with Matty Moroun?

    The plans for DRIC have an expansion of Huron Line/Hwy 3 from the 401 to EC Row Parkway. It would still be cheaper to extend it to the Ambassador and a new plaza rather than extending it west along EC Row to Brighton Beach, building a plaza, and constructing a new bridge.

    Moroun has already built, in conjunction with Michigan DOT, a plaza and direct access to the various Interstate routes on the US side. But for DOT playing games and blocking the ramps to the highways, they'd be open right now and only for the Canadian government to complete the connection to the 401.

    Does it make sense to ruin the town of Delray when the footprint for the new bridge is already in the bridge company's hands?

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