Friday, June 15, 2012

Michigan’s Bridge Monopoly Battle Rages On

With monumental assistance from allies in Michigan’s legislature, Grosse Pointe billionaire Manuel Moroun continues his fight to maintain his private bridge monopoly on truck traffic and truck toll revenue between Windsor and Detroit. Wednesday, June 13, the Michigan House Appropriations Committee approved a bill to prohibit Governor Rick Snyder from using money from Michigan’s Strategy Fund to pay for any part of construction of a competing freeway to freeway bridge project two miles downstream from Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge. The Ambassador Bridge is the only existing highway bridge crossing the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, and Moroun collects all those truck and auto tolls.

In the last two legislative sessions, bills passed which prohibit Michigan’s Department of Transportation from spending any money on new Detroit River bridge construction, but Moroun wanted to make sure the Strategy Fund’s economic development money was also cut off as a source of funding for any competing bridge. He is also circulating petitions to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot requiring a public vote before any competing bridge could be built. Over the last few years, the Moroun family has also donated about half a million dollars in campaign funds to federal candidates who have consistently opposed federal funding of new Detroit River bridge construction.

Despite this unprecedented example of self-interested lobbying, Governor Snyder will announce today a proposal, backed by Canada’s government and U.S. officials, for construction of the downriver New International Trade Crossing which would sidestep Michigan’s legislative funding restrictions Moroun has lobbied so diligently for. The proposed new $1 billion bridge and $2 billion attached bridge end customs plazas, would be paid for by privately collected toll revenues from bridge traffic, and by Canadian and U.S. federal contributions to customs facility construction. No funds would come from Michigan’s state coffers, Snyder promises.

Snyder is already authorized under Michigan’s Urban Cooperation Act to participate with Canada and the U.S. federal government in an international bridge authority which could fund the bridge, contract for its construction and operation, and arrange a private contract for toll collection. Canada has offered to advance Michigan’s $550 million share of construction costs against Michigan’s portion of toll revenue from truck and auto traffic over the new bridge. Besides the construction jobs and permanent operating jobs created by the new span, Michigan’s gross domestic product should increase by $2.2 billion annually from traffic across the new bridge, with new state and local tax revenues rising by $400 million each year, and Michigan personal incomes going up by $4 billion.

Given these prodigious improvements in Michigan’s economic quality of life from construction of the proposed new span, it becomes clear that Moroun’s political campaign fund donations are the only real reason for state and federal elected officials’ opposition to the project.

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