, Land Line associate editor | Wednesday, September 26, 2012
The days of heavy trucks being forced to use Detroit city streets to access the Ambassador Bridge are over. The Michigan state DOT officially opened highway access ramps known as the Gateway Project to commercial traffic on Friday, Sept. 21. Last March, a judge asked MDOT to finish the project after billionaire bridge owner Matty Moroun failed to meet a court order.
Northbound and Southbound trucks from Interstate 75 and Eastbound trucks from I-96 now have direct access North America’s busiest crossing that links Detroit with Windsor, Ontario. The trucking corridor sees upwards of 8,000 to 10,000 commercial vehicles per day.
One of Moroun’s companies, the Detroit International Bridge Co., was supposed to finish the project much earlier, but the magnate who made money owning trucking and logistics companies has always moved to the beat of his own drum.
Last January, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards found Moroun and DIBC President Dan Stamper in contempt of a previous order to complete the project and remove illegal structures built on land the billionaire didn’t own. The pair spent a night in jail after failing to meet the deadlines Edwards imposed.
Edwards ordered the company to pay the Michigan Department of Transportation $16 million and asked MDOT to complete the remaining portion of the $230 million Gateway.
Government officials, watchdog groups and the Ambassador Bridge company have all issued statements regarding the opening of the Gateway Project to trucks.
Stamper said that despite the government’s “effort to damage” the company business, the Gateway Project is deserving of the accolades.
“While we will not thank the government for their efforts to damage our business during this project, the final completion of the highway ramp connections deserves a champagne toast,” a portion of Stamper’s statement reads.
The Detroit International Bridge Co. has its sights on building a twin bridge to the Ambassador in the coming years.
That clashes with a plan by U.S.-Canadian and local governments to construct a publicly owned bridge downstream from the Ambassador to relieve congestion and give truckers, commuters and tourists a choice.
Supporters of a future public bridge – which would likely be operated as a toll bridge by a concessionaire – spoke highly of the Ambassador Gateway this week while taking the opportunity to jab at Moroun’s way of doing business.
“It is a shame that years of delays were the result of the Moroun family’s attempt to use 230 million Michigan taxpayer dollars to build a ramp to their duty free plaza,” a statement by Taxpayers Against Monopolies spokesman Tom Shields reads.
“We applaud MDOT for sticking to their guns to build the Gateway to serve the people crossing the border – and not the monopoly owner of the Bridge.”
Shields said it was a shame that taxpayers had to go to court to get the project done.
An issue appearing on the Michigan ballot in November would amend the state Constitution and require voters to decide the fate of any new international bridge or tunnel connecting Michigan with Canada. That ballot question is being bankrolled by Moroun, who is not surprisingly against the government’s campaign to build the publicly owned New International Trade Crossing. The billionaire feels he can get the votes to stop the NITC.
Officials on both sides of the border insist that a publicly owned structure will go as planned no matter what the outcome of Moroun’s ballot question may be.
State Legislative Editor Keith Goble contributed to this report.
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