By Mike Turner
Sept. 8, 2011
|Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of his family's Detroit International Bridge Co., is fighting efforts for a new bridge in southwest Detroit. Photo by Rosh Sillars
Ask Matthew Moroun, whose family owns the Ambassador Bridge, about the controversy surrounding plans for a second, government-funded span linking Detroit to Windsor, and he’ll pause several seconds before answering.
But when he does reply, he doesn’t mince words, dismissing the financial case made by Canadian and Michigan officials for the proposed $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing (NITC) as “political math.”
“It doesn’t work,” he says. “No real businessperson or private sector business could ever live on math like this. You need to have a taxpayer treasury to be able to make this kind of stuff work.”
Canadian lawmakers and many Michigan officials — most notably Gov. Rick Snyder — are pushing for the second Detroit-Windsor crossing, which would compete with the Ambassador Bridge, to improve the flow of commercial and passenger traffic. Snyder announced his support for the span during his first State of the State address in January, saying “every farmer and manufacturer in the state can tell you why it’s important to have international trade.”
That sparked a public relations blitz from the Moroun family, who have owed the Ambassador Bridge since the late 1970s — it was the world’s longest suspension bridge when it was built in the 1920s. Although family patriarch Manuel “Matty” Moroun is famously shy of publicity, son Matthew, 38, vice chairman of the family’s Detroit International Bridge Co., has been granting a slew of interviews to state the case for maintaining private sector control of the border-crossing business in Detroit. He also testified in June before the Michigan Senate’s Economic Development Committee about legislation that would pave the way for the government-funded span. Testimony is still under way in the Senate committee.
“The best outcome is to continue with the success that we as a region have had with southeastern Michigan border crossings for the last 80 years, especially with the Ambassador Bridge, where no taxpayer resources or government resources have been used whatsoever — not to construct, not to operate, not to maintain what is one of the most important and the most efficiently run border crossings on our nation’s border,” he told Corp! during an early August interview at the company’s headquarters in Warren, where the family’s Central Transport trucking business is also based. “So the best outcome is to keep government out of what the private sector has handled by itself, and quite successfully.”
The New International Trade Crossing, proposed to extend from the Delray neighborhood downriver from the Ambassador Bridge in southwest Detroit, would be jointly owned by Canadian and Michigan governmental units, but would be privately built and operated.
Moroun contends that traffic projections by “highway bureaucrats” showing the need for another crossing are wildly optimistic. The government-owned crossing not only would compete with the existing bridge but also a second, $1 billion span that they plan to build alongside it.