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Ambassador Bridge future becomes a Detroit political brawl

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Filed: Timeline

Spanning a river stretch just over a mile long between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, the Ambassador Bridge is the busiest commercial border crossing in North America. It's also falling apart.

Eighty-one years old and increasingly dilapidated, the bridge can't keep up with the demands nine million vehicle crossings a year place on it. City planners on both sides of the border have long wanted an upgrade, and two months ago, Canada made a startling offer: It will loan Michigan $550 million to fund construction of a second bridge two miles downriver.

That proposal kicked off a firestorm that's still sparking daily flare-ups.

The major hurdle is that the Ambassador Bridge isn't controlled by any municipal agency. It's privately owned by 83-year-old billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who bought the bridge 30 years ago and has enjoyed a near monopoly ever since over the lucrative international trade route. It's a position he'd like to keep.

Moroun has instead proposed personally spending $400 million to $500 million to build a new bridge with six lanes of traffic (an upgrade from the current four), adjacent to the existing bridge. It would be used in lieu of the Ambassador, which would only run as a back-up when needed.

But Maroun's plan doesn't provide a bridge in a separate location. That's a security risk if something goes wrong, and a disaster if the nearby roads need to close, says Bill Shreck, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

"Virtually every business that ships over the border in the area has been asking for more capacity and more choices at the border crossing," Shreck says. With $1 billion a day in goods crossing the border, it's a serious time and money drain when traffic clogs up. Automakers, who rely on the bridge for parts deliveries, are particularly vulnerable.

The plan Canada would like to finance, the Detroit River International Crossing, has some high-powered backers, including Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and the domestic auto companies. Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne says the DRIC would add necessary capacity and ensure "unimpeded access from Ontario's highway to Michigan's interstates."

Michigan's state House of Representatives recently approved legislation allowing MDOT to enter into public/private partnerships, clearing the way for the DRIC's creation. "This is an essential part of rebooting our economy," says state representative Lee Gonzales, one of the plan's key sponsors.

But who will end up paying for it? That's the big sticking point.

The DRIC would be jointly owned by the state of Michigan and the Province of Ontario, Canada. MDOT estimates the project's total cost at around $2.6 billion, some of which will come from federal funds. Canada's proposed multi-million-dollar loan, which is enough to get the project started, would be repaid over time through toll revenues.

But Moroun thinks taxpayers will get stuck with the brunt of the bill. He believes bridge traffic will increase too slowly over the next 10 years to generate enough revenue to pay back the loan, says Moroun's son Matt, who helps run the family business.

In addition to the bridge, which generates an estimated $60 million a year in toll revenue, the Moroun empire includes several trucking businesses. Their collective heft placed the Moroun clan at #296 on Forbes' latest list of the richest Americans.

"We're doing our best to fight a government takeover of a private business that wants to spend private dollars in Detroit," says Matt Moroun.

He's backed by several influential Republican lawmakers -- and they control Michigan's State Senate, where the bill needed to launch the DRIC sits, stalled.

Critics say they're concerned that a public/private partnership would hand over too much control to MDOT and Canada.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsy says border traffic has been down by 50% over the last decade, making the traffic flow too small to sustain two bridges, much less raise the money to pay back the loan through tolls.

"We have somebody willing to build this at his own cost, with no cost to the taxpayer," says Rep. Dave Agema, who fought the bill's passage in the House. "To me, this is a no-brainer."

On the flip side, many locals counter that trusting Maroun to modernize the U.S./Canada transit link would be the real brainless move. The billionaire isn't a popular figure in the decaying neighborhood that surrounds his Ambassador Bridge. State Representative Rashida Tlaib, whose district includes that area, has thrown her support behind the House version of the DRIC plan, which includes provisions for community investments.

"The neighborhood has reaped no benefits with the bridge company other than trucks in our neighborhood," she says. "It's a historic district with homes being torn down and blighted homes that the company owns. It's an eyesore. We haven't had a good neighbor when it comes to the Ambassador Bridge."

The government of Canada is also pushing for a municipal solution to the bridge problem. With the land acquired, funding in place and key parties on board, the DRIC project is nearly shovel-ready, according to Canadian Minister of Transport John Baird.

"This is the most important public infrastructure project in the country," he says. "It's essential to the economic well being of both countries."

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Ambassador-Bridge-future-cnnm-795528376.html

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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Canada
Timeline

This has been a big issue for years. One of the main problems with the Ambassador Bridge in Canada is that it brings all those 9 million vehicles - many of them transport trucks carrying heavy or double loads - right through down town Windsor. Windsor gets no revenue from the bridge traffic yet has to pay to keep up the infrastructures (roads, lights, etc.) which amounts to mega-bucks every year that comes out of local property taxes. The damage all those big transport trucks do is amazing! Windsor - and Canada's - proposal would move all of the international traffic out of the core of downtown Windsor and allow it to connect directly to the TransCanada highway system, being much more economical and efficient for drivers - especially transports (not having to do all that stop and start traffic for the several miles that lead to the Trans Canada highway. On the US side it is pretty well all Interstate except for a few local access roads which are in horrific condition - again because of those same transports - (even the pot holes have pot holes). Relocating 2 miles south would be easier for the US side as well.

When I was still in the area the powers that be were discussing maintaining the Ambassador Bridge for car traffic only and using the new structure for commercial traffic. They did not think there would be enough profit, though, with maintaining two bridges. Quite honestly, I think this Billionaire needs to pay for the new bridge if he still wants to keep the profit - or else start paying for the infrastructure repairs that the international commercial travel is wreaking on Detroit's and Windsor's city streets., I don't remember the details but it was explained that Windsor needs to spend more on upkeep than any potential tourism benefits realized through the international traffic.

Edited by Kathryn41

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I always went to the Bluewater Bridge, because the Ambassador was always so congested. They definitely need a bigger one there. Apparently, this Maroun is so upset over the Cdn gov't offering the loan, that he accused them of being racist to him. rofl.gif


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Filed: Timeline

I always went to the Bluewater Bridge, because the Ambassador was always so congested. They definitely need a bigger one there. Apparently, this Maroun is so upset over the Cdn gov't offering the loan, that he accused them of being racist to him. rofl.gif

There's a tunnel too, I forget what it's called. I would randomly end up on either the Ambassador bridge or the tunnel depending on the mood of my GPS. I always thought the tunnel was nicer, but security at the tunnel is much more hardass.

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Wait wait wait #######. You can actually buy a frigging bridge? I have been declining all the offers to buy Brooklyn bridge. I thought people were trying to scam me withing I'm naive. I couldn've been making millions of dollars on toll fee.


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Filed: Lift. Cond. (apr) Country: Egypt
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There's a tunnel too, I forget what it's called. I would randomly end up on either the Ambassador bridge or the tunnel depending on the mood of my GPS. I always thought the tunnel was nicer, but security at the tunnel is much more hardass.

Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.


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Filed: Citizen (pnd) Country: Canada
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When you enter Windsor on the Amb. bridge, there's a strip club on the right. The guy who owns that makes a ton! :lol:

They advertise "New girls every week" lol.

Crossing the Ambassador bridge can get busy at times, but I like what they did on the Detroit side when they added more booths. Not to mention you can get right to the hwy after the toll instead of going through the streets!


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