Mar 2, 2009
Bridge Company’s delaying tactics could cost the state federal money
The Michigan Strategic Fund Board (MSF) declined to approve bonds to finance a second span of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge late last month after some Legislative Democrats told the board that the first phase of the expansion project had been done without many of the needed approvals, including a permit from the Canadian government to actually land the bridge on the Canadian side.
Grosse Pointe billionaire and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun wants to maintain his monopoly of a international border crossing, and he has begun building a second span right next to the current one. Michigan House and Senate Democrats have supported the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC)study that wants to build a new public-private bridge about a mile from the current Ambassador Bridge, but Senate Republicans, led by Alan Cropsey, are carrying water for Moroun’s plan to build a second, private for-profit Ambassador Bridge and keep his monopoly intact.
Some officials are concerned that the Ambassador Bridge Company is dragging their feet on the $170 million Gateway Project to endangering the project to kill the DRIC bridge. The Gateway Project will address long term congestion mitigation issues and provide direct access improvements between the Ambassador Bridge, I-75 and I-96. The project will also reconstruct I-96 and I-75, accommodate traffic for a potential future second span of the Ambassador Bridge, and access to the Mexicantown International Welcome Center.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) said it is having ongoing issues over contractual obligations with the Bridge Company, and the state could be in danger of having to pay back the federal funds for the project if they fail to meet the original "Purpose and Need" of the project. The federal government is providing 80 percent of the money, and the project approximately 75 percent complete and ahead of schedule.
But there may be some problems on the horizon that could put the "Purpose and Need" in jeopardy. The key to meeting the Purpose and Need is signing a maintenance agreement with the Bridge Company. However, the $40 million plaza project the Bridge Company is engaged in will interfere with allowing MDOT trucks to plow the road for snow without going to Canada to turn around.
Other potential problems include the old duty free shop that is supposed to be torn down in the plans the Bridge Company submitted is still open for business, and MDOT needs to build a pillar for a bridge there. The Bridge Company also built a set of piers next to Fort Street that is part of a second bridge span. The structure takes part of Fort Street even though they have no permission to do so. The Bridge Company is also apparently building a new duty free shop with a gas station that wipes out 23rd Street. It vacates the street without permission.
The Bridge Company hopes to come back to the Strategic Fund Board for a second bite of the apple as soon as possible. It’s unclear if MDOT will seek to hold the Bridge Company in breech of contract and they will go into arbitration. However, there is the fear that arbitration could be used as a delaying tactic by the Bridge Company.