Build the bridge.
That’s the big news coming out of the Mackinac Policy Conference. Build another bridge between Windsor and Detroit, Gov. Rick Snyder says. It’s a matter of good business. Build it, the automakers agree. The editorial pages are beating the same drum. Haters of Matty Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge who controls a virtual monopoly on international shipping, want to see him dead.
It won’t cost a thing, we’re promised. The Canadians will pay the bulk of the projected $4 billion it will cost to build the new span. They’ve even offered to loan the state of Michigan $550 million to cover our portion of the costs.
Not so fast.
Now, I wasn’t invited to Mackinac Island even though my relatives are buried in the Catholic cemetery there. But if I had been, here’s what I’d be asking the legislators over a mint julep.
Why do the Canadians want the bridge so bad? Why are they willing to extend us a loan we never asked for? What’s in it for us?
The fact of the matter is that Moroun is no coin collector. Although his company makes an estimated $45 million to $60 million in tolls, that’s not where the money is.
Moroun is a trucking magnate. And since he privately owns the busiest overland commercial port on the continent, he is able to offer a discount to trucks crossing his bridge in exchange for exclusive shipping contracts. That’s why the Big Three want a new bridge. He’s got them by the throat when it comes to shipping Canadian-made auto parts.
That’s why the Moroun family opposes a competing bridge. “Exclusivity is our whole business model,” Matthew Moroun, the son, recently told me. “Take that away and you kill us.”
That is exactly why Canada wants the new span. More than 70 percent of the trade crossing the bridge comes from Canada. That’s $100 billion. More than our total trade with Japan.
The fact is, the Canadians are beating our brains out. Our trade imbalance with our neighbors to the north is only surpassed by that of China. Getting rid of Moroun lowers their costs.
While the geniuses in Washington sit on their hands when it comes to a national industrial policy, the Canadians are upgrading ports and railroad tracks. They are positioning themselves to be the logistics managers to the American market.
Detroit is a huge piece of their plan. Since the Motor City is situated close to the Ontario industrial cradle and is the quickest way to the NAFTA highway that stretches from Illinois to Mexico, the Canadians are offering to front that cash for the bridge.
Remember they also want to lease the Detroit Windsor Tunnel and expand the train tunnel underneath the Detroit River, which opens up behind the Michigan Central Rail Depot.
Except Moroun owns that too.
But let’s forget about Moroun for a minute. Forget the shabby and tumbledown properties he owns on both sides of the river. Forget the gaping eyesore that is his train station..
If Detroit is one of the busiest ports in the Americas, then where’s the money? As it stands, very little of that truck traffic stops here to buy a burger even.
We’re promised long-term jobs by Gov. Snyder and the ministers in Ottawa, but no study has been completed on that. Nor has there been a traffic revenue study for the new bridge. Nor is there a finance plan in place to pay for it.
Instead of playing croquet on the lawn of the Grand Hotel, our representatives ought to try hardball. Try this as a negotiating stance. Canada wants the bridge built? Then pay for all of it. No strings attached.