Put together one busy bridge, a billionaire, and a bunch of politicians and what do you get? A big mess with no resolution in sight. This is the current scenario facing Michigan, Canada, and billionaire Manuel (Matty) Maroun, the man who owns the bridge of concern.
The Ambassador Bridge is 81-years-old and is quickly falling apart. Nevertheless, it serves as the busiest commercial border crossing in North America, spanning a river stretch just over a mile long between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The problem is that the bridge cannot keep up with the demands of nine million vehicle crossings each year and city planners on both sides desperately want something done about it. Just two months ago, Canada came up with an answer to the problem: it would loan Michigan $550 million to fund construction of a second bridge two miles downriver. However, Manuel Maroun, who bought the bridge 30 years ago and has enjoyed a near monopoly over the international trade route, would like to keep his lucrative position.
Instead of Canada’s proposal, Manual Maroun has proposed to spend $400 to $500 million to build a new bridge with six lanes of traffic instead of the current four adjacent to the existing bridge. The Ambassador Bridge would only be used as a back-up when needed. Despite Maroun’s offer, Michigan Department of Transportation officials are concerned that his plan doesn’t include building a bridge in a separate location—a security risk if something goes wrong and a recipe for disaster if nearby roads need to close.
The plan that Canada would like to finance, the Detroit River International Crossing, is backed by some political heavy-hitters like Governor Jennifer Granholm, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and the domestic auto companies. If the DRIC plan passed, the new bridge would be owned jointly by the state of Michigan and the Province of Ontario, Canada. The bridge is estimated to cost about $2.6 billion, some of which would come from federal funds. The other portion would be paid by Canada’s loan to Michigan, which the state would pay back through toll revenues from the bridge.
Maroun, however, believes that the taxpayers of Michigan will end up paying the brunt of the bill. He’s also backed by several influential Republican lawmakers–and they control Michigan’s State Senate, where the bill needed to launch the DRIC plan sits, stalled. On the flip side, many locals that live near the Ambassador Bridge counter that trusting Maroun to modernize the U.S./Canada transit link would be a disaster. The billionaire isn’t a popular figure in the decaying neighborhood that surrounds his Ambassador Bridge. In fact, 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.