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In e-mail, Moroun shows potential for peace in Windsor-Detroit bridge dispute

Ambassador Bridge
J. Stephen Conn
Two joggers run under the Ambassador Bridge which connects Detroit to Windsor

After years of legal battles and disagreement, peace between the proponents and opponents of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project may be near.

Billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, is a prominent opponent of the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, but seemed to express an eagerness to compromise in an e-mail sent to The Toronto Star.

According to The Toronto Star's report on the e-mail, Moroun’s son, Matthew, who is the vice chair of CenTra Inc., the parent company of the Ambassador Bridge, said he is inspired by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s work with the project.

“The Windsor-Detroit border can be a shining example of efficiency and co-operation,” the younger Moroun wrote. “I’m inspired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s desire to take a new look and a fresh approach to fix old problems. This situation is just such a problem. I’m ready to do the same.”

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have approved plans to move forward with the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. The Canadian-funded project will cross the Detroit River, downstream from the Ambassador Bridge, and will connect Detroit and Windsor by Interstates 75 and 94 in Michigan to Highway 401 in Ontario. The project is slated for completion by 2020.

The privately owned Ambassador Bridge connects Detroit to Windsor, and is 86 years old. The Morouns are also currently working to finalize an approval from the U.S. Coast Guard to add a new span to the Ambassador Bridge.

But to the Morouns, the new bridge has been seen as a threat to their business. Moroun, who is 88 years old, has filed multiple lawsuits against proponents of the new bridge, and attempted to stop the construction of the new bridge through a failed ballot proposal.

“Our company and the (former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper) government spent the last decade fighting unproductively,” the older Moroun wrote in the e-mail. “Our position was that the Ambassador could be the only bridge. The former government’s position was that their ‘bridge-to-be’ would be able to pay back the taxpayers for the billions of dollars to construct it — even if Canada paid for the U.S. portion. We were both wrong and unnecessarily strident.”

More from The Toronto Star:

(Moroun) said his company “severely underestimated” the importance of the Windsor-Detroit border crossing to Canada and “the Harper government refused to open its eyes to the fact that actual traffic and toll revenues were only a fraction of the ridiculous projections required to pay back taxpayers.

Dwight Duncan, the interim chair of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, which is overseeing the construction of the new bridge, told The Toronto Star he was “blown away by the e-mail.”

“It’s a significant development,” Duncan said.

According to The Windsor Star, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens may not be convinced by the gesture from the Morouns.

“It’s hard to believe this offer is genuine based on their behavior and history,” Dilkens said.

Currently, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority is considering design options for the bridge.

In a Feb. 11 speech, Michael Cautillo, president and CEO of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, outlined the goals for the project for fiscal year 2015-2016:

“My priorities were three-fold: to set up the corporation and build capacity; to transition certain project activities and responsibilities from the Government of Canada to WDBA, and to undertake pre-procurement activities, enabling WDBA to move toward public-private partnership, or P3, procurement for project delivery.”

Canada will spend $2.1 billion to cover all costs of the bridge’s construction, as well cover a $250 million customs area on the U.S. side of the bridge.

Proponents of the project, which includes Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, argue the additional passageway will allow for more shipping traffic to flow through, as the Windsor-Detroit passageway is one of the busiest international crossings in North America.

Currently, there are four routes across the Detroit River: the Ambassador Bridge, the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel, and the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry.

The conception of the project began in 2000, and will be named after Detroit hockey legend Gordie Howe. At the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority’s first public meeting about the project on Feb. 11, the group said it is considering a proposal to include bike lanes across the bridge.

There are currently no bicycle lanes on the Ambassador Bridge. The decision to approve the proposals lies with homeland security officials from the U.S. and Canada.

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