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Commentary: Tale of Two Bridges

Some interesting construction is going on down by the Detroit River, and more is about to start. Michigan Department of Transportation crews have been pouring concrete to finish a long-overdue road. Next week more crews will swing into action.

They will begin tearing down a concrete pier to nowhere, and then build a truck access road to help relieve congestion leading to the Ambassador Bridge. If you’ve come up to Detroit on I-75 from the South, you’ve probably seen huge trucks stacked up in the right lane.

There should be less of that after this project is done this fall, and traffic backups may even start to ease after the road they‘ve been pouring concrete for opens next month.

What’s going on is not related to any proposed new bridge. It is called the Gateway Project, and was supposed to be a joint operation between the State of Michigan and the Ambassador Bridge Company, something both agreed on eight years ago.

Yet the Ambassador Bridge company, which is owned entirely by Matty Moroun and his family, failed to live up to their part of the contract. They didn‘t built the road they had agreed to build.

Instead, they built another road to take trucks past new gas stations and a toll-free shop they owned. They also built a huge concrete ramp -- Pier 19 -- that made no sense unless they built a second bridge next to the one they have.

Michigan sued, and Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ordered the bridge company to live up to the contract. They stalled for two years. Then, in January, Judge Edwards threw Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in jail. That got his attention. But he still didn’t start the work.

So the judge took the project away and gave it to MDOT, and ordered the bridge company to turn over sixteen million dollars to pay for the work. They complied. But they are also suing in the Michigan Court of Appeals to get control back. When it comes to lawsuits, the Morouns evidently can’t stop themselves.

And while this is going on, Moroun is running yet another blatantly false TV ad seeking to stop a new bridge. This ad claims that the governor’s request for an increase in the gas tax won’t really be used to fix the roads.

Instead, it claims it would be used to build a new bridge. A spokesman for the governor said this ad “stoops to a new low.”

Everybody from the Prime Minister of Canada to the Detroit Three is eager to get a badly needed new bridge underway. Unfortunately, the leaders of our legislature, pockets stuffed with Moroun campaign contributions, refuse to even allow a vote.

Sometime soon, the governor is expected to announce he has found a way to build a new bridge anyway, at no cost to the taxpayers. When that happens, some will say that he has violated democracy. That might be true, if democracy means the worst representation campaign contributions can buy. There are some who think the rich don’t have to play by the rules.

Sometimes, they even get away with it for awhile. But when our courts finally work, the public interest can still prevail. The  Gateway project today shows what the rule of law is all about.

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