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O Canada, we stand in debt to thee

This hasn’t been a good week for Matty Moroun, when it comes to his battle to hang on to his monopoly over transporting heavy freight across the Detroit River.

Moroun, who will be 88 in June, owns the Ambassador Bridge, which itself is 85-years-old. Twenty-five percent of all trade between Canada and the United States comes across this bridge.

That’s something like $85 billion dollars’ worth a year.

Much of it is heavy manufacturing components. They can’t be brought through the tunnel. If anything happened to the Ambassador, there would be no alternative other than trucking them to the already too-congested Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.

For years, enlightened people in both countries have battled to get a new bridge. Moroun, whose bridge has helped make him a billionaire, has fought them in almost every way imaginable, from making heavy campaign contributions to politicians to filing an endless series of lawsuits.

But those who want a new bridge are finally winning.

Last week the Canadian government announced it will cover the cost of building the United States’ immigration and customs plaza for what is being called the New International Trade Crossing Bridge, which will be two miles south of the Ambassador.

Then yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned thumbs down on a Moroun lawsuit claiming the government broke the law by approving an environmental impact study for the neighborhood where the new bridge will be. The high court didn’t actually take the case, indicating instead, as every other federal court has, that his suit had no merit.

Moroun will undoubtedly keep filing lawsuits.  In fact, he has one now in federal court claiming only Congress can approve any new bridge. But few people other than his lawyers take this very seriously.

But the new bridge is seriously needed, far more than most people know.

The old one is wearing out. It wasn’t built for today’s huge tractor-trailers. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the value of the freight moving across the Ambassador every year is more than our entire trade with Germany or Japan.

Take out that bridge, and we are looking at an economic catastrophe.

But it now looks like there will be a new one by 2021. And for that, and for our economic future, we all owe a tremendous debt to Canada.

It's true that this new bridge is even more important to Canada's prosperity, but it's also vital to ours, something too many short-sighted and venial Michigan politicians refused to see.

It's true that this new bridge is even more important to Canada’s prosperity, but it's also vital to ours, something too many short-sighted and venial Michigan politicians refused to see.

And Canada is paying our way. Neither Michigan nor the United States government is spending a penny for a bridge that will bail out OUR future prosperity. Canada is guaranteeing all the costs. Supposedly they’ll be paid back later, out of Michigan’s share of toll revenue.

But not entirely.

Last week I asked a high Canadian official a question I’d never seen asked, which is whether we’d have to pay interest on what is essentially a long-term loan. He said no. I then asked how long he thought it would be before Canada recovered its costs.

He thought more than forty years.  We owe Canada, big-time.

We should at least have the decency to acknowledge that.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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