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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 1/22/2009

New bridge at Detroit

THE U.S. Department of Transportation has given final environmental clearance to a plan to build a new, internationally owned bridge across the Detroit River. A new bridge has long been needed, for both economic and security reasons, and this action should give a clear green light to the national and local governments of both the United States and Canada to clear any remaining hurdles holding up the consortium known as the Detroit River International Crossing Project.

The fact that billions of dollars in cross-border trade depend solely on the ancient and privately owned Ambassador Bridge stopped making sense long ago, and in the age of terrorism is the ultimate security nightmare.

Consider this: The region's most economically important border crossing, a bridge built in 1929, belongs to 80-year-old Manuel "Matty" Moroun, a private businessman who doesn't think he should answer to anyone and doesn't want anybody to inspect or regulate his bridge for safety concerns.

Mr. Moroun has been known to allow gasoline tankers to park under it at night. If disaster should strike, there's no backup system, and no way to get much of the cargo across the Detroit River. It can't fit through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, and the nearest alternate bridges, in Port Huron and Buffalo, are too far away and already overburdened.

Clearer heads in Michigan and Canada know how absurd that is. Officials in Windsor, Detroit, Ontario, and Michigan have agreed upon a site about a mile south of the current bridge. Yet Mr. Moroun, reputed to be a billionaire from his family's trucking business, has done everything he can to hold up a new bridge, first claiming a new one isn't needed and then vowing to build a second span next to the Ambassador, something neither nation is willing to permit. He has a long record of making political contributions, and some members of the Michigan Legislature bafflingly have done their best to hold up progress.

In a world full of economic uncertainty, almost nothing is more important than ensuring the smooth flow of international trade. Michigan and Ontario are each other's largest trading partners by far, and Ohio is also a substantial trading partner with Canada.

Michigan should now take the lead in smoothing the way for the new bridge. Funding remains a sticking point, and those involved in the crossing project might best be encouraged to come up with a creative partnership to seek private funds for what needs to be an essentially public enterprise.

America has been attempting to build figurative bridges to the world, in the form of trade, for centuries. In this case, that's literally exactly what needs to be done soon between Detroit and Windsor.



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