Bridge too far


IF IT seems bizarre that the most economically important border crossing between the United States and Canada is privately owned by a reclusive 82-year-old billionaire, that's because it is bizarre.

What's even stranger is that Matthew J. Moroun, usually known as Matty, wants to build a second bridge next to his Ambasador Bridge, won't take an emphatic no from the Canadian government for an answer, and is resorting to increasingly desperate behavior in an attempt to sabotage efforts to build a new, internationally owned and regulated bridge a mile south.

Earlier this month, one of his companies, Central Transport International, bought 42 acres of land that are - surprise - in the area needed for construction of the proposed Detroit River International Crossing Project, or DRIC bridge. That land could, of course, be reclaimed under eminent domain, but his purchase of it threatens to slow down construction, which of course was his intention.

That's far from his most dubious move; late last fall, courts ordered Mr. Moroun to vacate portions of a Detroit city park that he had improperly seized, evidently for his own bridge expansion. Last week, however, he outdid himself.

The government of Michigan is so cash-strapped it is threatened with the loss of $1.6 billion in federal highway funds because it may not be able to come up with $400 million in matching state funds needed to qualify. Knowing this, Mr. Moroun publicly said he had $400 million in "toll credits" he would give to the state to allow it to qualify … on one condition: that none of the money be used to help the DRIC bridge.

However, the offer was apparently a mere public relations stunt. A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation said it was highly doubtful that "toll credits" would qualify and that the bridge company would have to open its complete records for public inspection, something it has steadfastly refused to do. In any event, MDOT said no formal offer in writing has been received.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in trade cross the Ambassador Bridge every year, and since most of it cannot go by tunnel or barge, there is no easy backup system. The economies of Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario very much need to make sure trade is secure and protected. They should proceed toward a modern bridge with enhanced security procedures, and tell the rapacious Mr. Moroun that one bridge per billionaire is enough.