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Published: Monday, 5/10/2010

Bridging the gap

THE most important commercial crossing point in North America is the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, over which more than $130 billion in merchandise trade passes annually. But the aging bridge was built in 1929, and though its owner, billionaire trucking magnate Manuel "Matty" Moroun, wants to build a second span next to it, the Canadian government refuses to allow that to happen.

Fortunately, there's a more sensible plan for a new bridge two miles farther south, which would be internationally owned and operated by the Detroit River International Crossing Project. But here's a sticking point: The State of Michigan must appropriate some startup funds by a June 1 deadline, and the state is broke.

But hope is not lost. Canadian Transport Minister John Baird has offered to lend Michigan $550 million to help pay its share of the costs of the new bridge. That money would be repaid from Michigan's share of toll revenues after a new bridge begins to operate.

Naturally, that solution was greeted with delight, except by Mr. Moroun, who vowed to file lawsuits. He called Canada's offer an infringement on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In a bizarre sideshow, his spokesmen claimed that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm had sold out her country to Canada, and that Mr. Moroun, 83, was being discriminated against because he is Arab-American.

Michigan lawmakers should ignore that nonsense and speedily vote to start construction of the new bridge. Truck traffic at the border is projected to triple during the next 30 years, car traffic is expected to double, and there is now no backup span for the Ambassador Bridge.

Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario don't need anything getting in the way of jobs and the economic benefits of trade.

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