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Published: Sunday, 10/14/2012

Michigan voters joining battle over new international bridge

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT — The battle between Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and Gov. Rick Snyder over a new commuter span between Detroit and Canada will be settled when Michigan voters go to the polls next month.

How the voting ends up may depend on whose argument is most convincing.

Proposal 6 would change the state constitution to require approval by a majority of Michigan voters on any new international commuter bridges or tunnels before the state can spend money on the projects.

Mr. Snyder and Canadian leaders reached a deal in June on a new government bridge. Mr. Snyder has said that under the agreement, Michigan isn't on the hook for any of the bridge costs, which would be repaid to Canada through tolls collected on the Canadian side.

Mr. Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Co. say a new government bridge would cost taxpayers down the road. They were behind a petition drive that collected more than 600,000 signatures to put Proposal 6 on the November ballot. More than $1 million also was spent on ads blasting the proposed bridge that would link southwest Detroit to Windsor, Ontario.

The issue appears to be pure Michigan.

“We have never had a vote regarding a bridge between Minnesota and Canada,” said Mary McFarland Brooks, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

And placing such a weighty matter before voters is “a unique process,” added Robert Horr, president of the Public Border Operators Association.

His association represents nine publicly owned and operated bridge and tunnel crossings connecting Ontario to Michigan and New York state. Its membership includes the Michigan Department of Transportation, which supports a government bridge, and two other Michigan bridge authorities and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

“We're all public, and in the public field you have public hearings and public comment,” Mr. Horr said. “It would be rather unusual to have to go for a referendum. It's a very lengthy process, and just adding a referendum” could add more time to the process of building a new bridge.

Moroun spokesman Mickey Blashfield said there is a precedent in Michigan for voter-approval of an international bridge. A vote by Detroit residents in 1927 led to the building of the Ambassador Bridge, he said.

“The City Council approved the bridge. The mayor vetoed, and it went to a local referendum,” said Mr. Blashfield.

“Most want to make sure they are voting the right way,” he said. “They don't want someone tricking them into a vote to support the [government] bridge.”

But Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says Mr. Moroun's motivation behind the proposal is to maintain the near monopoly on truck and trade traffic he enjoys with the Ambassador Bridge.

Mr. Moroun also has been trying to get a twin span of the Ambassador Bridge built with private dollars.

“Proposal 6 is an attempt by one very special interest: A person who owns a bridge that connects the two largest trade partners in the world,” Mr. Calley said in a 90-second video on the Michigan.gov Web site. “The person who owns that bridge desperately wants to avoid competition.”

The governor's office has said the new bridge would relieve traffic congestion at the crossing and enhance the $70 billion-a-year trade relationship between Michigan and Canada.



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