Supporters of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge came out swinging Tuesday against Ottawa’s plans to lend $550-million (U.S.) to Michigan to help build a new crossing at North America’s busiest trade corridor.
Matthew Moroun, an Ambassador Bridge executive, said the Canadian government and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder are exaggerating the benefits of a constructing a competing bridge across the Detroit River.
Mr. Moroun retained three consultants to help him defend the Ambassador Bridge’s proposal to construct its own new crossing. He disputed claims by Mr. Snyder that Ottawa’s financing will trigger $2.2-billion in matching funding from the U.S. government.
“The government bridge will lose money hand over fist every year, year after year,” said Mr. Moroun during a conference call from Detroit. “The numbers don’t work.”
The number of trucks using the Ambassador Bridge has fallen sharply since 1999, so it doesn’t make any business sense for governments in Canada and the United States to intervene when a private operator already is in place, said Mr. Moroun, whose father is Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge.
The 81-year-old bridge handles goods worth $150-billion annually – an estimated one-quarter of the merchandise trade between Canada and the United States. At Tuesday’s news conference, three U.S. consultants spoke out in favour of the Moroun family’s quest to maintain their dominance on handling border traffic in the Detroit-Windsor corridor.
But advocates for a publicly controlled bridge, dubbed the New International Trade Crossing, say traffic congestion continues to stall trade. They are confident about leveraging Ottawa’s money to lure U.S. infrastructure funding.
Tom Shields, a spokesman for a coalition backing the proposed trade crossing, said the Detroit Three auto makers and other manufacturers know the value of having governments co-operate to develop bridge plans to reduce trucking bottlenecks.
Ken Silfven, an official from the Michigan Governor’s office, played down the Ambassador Bridge’s criticisms, describing them as “nothing more than a last-ditch effort to generate confusion and stop this vital project from moving forward.”
Proponents of the government bridge say the U.S. Federal Highway Administration has notified the New International Trade Crossing that matching funds are available, earmarked for an array of road projects in Michigan.