In revealing plans for a second bridge linking Windsor and Detroit, Stephen Harper struck an unusually militant tone for what is typically a sterile, self-congratulatory occasion. “Whatever battles lie ahead,” the prime minister proclaimed, “this bridge is going to get done.” There was no mistaking his target: Manuel (Matty) Moroun, the famously litigious billionaire and the proverbial troll under Harper’s bridge.
As the owner of the 82-year-old Ambassador Bridge, Moroun has for decades exploited a virtual monopoly on commercial traffic at the continent’s busiest trade crossing. Through lawyers, lobbyists and media, the border magnate has resisted a cross-border campaign to build a new bridge. When Rick Snyder took over as Michigan’s governor in January 2011, his ardent support for a new crossing—which the state estimates would reduce the Ambassador’s traffic by half—did not go over well in the Moroun camp. The family spent millions on a successful counter-campaign: last October, the state senate struck down the plan.
Such is Harper’s desire to see this project completed that he agreed that Canada would loan Michigan $550 million to build its new highway interchange and customs plaza; Canada plans to recoup the loan through toll revenues. A private partner will build the new bridge itself, while the feds and Ontario will handle the new customs plaza and stretch of highway connecting to Highway 401.
Not that the fight is over. Moroun has gathered 600,000 signatures demanding a referendum on any new border crossings. No word yet on a name, but with “Peace Bridge” already taken, “War Bridge” might be a better fit, anyway.
(Illustrations by Chris Philpot)