03 May 2010

Oh! Canada Tries To Corner American Bridge Tycoon

New shots fired in the war with Manuel ''Matty'' Moroun.

How much do Canadians hate Manuel "Matty" Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge connecting Michigan and Ontario?

So much so that Canada is offering to put up Michigan's share of the construction costs for a new $2.2 billion public bridge that would compete with Moroun's private crossing.

Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm is delighted by the $550 million offer, saying it would create 10,000 construction jobs for her state, which is grappling with a $1.5 billion budget deficit. Moroun is outraged, claiming Canada is trying to put an Arab-American citizen out of business. He plans to sue Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The acrimony between Moroun and bridge opponents on both sides of the border has been going on for years. His critics say Moroun is a monopolist who ought to be subjected to government oversight. Moroun says his privately held Detroit International Bridge Co. is better at running the border crossing than any government entity.

The Ambassador, a four-lane, two-mile span connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, over the Detroit River is a critical juncture between the U.S. and its largest trading partner. An estimated 40% of all commerce between the two countries passes over the bridge. But it's 81 years old and in need of replacement.

Moroun wants to build a $1 billion twin span adjacent to his current bridge, then shut down the Ambassador for maintenance and reopen it only to relieve congestion. He'd issue private activity bonds to pay for the construction, which would be repaid with toll revenues.

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