Wednesday, June 24, 2009

And the bridge battle goes on

The fight over twinning the Ambassador Bridge keeps getting messier. Yesterday the bridge company accused MDOT of dumping 10,000 tons of dirt onto a new truck ramp out of spite. The company filed a lawsuit in May seeking to block construction of a rival, publicly-funded span, and they say the dirt was dumped in retaliation. MDOT says no, the dirt is temporary, but the bridge company may have jeopardized federal funding for the massive Gateway Project by unilaterally changing the design of the bridge plaza, among other infractions. The same issues were cited by the U.S. Coast Guard last week when they ordered the company to stop all work on the new, unapproved span.

To say this spat is getting complicated is to greatly understate the case, but the most surprising development to emerge in the last few weeks is that Matty Moroun, the Grosse Pointe billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge as well as Michigan Central Depot, may finally be getting boxed in. The odds have always favored Moroun--he's got the money and the track record to do what he wants, public opinion and the law be damned--but it looks like he may have overplayed his hand. The company has cut off part of Riverside Park without title to the land, shut down access to part of 23rd Street without permission, built the ramp to a new bridge without a permit to do so, and so far failed to divert truck traffic from neighborhood streets.

That's led to doubt or outright opposition from nearly all Southwest residents and community groups, all levels of government in Canada, the City Council, MDOT, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the state representative for the area, Rashida Tlaib, as well as most media observers. Moroun still has a few backers -- a handful of community groups, who co-signed the lawsuit against the public span, and some Michigan lawmakers, mostly Republican, who'd rather see a bridge built at private expense. But the opposition is growing, and for good cause.

Update: MDOT sues the bridge company for disregarding its contract. This is getting intense.

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