February 16, 2010

Conservatives want to build a bridge to Detroit

CANADA - The Conservative government in Ottawa wants to build a second bridge to Detroit, bypassing the Ambassador Bridge which has been the primary source of cross-border traffic since 1929.

There are 26 major border crossings (often in the form of bridges) between Canada and the United States and all but 2 of them are owned by Canada. None of them are owned by the US government, but 2 of them are privately owned: A railway bridge and the Ambassador Bridge which spans the water between Detroit and Windsor. The Ambassador Bridge was built by bankers and investors between 1927 and 1929 in record time and for years it was the world's longest suspension bridge.

After the stock market crash in 1929 the bridge was sold and it was passed through private hands for many years until it was finally wisely bought by Matty Moroun, owner of a trucking company, in the late 1970s. During the Great Depression the bridge was criticized as being a huge waste of money, but by the 1990s the Ambassador Bridge was the bridge of choice for 25% of cross border trade.

The problem however is that Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have become obsessed with replacing the bridge, even though cross border trips have dropped to 7 million per year (due to new security restrictions) from a high of 12 million in 1999.

Thus a new bridge isn't needed. The demand isn't there, not yet at least.

To their credit the Moroun family has done a very good job of running the Ambassador Bridge. Following September 11th for example the border was closed, but they helped arrange to escort various trucks across the border so factories could keep running and wouldn't be shut down.

Furthermore the Moroun family has stepped with an offer to build a 2nd bridge using their own money, $400 million worth, in the event the Canadian government needs it. Indeed the billionaire family have bought most of the land on both sides of the border, saying they are ready to build the new bridge quickly and efficiently. They even have ramps built, but are waiting for Ottawa's approval to build the new span.

But no, the Conservatives want to build the bridge themselves (even though its clearly not needed yet since border crossings are down so much), claiming two bridges close to each other would become a target for terrorists. What utter nonsense. There's a quarter of a km between the old bridge and the site of the proposed new bridge. It would take a nuclear weapon to take out both bridges, in which case both Detroit and Windsor would be economically incapacitated anyway by the size of the explosion and the radiation.

So whats the real reason? Canada passed up the opportunity to buy the Ambassador Bridge on numerous occasions. We've missed that opportunity. Why should we waste an opportunity for a free new bridge, built courtesy of the Moroun family.

According to a February 2010 interview the Canadian government is refusing to even sit down and discuss the matter and so the Moroun family waits for an answer.

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