At Windsor-Detroit border, there's no such thing as truly 'private' bridge or tunnel

May 07, 2012, 3:10 PM

The ballot proposal championed by Matty Moroun and the Ambassador Bridge folks would, if approved, require Michigan voters to sign off on any new border crossing. Specifically, the measure is aimed at blocking the New International Trade Crossing bridge proposal.

There's just one problem. Crain’s Bill Shea reports that the proposal, if approved, could create a potential roadblock for another critical border project—expanding the rail tunnel underneath the Detroit River. Even the Ambassador Bridge company says they don’t want that.

However, [Moroun] bridge company says that the ballot measure isn't supposed to ensnare the railroad tunnel.

"There is no intent to impact a private rail tunnel," said Mickey Blashfield, the bridge company's director of governmental relations. "The language is carefully crafted for bridge or tunnel for government projects, not private entities that are taking the risk/investment. Domestic supporting construction or rail improvements are not implicated."

Well, that sounds nice. As Shea explains that might not be true since the proposed ballot language refers to motor vehicle crossings and rail is considered a form of motor vehicle under the law. 

And then there is the fact that the proposed tunnel expansion isn’t a strictly private project. The Windsor Port Authority is a major partner. The Port Authority is a public agency with a board appointed by federal and provincial governments in Canada.

The NITC is also envisioned as public-private partnership. Construction and management of the news bridge will be bid out to private-sector concessionaires.

What’s more, even though the Ambassador Bridge is a privately-owned crossing, it’s hard to it is argue some Ayn Rand-style hyper-free market ideal. Its construction was chartered by a special act of Congress and it’s fed customers on both sides of the river by, you know, government roads.

There’s also the little matter of the $230-million public-private Gateway Project that, thanks to taxpayer-subsidy, improved (or is improving, now that MDOT is in control of the project) access to the bridge.

Bottom line, this narrative about sinister government plots to build socialist bridges at the expense of benevolent private-sector border crossings that provide jobs and prosperity is just nonsense.

None of these crossings are perfectly public or perfectly private. That’s fine, so long as they provide easy and efficient transportation of people and commerce between the two countries.

Read more:  Crain's Detroit Business

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