New Gateway to the Ambassador Bridge — and why it’s opening years late
Published: September 26, 2012
In terms of news value, ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking ceremonies typically don't offer the kind of raw, red meat we here at the Hits prefer chewing on. Which is why we usually avoid events that involve guys in suits donning reflective vests and hard hats.
But last Friday was a little bit different. We wanted to experience the satisfaction of seeing an exclamation point added to a story we've been deeply immersed in for the past few years.
So, we grabbed a camera and headed over to the I-75 service road just off West Grand Boulevard in southwest Detroit to witness the official opening of the long-delayed Gateway project.
As we stood there, watching big rigs roll past on the interstate, with some of the truckers gleefully blasting their air horns, the predominant thought was: This should have been happening at least four ago.
There is, of course, a very good reason the public-private project intended to ease the flow of traffic onto the Ambassador Bridge and get semis off local surface streets experienced the unconscionable, completely unnecessary delay: Manuel "Matty" Moroun and the Detroit International Bridge Co. that he and his family own.
That delay, along with the scurrilous conduct of Matty and his minions throughout this long and costly ordeal — which caused a lot of very real hardship — speaks volumes about the (completely shady) character of the people banking on the hope a majority of Michigan voters will be gullible enough to buy their lies come November.
First, a little history.
Back in the mid-1990s, the Michigan Department of Transportation began looking at ways to reconfigure Interstates 75 and 96 near the privately owned Ambassador Bridge so that traffic could flow more freely, and the people living in southwest Detroit wouldn't have to put up with the noise, fumes and congestion caused by the relentless stream of semi trucks rolling through their neighborhoods.
Finally, after much study and consideration, MDOT in 2004 entered into a contract with the Detroit International Bridge Co. (DIBC), the Moroun family business that owns the Ambassador Bridge.
The state, with the aid of federal funds, would spend $230 million improving the flow of traffic on and off the bridge; the DIBC would be responsible for doing some specified work on the massive truck plaza, with its fuel pumps and duty-free shop, adjacent to the bridge.
While the state began its share of the work, the DIBC set off on a new course, ignoring the contract as it set about doing work that was entirely in its interest while screwing everyone else.
Most prominent in all this was the now-infamous "ramp to nowhere" — an approach to a hoped-for new bridge the company said it intended to build, even though the project had not (and still has not) received approval from government officials in America or Canada.
The problem is that ramp, referred to in a library's worth of court documents as Pier 19, stood in the way of one of the planned roadways intended to remove bridge truck traffic from neighborhood streets.
In November 2009, more than a year after the project was supposed have been wrapped up, the state sued, claiming the company was in breach of contract and asking Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards to order Matty and his crew to tear down what wasn't supposed to be there, and to complete their share of the project as outlined in the contract.
In early 2010, Edwards, after patiently listening to all the company's experts and arguments, ruled in favor of the state and told the company to get the job done, and to do it the way it was designed.
The company, staying true to its history, continued to litigate. At one point, it attempted to have the case moved to federal court. The result?
"Considering this Court's more than 33 years as a judicial officer, DIBC may be entitled to its recognition as the party who has devised the most creative schemes and maneuvers to delay compliance with a court order," U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan declared.
In early 2011, frustrated by the company's stubborn refusal to build its share of the project as planned, and oppoed to unilateral changes being made to key aspects of the design (including illegally closing off a city street), the state sought to have the company found in contempt.
More court action ensued. Mostly, the company kept making the same argument over and over — that there was never really an agreed-upon plan for it to follow.
Edwards, fed up with the steady supply of manure the company's lawyers kept trying to feed him and dismayed by a blatant disregard of lawful court orders, found the DIBC in contempt and sent its president, Dan Stamper, to jail for a few hours, just so the message would be delivered that this was serious.
Upon Stamper's release, the company pledged that it would change its ways and abide by Edwards' rulings. But it did neither; instead, it only continued to stall progress.
And so, early this year, company officials — including Matty, an octogenarian billionaire — were again cited for contempt. This time, Edwards threw both Matty and Stamper into the slammer, where they spent the night.
At one point, hitting a new low even for them, lawyers for the company filed court documents that essentially accused Edwards and a court-appointed monitor of conspiring with the governor's office in an attempt to strong-arm the bridge company into giving up its opposition to a new publicly owned bridge a few miles downriver.
> Email Curt Guyette