Federal court affirms deal for Gordie Howe Bridge

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld an agreement between Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian government to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Detroit and Canada, rejecting an appeal from the Morouns to stop construction.

Chief Judge Judith W. Rogers of the U.S. Court of Appeals Washington D.C. Circuit wrote in her opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that a state appeals court was not wrong in upholding the deal between Michigan and Canada.

It would allow construction of the proposed Gordie Howe Bridge near the current Ambassador Bridge. The deal has been mired in legal conflict for years, but the latest ruling is a step forward for the Gordie Howe bridge, and Snyder praised the federal ruling in a Tweet on Tuesday.

“Taking more great strides toward starting construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, this time thanks to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia,” Snyder wrote.

The federal ruling is a setback for Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who has been fighting the second bridge construction for years in state and federal courts.

The three-judge panel, which also included Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Brian Garland and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge David Bryan Sentelle, argued that an intermediate state appellate court was not wrong when it rejected a challenge from Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co.

Rogers wrote in their opinion that “none of the challenges are persuasive” despite lawyers associated with Moroun arguing that state law prohibited Michigan from making the deal with Canada to allow the bridge.

The company alleged that the agreement was “arbitrary and capricious” and filed suit against the Canadian government, according to the opinion.

Sentelle were appointed by President Ronald Reagan, while Garland and Rogers were appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Last year, state officials sued his Detroit International Bridge Co. and related entities to acquire between 20 and 30 parcels of land the groups own in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood near the proposed new publicly-owned span.

In September, an attorney for the Ambassador owners told the federal appellate court it would be “economic madness” for the company to erect a planned second span if the Gordie Howe rival is also built since it could divert as much as 75 percent of commercial toll revenue from the older crossing, which has already experienced declining traffic.

There have been other legal fights as the Gordie Howe Bridge effort advances and Moroun works to build a twin, six-lane span alongside the aging Ambassador, which opened in 1929 and is the busiest U.S.-Canada crossing point.

Officials plan to start construction of the bridge in 2018. The $2.1 billion bridge isn’t expected to be open before 2022. Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of the bridge, which will have to be repaid through tolls.

Mike Cox, the attorney representing Moroun and Michigan’s former Attorney General, did not immediately return a call from The News on Tuesday.