Michigan governor candidates support one bridge, split on second

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from left, and  Gov. Rick Snyder, center,  pose with construction apprenticeship students  Frida, in Windsor, Ontario, where they announced that the Gordie Howe Bridge, a multibillion-dollar construction project to build a link between Detroit and Windsor, is officially underway.

Lansing — Leading candidates to replace term-limited Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder say they intend to continue his partnership with Canada to build a new international bridge across the Detroit River.

But Republican Bill Schuette has signaled he is also open to a separate push by the Moroun family to twin the aging Ambassador Bridge that has connected Detroit to Windsor since 1929.

“I want to support every bridge as possible across the Detroit River," Schuette told The Detroit News, stressing his belief in “competition” and “fairness.”

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Democrat Gretchen Whitmer told The News she is “absolutely committed” to assisting with completion of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, a public crossing that is not expected to open until 2024.  

Canada is covering the Michigan and U.S. up-front costs for the bridge and will be repaid through future toll revenue. Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week hailed the start of construction and said they are exploring ways to speed up the project.

“I think it’s important for our national security, and I think it’s important for the strength of our economy,” Whitmer said. “The way it was structured between Snyder, (former President Barack Obama’s administration) and our Canadian partners is a good deal for Michiganders.”

Billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. has fought the public bridge in court and used television commercials earlier this year in an attempt to coax President Donald Trump into revoking a key governmental permit for the project.

The company’s efforts to twin the Ambassador have been stymied in Canada, which has raised concerns over traffic congestion in Windsor. Canada last year awarded the firm a permit to construct a new span — but on the condition it dismantle the original crossing within five years of completion.

Schuette, whose super political action committee received a $250,000 contribution from a separate Moroun-owned company late last year, did not say whether he would advocate for the private bridge project if elected governor.

“All I’m saying is, let’s have big goals," Schuette said. "Let’s have as many bridges as possible built across the Detroit River. Let’s have economic commerce at its finest. Let’s not say we have to be limited.”

Work on the Gordie Howe crossing has started. It’s expected to cost $4.4 billion to build the public bridge along with blocks-long customs plazas and then operate and maintain the facilities for 30 years. Construction alone is expected to cost $2.9 billion. 

While Canada is lead on the project, Michigan will continue to play an oversight role in future years and under the next administration, said Mark Van Port Fleet, chief deputy director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“They’ll have an oversight team on their side, but we’ll have folks involved in the review of design plans,” he said. “Our time spent on that bridge is paid by Canada, but we do have an active role.”


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