"Why bother fixing the place up when it looked like it would
become a tear down?" asked Cadman, a former trucker, still spry at
Ten years on and his house no longer directly in the bridge's path,
Cadman and other residents of this forgotten neighborhood near the
Detroit River are still waiting to see what a new bridge and a
proposed 170-acre (70-hectare) U.S. customs plaza would mean for
Years of opposition to the project, led by the billionaire private
owner of the lone existing bridge from Detroit to Windsor, have
helped keep plans for the new bridge on hold. This has left
residents and community groups preparing for an eventual
construction boom — but without knowing when it might start.
"We have had hundreds of meetings (with government officials) but we
haven't got anywhere," said Tom Cervenak, executive director of the
area's community center. "It's become comical."
But after years of delays, the chances of the bridge being built are
improving, bridge supporters say. The project will need $250 million
in federal funding, and there could always be a new legal challenge,
but expectations are rising.
"We know it's coming and maybe soon, whether people like it or not,"
said Simone Sagovac of the Community Benefits Coalition, which is
lobbying on behalf of local residents.
A federal judge ruled last Tuesday that Detroit is bankrupt under
federal law, prompting hope that the Motor City can emerge with a
fresh chance for success. And a $4 billion bridge project would
provide just the type of jobs and opportunities the city needs.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR
The Ambassador Bridge that links Windsor and Detroit is 84 years old
and carries about a quarter of U.S.-Canada trade, which totaled $616
billion in 2012.
The proposed second bridge has the backing of the Canadian and U.S.
governments, Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder and a wide
array of logistics firms, a handful of other U.S. states, car makers
and other businesses.
The bridge would enable trucks to travel smoothly from one country's
highways to the other's, bypassing the nearly 20 stop lights en
route from Windsor to Detroit today. The Canadians have already
begun building a link to Ontario's highway network, and the Canadian
government has offered to pick up all but $250 million of a $4
billion construction tab.
"This is Canada's number one infrastructure project," said Roy
Norton, Canada's Consul General in Detroit, of the offer to foot
most of the bill.
Once Governor Snyder accepted a Canadian government offer in 2011
for Canada to cover most of the cost, and used executive authority
to circumvent a recalcitrant state legislature, the deal seemed
But Manuel "Matty" Moroun, 86, a trucking magnate and owner of the
Ambassador Bridge, has been standing in the way.
The Moroun family, worth $1.5 billion according to the latest Forbes
list, has spent tens of millions of dollars fighting to protect the
Ambassador Bridge's monopoly over the Detroit-Windsor crossing, most
prominently in a failed state ballot measure and lawsuits.
"The only reason the bridge is still a story is because of Matty
Moroun," said Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of
Commerce and a firm supporter of a new bridge.
Moroun and his spokespeople did not respond to repeated requests for
comment made over several weeks.
The bridge has received all permits required by governments on both
sides of the border. The U.S. Congress needs to appropriate $250
million for the customs plaza, which some bridge supporters fear
could be held up by Washington's unusually strong partisan
divisions. And the U.S. Coast Guard needs to issue a permit for
shipping traffic on the Detroit River around the new bridge.
Supporters of the project expect the Moroun family to file fresh
legal objections but say his options to stop the bridge are becoming
"I don't think their lawsuits can do much at this late stage,"
Canada's consul general Norton said, calling U.S. funding the only
significant issue. "I am confident we can find a way to get it
In 2011, some 20,000 trucks a day crossed the Ambassador Bridge,
which charges a $5.50-per-axle toll for large trucks and has a
lucrative side business selling duty-free fuel.
[to top of second column]
Moroun has sponsored several court challenges to bridge
construction, including arguing in a federal court filing in the
spring that State Department approval for the project was
unconstitutional because it violated Michigan state law. The Detroit
Regional Chamber's Baruah said none of the legal challenges have
succeeded, but any holding action plays into Moroun's hands.
"Moroun's win-loss record in litigation has been dismal," Baruah
said. "His goal is to use the process to run down the clock."
The Moroun family also backed a state constitutional ballot measure
in the 2012 election that would have required state and local
referenda to approve any international bridge that might use state
funds for construction.
The Morouns, through the family company Detroit International Bridge
Company that runs the Ambassador Bridge, pumped $33.4 million into a
campaign backing the ballot proposal, according to state regulatory
filings. That topped the $29 million spent by all of Michigan's U.S.
House candidates, from both parties, in the 2012 general election.
The ballot proposal was defeated, with 60 percent of voters opposing
it, but the campaigning gave a platform to anti-bridge sentiment.
For a state and city that dearly could use the revenue generated by
bridge construction and increased trade with Canada, the wait is
"To compete as a world-class community, we need a new crossing that
will improve traffic flow with direct freeway links and reduce or
eliminate congestion," said Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Co,
which sends 600 trucks a day over the existing bridge.
"The new bridge will be a major boost for southeastern Michigan and
the state as a whole," Gov. Snyder told Reuters.
Nowhere is the delay felt more keenly than Delray. An industrial
neighborhood of Southwest Detroit that once boasted 29,000
residents, Delray today is home to only 3,000 people and seemingly
countless shuttered businesses.
Groups like the Southwest Detroit Business Association are working
with local contractors and residents to prepare, just in case the
bridge gets built. The bridge will require skilled workers in the
construction trades, including qualified welders.
"We're going out talking to people and telling them 'get off the
marijuana and get your GED,'" said Maria Salinas, executive director
of local non-profit Congress of Communities.
The neighborhood is at least as neglected as the many struggling
residents who live in it.
The city cuts the grass on the land it owns only once a year,
residents say. Thieves steal metal fences for scrap and even take
Troubled as Delray can look to outsiders, many residents still cling
to it — a phenomenon familiar in large tracts of Detroit, whose
population has fallen from a peak of 1.8 million in 1950 to around
700,000 today. Many residential blocks boast more abandoned homes or
empty lots than occupied ones.
A plan to raze homes where about 700 Delray residents live, to make
way for a new customs plaza, draws mixed reviews.
"It's hard because we've had families coming here for generations,"
said Reverend Jeffery Baker of St Paul A.M.E. Church, one of five
Delray churches slated for demolition. "But moving will hopefully
allow us to grow because our congregation here has been shrinking."
For Les Cadman and his wife Lorene Bradley, the financial
compensation that would come with condemnation would help him buy a
small house elsewhere. But their house is just outside the buyout
zone. So after years of waiting, they will now likely get nothing,
even though Cadman says it would take very little to help him pack
up and leave.
"Just give us enough for her and me to get out of town," he says,
pointing at Lorene. "We'll go."
(Reporting by Nick Carey; editing by David Greising and Bob
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