Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, June 26, 2009

Terrific Column In The Detroit News

Now if he would only add in Canada's 50 year economic nationalistic objective to take over the bridge, the attempted crushing of a business owned by an American, the huge waste of taxpayer dollars, the lies and disinformation, the obscene profits that could be made by a P3 operator at taxpayer expense...that would be a column!
  • Crossing bridge of state control

    Paid my $4 to cross the river into Canada last weekend, courtesy of the allegedly rapacious capitalist who owns the Ambassador Bridge. He's trying to build a new one.

    The rebuilt ramps, sparkling ribbons of concrete, abruptly end as you're redirected onto the aging bridge. The Duty-Free Shop, of faintly Scandinavian design, looks to be a massive upgrade from the cheesy old Quonset hut whose smokes and booze lured travelers on their way to Windsor, the 401 and beyond.

    But what about the second span, so badly needed to replace the iconic bridge built in 1927, the same year its owner, Matty Moroun, was born? Not coming anytime soon, as the shipping magnate-cum-real estate mogul and his Detroit International Bridge Co. slide deeper by the day into petty squabbles with the Michigan Department of Transportation and myriad bureaucrats in both countries.

    The result: a confluence of behavior that is equal parts slapstick comedy and bureaucratic over-reach, with a healthy dollop of power politics and some requisite junior high juvenilia thrown in.

    Earlier this week, Ambassador Bridge President Dan Stamper called a press conference to denounce a petulant MDOT's move to dump tons of dirt and debris on a freshly paved roadway, ostensibly (MDOT responded, confirming Stamper's claims) to protect the interests of taxpayers in the $230 million I-75 Gateway Project.

    Wednesday, MDOT filed a breach of contract suit in Wayne County Circuit Court, accusing the bridge company of altering its plans in ways that could jeopardize the federal funding for the project. This from the same state agency that also is part (for obvious reasons, given its responsibility) of a government-backed plan to build a competing span downriver.

    What's next -- a ritual sacrifice in the middle of the bridge or the serendipitous discovery of a tattered, century-old Indian compact to block ol' Moroun?

    The rival Detroit River International Crossing, you see, proposes to spend yet billions more of your money to raze neighborhoods on both sides of the border to build a second span that would compete with Moroun, the tunnel and the Bluewater Bridge in Port Huron. Oh, and the governments -- the United States and Canada, Michigan and Ontario -- would reap the incremental revenue they otherwise wouldn't see if privately-financed Ambassador II goes it alone.

    Can't have that, can we? Can't allow a private business person to finish the project and to reap the return of his investment even as his company is required to comply with the border controls, customs rules and national security implications on both sides of the river.

    Then it hit me: This drama symbolizes our times, as we watch an energized federal government controlled by a new president and a single party move to remake the financial sector, the domestic auto industry, executive pay, the energy producers through "cap-and-trade" and the health care business, among other things.

    Private ownership is bad, and government ownership is good. Private industry is more efficient (witness the progress of Stamper & Co., for example), but government is somehow more fair and equitable. Private industry cannot be allowed to reap the benefit of its risk-taking if government cannot get a (bigger) piece of the action.

    I suppose I speak for more than a few routine border crossers: Don't care who controls the bridge so long as it's a) safe and b) speedy and c) something north of the testy ritual it's become since the dark days after the September 11 attacks.

    If Moroun can do it quicker, within the requirements of authorities on both sides and with a lot less government money, what's the problem -- aside from the obvious fact that government gets one less asset to control and mine for cash.