Three years ago, I asked U.S. Sen. Carl Levin if anything about Detroit, the city where he was born, surprised him anymore. Yes, he told me, “the power of Matty Moroun.“
That was back when it seemed there was little chance a new bridge over the Detroit River would ever be built, despite clear indications Mr. Moroun’s aged Ambassador Bridge was wearing out.
The Moroun family had bought the bridge in 1979, and years later, effectively bought the Legislature with campaign and other contributions. Bills to approve a new brigde never even got out of committee, even after it was clear the Canadians would pick up all of Michigan’s costs, and Washington would let Lansing use Ottawa’s money to qualify for $2.2 billion in federal highway matching funds.
But on April 12, Gov. Rick Snyder stood triumphant on a podium with top Canadian officials. Secretary of State John Kerry had just announced that a Presidential permit had been issued for the construction of a new bridge.
Last year, the governor had bypassed the Legislature, and concluded an “interlocal” agreement with Canada to build a new bridge about two miles south of the old one.
Matty Moroun was furious, and the 85-year-old billionaire then spent something like $40 million of his money to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot which would have prevented any new bridge from happening.
But voters overwhelmingly turned it down.
“I’m absolutely delighted. This is a great thing for both our nations,” Roy Norton, the Canadian consul general, told me moments after the announcement. Soon afterwards, Snyder told reporters that the new bridge was “a project where everyone will win.”
“This is more than a bridge to me,” he added. “It’s about jobs and the future of our state.”
Five years ago, this would have seemed impossible. But while Rick Snyder did, indeed, do a great deal to make it happen, there might never have been a new bridge if it hadn’t been for two men who weren’t part of the celebration - but should have been.