Voters Give New Detroit Bridge a Green Light

  • November 09, 2012
  • By Daniel Vock

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's plans to add a second bridge for cars and trucks between Detroit and Canada are moving forward, after the governor and his allies defeated a $33 million campaign to block it.

Voters soundly rejected a plan Tuesday (November 6) brought by Manuel “Matty” Maroun, the owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, to prevent or delay construction of a competing span nearby. Maroun's toll bridge is the only car crossing into Canada within 60 miles of Detroit. The $33 million Maroun spent supporting the measure dwarfed spending of the opposition, which launched television ads only in the final days before the election.

But voters rejected the proposal by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. The ballot measure would have required a statewide vote to approve any new international bridges or tunnels.

On the morning after the election, Snyder seemed to relish the victory. His office told The (Detroit) Free Press that the governor hoped to secure the environmental permits for the new bridge within six months. Actual construction of the bridge could start within two or three years.

Matt Grossmann, a political science professor at Michigan State University, says voters' opposition solidified even while it looked like a “one-sided campaign” on the airwaves. Many prominent people weighed in against it, from the governor to editorial boards and good-government groups. Most opposed it, because they said it would benefit the Maroun family keep its monopoly on crossings while hurting the economy.

Michiganders turned down all five proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot this week, which covered issues as varied as renewable energy, taxes and collective bargaining. The crowded ballot—and cacophony of ads—made it even harder for Maroun to sway voters, Grossmann says. Voters tend to shy away from supporting new initiatives as Election Day nears, it is easier to convince voters to say “no” to a new idea than to persuade them to support it, he adds.

The Maroun-aligned group supporting the measure, called Let the People Decide, issued a statement after the defeat predicting that the governor's proposed $2 billion bridge would not overcome financial, legal or even engineering obstacles.

“It is clear the voters resisted amending the constitution,” said Mickey Blashfield, the group's director, in a statement,” but it would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk.”

One of the most contentious issues about Snyder's proposed New International Trade Crossing is who would foot the bill for it. The governor says the Canadian government and private companies would pick up the tab, while Michigan would get a $2 billion windfall to fix its other roads and bridges. Maroun's group says Michigan taxpayers could still end up paying for the bridge, despite assurances from the Canadian government.

See Stateline's roundup of key ballot measure votes. 

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