The proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge between the U.S. and Canada faces yet another legal challenge from the private owners of a rival, 86-year-old span. Companies owned by the Moroun family, owner of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, filed suit in the Michigan Court of Claims late last month, challenging the authority of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and state transportation officials to take land by eminent domain for approaches to the Michigan side of the planned 1.5-mile-long Gordie Howe bridge, which, at an estimated cost of $3 billion, also would link Detroit and Windsor.
Michigan officials have proposed buying a 42-acre truck yard and other property controlled by Moroun-owned companies, with the state setting various January deadlines to cut a deal before it moves ahead with taking the property by eminent domain, the lawsuit contends. State officials note that, on the Michigan side of the bridge, they will have to pay $370 million to buy the many parcels needed, including a border-control checkpoint, private homes and connections to I-75.
The Dec. 29 lawsuit filed by the Moroun companies contends that, under the Michigan constitution, only the state Legislature has the authority to build international bridges. State lawmakers enacted enabling legislation to build two other bridges between Michigan and Ontario, says the complaint. The eminent-domain challenge is the latest legal salvo by the Moroun family since the Howe bridge began taking shape more than six years ago. A federal court judge last year ruled against a challenge of a 2013 U.S. State Dept. approval of the agreement.
Gordie Howe bridge supporters say the new span would open up a badly needed U.S.-Canada commercial transit point and boost jobs in Detroit. The bridge would be paid for by Canada, which will collect future toll money. Snyder and officials have said they plan to take up the project with President Trump, hoping to get it on a list of high-priority projects, according to local press reports.
A state DOT spokesman disputed the suit claims, saying, “All Michigan signatories … including the governor, had the authority to enter into it.” John Mogk, a law professor at Wayne State University, said he believes the court will rule in favor of the state, “but, to my knowledge, there is no clear precedent for the decision either way.” The Moroun family, which has proposed building a second bridge of its own, has estimated that its Ambassador Bridge could lose up to 75% of its business and likely be forced to close, says the suit.
The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a quasi-governmental organization that reports to Canada’s parliament and oversees the Gordie Howe bridge project, said in a statement that it is aware of the lawsuit, noting it is “being dealt with in Michigan.” The authority has announced three finalists in the design-build-finance-operate competition, led by SNC-Lavalin, ACS Infrastructure Canada and Toronto-area contractor Ellis Don. Progress is “continuing full steam ahead,” said the Michigan DOT spokesman.