Michigan DOT takes control of public-private bridge project

A decades-long plan to connect the Ambassador Bridge, one of the most important U.S.-Canada crossings, to U.S. interstates is on a fast track after a judge sided with Michigan DOT over its erstwhile private partner in the $230 million project.

The bridge is privately owned by local billionaire Manuel Moroun and his family. MDOT signed a deal in 2004 to jointly build links to the interstate system, moving international trucks from surface arterials.

But the bridge company built other facilities where the links were planned, prompting MDOT to sue in 2009. This month, a judge ordered MDOT to take control of the project, and the bridge company to provide $16 million for remaining work.

Now, to complete the project, MDOT intends to invite proposals from design-build teams, with a goal of awarding the project by mid-April.

The bridge owner did not immediately comment in press accounts, but Moroun in the past has pinned the blame for the dispute on MDOT, for considering a competing crossing to Canada downriver from the Ambassador Bridge. One of Maroun’s new facilities that interfere with the joint project is a ramp to a prospective new Ambassador Bridge span.

“MDOT unfortunately so far has been pretty successful in convincing the judge that we’re the bad spouse and they’re the good one, even though they’re clearly cheating on us,” Maroun told Corp! magazine last year. “We’ve taken our lumps.”

Now, with the favorable ruling in March, MDOT has been even more successful in its arguments, and the project looks to be moving quickly.