Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Should We Build Another International Crossing In Detroit? by Akindele Akinyemi

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There is a serious dog fight in Southwest Detroit between the owner of the Ambassador Bridge and the citizens. The bridge is owned by the Detroit International Bridge Co., which is controlled by Grosse Pointe billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun. He is the same person that owns the Detroit Train Depot (also in Southwest Detroit).

Detroit mayoral candidates Dave Bing and Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. are split on building a second Ambassador Bridge span.

The bridge split adds a wrinkle to the controversial proposal from Moroun who wants to build a 6-lane span alongside the 4-lane one. This plan, which has fierce opposition in southwest Detroit and Windsor, is competing with the government-led Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project for a new bridge crossing farther down river, connecting an area of Detroit near Historic Ft. Wayne to Windsor. Both mayoral candidates support DRIC.

Anyone that is familiar with Southwest Detroit knows the environmental hazards down in the area. The air is thick with pollution. Asthma rates are astronomical. So building any bridge down here will be met with fierce opposition.

I understand Mr. Moroun wanting to make money because he is a businessman. That is his right. But ignoring the needs of both American and Canadian citizens is not right. But building the DRIC near the Southwest Detroit neighborhood of Del-Ray is not right also. People live in Del-Ray and they live in poverty. Del-Ray is a neighborhood that is forgotten and now we want to build a bridge that will ravage the neighborhood? After all, the community opposes the second span because of the Moroun's long history as an unreliable, deceptive and unfriendly member of the community.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has weighed in on the issue stating that it will significantly ease traffic congestion between Detroit and Windsor thus enhancing the ability of companies on both sides of the river to get their products to market in a timely and efficient manner.

According to MDOT, the project will be government owned and maintained with the private sector playing a role in construction and operation of the facility. The cost of the project to the U.S. will be approximately $1.25 billion for the bridge, plaza and interchange. However, less than 10 percent of the total cost will come from Michigan, none of which will be General Fund dollars.

I have read and heard both sides of the argument. My side, from a silver rights perspective, is (1) how will building a second span next to the Ambassador Bridge benefit areas such as Corktown and the Clark Park area and (2) how would building the DRIC benefit Del-Ray residents in terms of economic growth without ripping their community apart forcing families to relocate?

We do need a second span but not north of Zug Island of all places to destroy neighborhoods. That is what urban renewal is all about. Communities such as Paradise Valley were destroyed in Detroit during the 1950s to make way for I-75. Are we back to this again? In my opinion the DRIC should be further down into communities such as River Rouge or Ecorse who need the revenue badly to revise their communities. I also do not like the idea of government running DRIC 100%. There should be a balance between government and the private sector and I am not just talking about contractors building the bridge. I am speaking of a partnership.

Whatever happens with the outcome of this fight I hope it will help those in areas like Del-Ray, River Rouge or Ecorse economically.

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