Hit and hit again

While most eyes were focused last week on the collection of powerful politicians, civic leaders and union officials who gathered in support of the Detroit River International Crossing, the main opponent of that new bridge — Grosse Pointe billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Co. — was suffering yet another setback in the courtroom of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentice Edwards.

Since our quasi-esteemed colleague Jack Lessenberry in his column this week delivers the skinny on the high-profile press conference that attracted Michigan's governor, Detroit's mayor, the mayor of Windsor and Canada's ambassador to the United States, we'll steer clear of that event except to say: When is the last time you heard Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson singing from the same hymn book?

All the pressure that can be summoned will be applied to the state Legislature in an attempt to move the DRIC project forward. Ol' Matty is near apoplectic at the thought of his Ambassador Bridge having to compete with the publicly owned span planned for a spot downriver near Delray.

But the competition from DRIC is only one of the problems facing Moroun and his bridge company. Also at issue are matters involving the public-private venture known as the Gateway Project, a $230-million effort to improve freeway access to the bridge and keep truck traffic off neighborhood streets in southwest Detroit.

And this is where the two matters link up. Last year, the bridge company filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), claiming that the state was failing to live up to its contractual obligations in that project. According to the company, just the fact that MDOT was supporting the DRIC constituted a breach of fiduciary responsibility.

William Shreck, an MDOT spokesman, has consistently said the agency supports Moroun's efforts to build a new span adjacent to the Ambassador. He contends that both Moroun's proposed bridge and the DRIC are needed to keep Detroit competitive with international crossings in Buffalo, N.Y.

What MDOT wants, though, is for the bridge company to abide by all the terms of the Gateway contract; as we reported last year, the company had unilaterally altered agreed-upon plans. Edwards ruled in February that the company didn't have the authority to change fundamental aspects of the agreement, and ordered it to demolish a newly constructed duty-free shop and gas pumps that interfered with construction of a truck ramp the contract obligated the company to build. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld Edwards' ruling.

That followed action brought by MDOT. Last week's ruling, however, was in a related suit the company filed against the state. Along with claiming that MDOT shouldn't be supporting the DRIC, the suit also asserted, among other things, that the agency was in the wrong when it failed to approve changes the company had made to the original Gateway plan.

Essentially both suits covered the same issue: Did the bridge company have to abide by the terms of the Gateway contract it had signed? And, with last week's ruling, Edwards has now ruled twice that the answer to that question is a definite "yes."

"This is a major decision for MDOT," agency spokesman William Shreck told News Hits.

Shreck also pointed out that the judge made it clear he hadn't forgotten about his order that the company submit a timetable for removing the duty-free shop and gas pumps that interfered with the original plan, and ordered the company to be in compliance with the order by the time they showed up in court for another hearing this Friday.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or
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