Thursday, January 21, 2010

The cost of doing business with Matty

It’s hard to believe that one individual can wield so much power over the busiest border bridge in North America, but that’s the way it is with Matty Moroun and the Ambassador Bridge.

Matty owns the bridge and sets the toll rates, and anyone caught suggesting an alternative crossing or threatening his empire feels his wrath. It’s been that way for years.

Alternative proposals may come and go, but there’s Matty … intimidating the competition and standing as tall as the 400-foot towers that suspend his beloved Ambassador.

But are we starting to see a softer side to the bridge magnate and trucking-company mogul? The Detroit Free Press reported this week that Matty was prepared to make a generous offer to help the cash-strapped state of Michigan.

To nobody’s surprise given the economy, Michigan is falling well short of being able to qualify for certain transportation matching funds from the federal government.

In what seems like a generous offer, Mr. Moroun says he would ante up “toll credits” plus the value of $400 million in private bridge construction projects to help boost the pool Michigan draws from in the state’s quest for a federal match. It would seem like a welcome and legal shot in the arm if it were to pan out.

But before we get ahead of ourselves in thanking Matty for his generosity, it must be noted that he has placed some very specific terms and conditions on his offer.

You see, Matty is in it for Matty; he always has been and always will be.

The catch, he says, is that the state of Michigan must promise not to use any of the matching funds to pursue an alternative bridge downstream from the Ambassador.

Moroun wants to keep and increase traffic on his own bridge by building his own twin span. Any downstream alternative threatens to take business away.

“It’s just business,” he seems to say to detractors.

If anything is certain in this, it’s that truckers are the ones giving Matty Moroun plenty of business. Conservatively, he’s got to take in at least $150,000 each day from trucks.

The approximately 10,000 commercial trucks that cross the aging four-lane span each day pay between $3.25 and $4.50 per axle depending on weight, and that doesn’t include an extra 50 cents per axle for oversized loads.

Simply put, this is the cost of doing business with Matty Moroun.