Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Matty Moroun’s means to an end

The numbers don’t lie, but they can certainly be manipulated as a means to an end. That’s precisely what’s going on at the busiest U.S.-Canadian border bridge.

The background helps tell the story.

The state of Michigan along with the Canadian federal government and the local governments of Detroit and Windsor are gearing up to build a new border bridge. They say it will relieve congestion on the nearby Ambassador Bridge – the busiest crossing in North America.

Equally important to the story is that the Ambassador Bridge is privately owned by billionaire Matty Moroun, and he stands to lose customers and toll revenue if the proposed Detroit River International Crossing toll bridge is built nearby.

Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge Co. are attempting to downplay the need for a new public bridge downstream as they work on their own plan to twin the Ambassador and expand their service plazas.

The latest downplay comes in the form of a press release stating that commercial traffic is down on Moroun’s bridge.

These figures, which are public and verifiable, show that commercial truck traffic is indeed down 1 percent for the month of March compared with March 2010. But while the number itself is not a lie, the company is using this figure to mislead.

Here’s what they’re not telling you: Commercial traffic is actually up nearly 1.9 percent for the first three months of 2011 when compared with the first three months of 2010.

So yes, Mr. Moroun is correct that March traffic declined, but the broader picture is that truck counts have actually increased year-to-date compared to 2010.

Have we mentioned cars yet? Passenger vehicle traffic was up 6 percent using Moroun’s own March-to-March comparison, and 4.8 percent year-to-date. Again, these numbers are public and verifiable, so let’s move on.

To talk about the Ambassador Bridge and the proposed Detroit River International Crossing in a vacuum without including other border activity in the region would be a disservice.

Approximately 60 miles north and east of the Ambassador Bridge is the Blue Water Bridge linking Port Huron, MI, and Sarnia, Ontario. Truckers traveling Michigan-Ontario truck routes can generally choose one bridge or the other, so let’s take a gander at the Blue Water numbers.

Starting with the March-to-March comparison, we see that commercial truck traffic has declined a fraction of a percentage point. The year-to-date figure shows truck traffic on the Blue Water Bridge is down 1.3 percent. But nobody’s crying foul over there at Port Huron, because their plazas are small, crowded and border wait times can be lengthy.

To wrap this up in a nice little bow, truck traffic is down on both bridges in March, but up on the Ambassador for the year so far. Two factors to keep in mind: First, we’re coming off a bad winter, so numbers for the first quarter are still a bit short-sighted for the big picture. And second, the U.S. side of the Blue Water Bridge is undergoing a construction project on I-94/I-69. Perhaps that construction has sent more trucks to the Ambassador site, but we don’t have that kind of data available.

Lastly, we must also consider the pre-recession and post-recession numbers. When the economy took a tumble in 2009 – which included a major hit to the Detroit auto industry in the area – the border-crossing numbers took a nosedive to the tune of 20-25 percent.

But it looks like those numbers are back now, more or less, as 2010 and 2011 are looking more and more like 2007 and 2008.

At the present time, truckers can flip a coin between using the Ambassador Bridge or Blue Water Bridge, but there could soon be a third bridge in the area if it ever gets built. I’m not endorsing the DRIC or the toll revenue it will be built with, but truckers may welcome a bit of competition in the Michigan-Ontario trucking region as well as some faster service at the border.


  1. The traffic numbers are down about 41% compared with 2000!

    Get your facts right.

  2. Show you sources for that, Anonymous! I strongly suspect you dont have any. Freights still down everywhere due to the recession. Those trucks havent gone elsewhere-because they dont have much choice . . .the Port Huron crossing is hours out of route unless you're going as far as Toronto. So, which one of Matty's companies do you drive for?

    Dave's just scratched the surface on the issues here. The Ambassador is the only bridge that goes directly into the Windsor-Essex area-Canada's automotive center. Hundreds of auto parts truckloads historically cross that bridge every day. And Maroun has parlayed his control into a trucking empire-based on his control of the transit point. He also has created a national security nightmare. Maroun is beyond shady-he's been helping to support Detroit political corruption for many years, owns the ugliest waterfromt slum in North America and has been known to commandeer public property for his own needs-that lawsuit JUST got settled. If he wasnt a billionaire, he'd likely be in jail-along with his buddy Kwame. Michigan's got an offer for a sweet deal to get that badly-needed new span without cost to the taxpayers. All of the major manufacturers are advocating this bridge-likely because they're tired of Maroun holding their freight hostage to his business profits. That bridge carries the majority of NAFTA freight coming out of Texas into Canada-it's badly needed. Another span needs to be built before Maroun's ancient unmaintained bridge ends up in the Detroit River-along with the twenty or thirty trucks that are using it when it goes.

  3. My belief is that traffic is down on the Ambassador bridge, I travel that bridge a lot and I am getting through customs twice as fast as I used to, you do not have the lines of traffic clear across the bridge and back to the main road any more, in fact I am usually the 4th or 5th car to the booth or as the last three times I got to drive right into the booth with no waiting, so truckingal which company do you work with, the state of MI perhaps.
    I do not believe this bridge will fall down either as it is being worked on all the time

  4. independent onlookerApril 14, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    Why hasn't Moroun built his new bridge before this? As has been said, all he has to do is comply with the rules, file the applications, conform to the legal requirements and voila! A twinned bridge.
    Meanwhile, he has let the Ambassador go to pot almost as badly as his railroad depot. First, he claimed there wasn't enough traffic to call for a new bridge. Then when he thought somebody else might build a bridge, he claimed they were preventing him from twinning his bridge. Then he claimed he was being discriminated against because of his Lebanese ancestry. Then there were the illegal takeovers of public property. Then there were the frivolous lawsuits. Now, he's attacking the publicly owned bridge with ads containing lies.
    The only thing that is standing in the way of Moroun's twinned bridge is his own intransigence -- he wants to bypass the law. If he had filed the required applications, complied with the laws and conformed to the specifications called for, it would be a fait accompli. Even Gov. Snyder has said he doesn't care if Moroun twins his bridge.
    So why hasn't he done so?

  5. Well, anonymous-you're driving a CAR, for Gods sake . . and this is about TRUCKS! Unless you've dealt with the fiasco at Customs for FREIGHT, you have no idea what you're talking about. Cars are the least of the concerns for the border crossing . . .it's trucks that pay the bills and keep the manufacturing economy rolling. Michigan's economy cant recover without every effort to facilitate the crossing situation for freight. And when the auto industry is operating normally, hundreds of trucks cross that bridge daily to make inter-plant moves over to Essex. It is also the main crossing point into Canada for NAFTA freight coming out of Mexico. As such, it is a major border security point. Car traffic has been down ever since Detroit got its own casino. But, if the citizens of Michigan expect to continue to have the money to go play the slots at Windsor, they need to have jobs that actually pay them. And, driving a car, you are in a different system of lanes entirely. So you know not of what you speak. And, I dont work for ANYBODY-I'm a disabled long-haul truck driver that used to haul a bunch of automotive freight into and out of the Detroit area. Yes, freight is down-the entire economy is down. But we should never expect this to be the new norm. The Ambassador is over 75 years old . .and steel doesnt last forever. It's reaching the end of it's useful life. It will have to be replaced probably within the next twenty years. Better we do it now so we dont end up with twenty 80,000 trucks taking it down . . you in your little 1500 lb car will go down with it when it goes. At that point, whether you had to wait at customs or not wont matter a heck of a lot to your family.

    But, Maroun twinning the existing bridge is far more complicated than it looks, Independent Onlooker: This end may be in Michigan-the other end is in Canada-and Canada will control where it ends up. Maroun has bought up a bunch of property on the Windsor side and is letting it fall into serious disrepair(like he has the Detroit waterfront) because the thinks he can strong-arm his bridge there. He cant-Canada wont let him! They do NOT want another span dumping thousands of trucks into the center of Windsor and will not allow it. Maroun is trying to strong-arm Canada the same as he's strong-armed (and bribed) Detroit . . and he's not going to be successful. He figures if he clogs up the works long enough and creates enough bad PR, that Canada will fold. That's why Canada is willing to provide the funds for the second span (notice they didnt offer them to Maroun). They want him out of the picture entirely and, failing that, they're holding the Canadian end of any new bridge as the trump card.

    Then, there's the NAFTA freight-a lot of that freight just crosses the United States . . . it's slated for delivery in Canada . . . some very big companies, like Procter & Gamble and Kimberley-Clark have plants in both Mexico and Canada-and the Ambassador is the crossing point. As it stands, many of those trucks are going hundreds of miles out of route and spending an extra half day going around that bridge because of the mess. That costs all of us money as all of that extra cost ends up on the final product price. Nothing moves for free. The US and Mexico are building a third bridge at Laredo because of the increases in traffic and the two-hour waits. And we're going to continue to let one greedy guy who has developed a monopoly hold our economy hostage? Somehow I dont think that's a good idea!


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