Cars, trucks, and about $500 million worth of goods pass between Detroit and Windsor using the Ambassador Bridge daily. It’s the only overland crossing connecting the United States with Canada along the Detroit River, but its owner is making things hard for one particular neighborhood standing in the way of his vision for the border’s future.
Matty Moroun has a net worth of about $1.5 billion from his trucking, shipping, and real estate endeavors. Discussions around the replacement of his Ambassador Bridge have been lengthy and combative over concerns that the 89-year-old structure can’t handle the predicted 4.3 percent annual increase in border traffic through 2035.
Feasibility studies conducted by governments on both sides of the border have suggested replacing the bridge. Following the approval of environmental impact studies in 2009, the new Gordie Howe International Bridge got the green light. It’s projected to cost up to $4.8 billion (CAN) and will be fully funded by the Canadian government. Profits from tolls are expected to reach $4 billion over thirty years, which will help pay back the costs.
But this is all happening without Moroun’s blessing, who has no interest in selling off or demolishing the Ambassador bridge, which generates about $60 million a year in profit from tolls.
In an effort to protect these profits, he would like to build an additional span. To understand the effects of Moroun’s proposal on the ground, one should look no further than the neighborhood of Sandwich.
Sandwich is situated in the west end of Windsor at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge. It’s mostly residential and filled with historic buildings along tree-lined streets. Many of the homes that once belonged to families and students attending the nearby University of Windsor now sit vacant, waiting to meet their destiny linked to an Ambassador Bridge expansion.
The expansion was first envisioned in the 1990s, when Moroun started to buy properties in the area that stood in the way of a new bridge span and customs pavilion. Properties are still being purchased for this project today despite government opposition and attempts to apprehend the project. One such purchase by the Ambassador Bridge Company (one of the names under which Moroun operates) is a former a high school which closed in 2011 after the neighborhood’s dwindling population could no longer support it.
The future of Moroun’s bridge extension is still up in the air, although an attempt at asserting his exclusive right to operate a border crossing over the Detroit River was shut down by a U.S federal judge last year. Canadian government forces are likewise opposed to Moroun’s plan, including the city of Windsor, which has enforced a law since 2007 that prohibits tearing down any structure not approved by the Chief Building Official.
For now—with demolition out of the question—rows upon rows of Moroun’s properties sit empty with no resolution in sight.