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Law > News Hits

Bridge battles

Span company and state transportation department in legal wrangle

 

Published 7/1/2009

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As the stretch of Interstate 75 closed by the Gateway Project is set to reopen this week, improving access to the Ambassador Bridge, legal squabbling over the project continues.

Last week, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court against the Detroit International Bridge Co. (DIBC), owned by Grosse Pointe bazillionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun. The suit, an attempt to "enforce a contract" between the numerous public agencies involved in the Gateway Project and the privately owned bridge, claims the bridge company has made "unauthorized" changes to the project that are threatening $145 million in federal funding for the state.

We read unauthorized changes to mean prep work for the second span Moroun wants to build that has been stalled of late by the U.S. Coast Guard. But the state, in the suit, is sticking to narrow "contractual issues" of the Gateway Project.

"DIBC has unilaterally and materially abandoned the agreed terms and design. DIBC is failing to construct the facilities as agreed and is constructing alternative facilities," the suit states. Those changes both "frustrate the purpose" and "violate the contractual and legal rights of MDOT and third-parties" involved in the project, according to the complaint.

Bridge officials, meanwhile, called the lawsuit "surprising," in a statement issued last week.

"DIBC recently requested mediation and then submitted a formal demand to MDOT," the company says. "MDOT did not even respond, but instead filed this lawsuit."

Of course, the state is taking a page from the bridge company's own book. DIBC has sued MDOT claiming the state has delayed the opening of the project, of which the reopened I-75 stretch is just one portion. The total project includes reconstruction of interstates 75 and 96, 18 overpasses and 24 ramps. The project's goal is to improve access to the U.S.-Canadian crossing that carries an estimated 23 percent of all surface trade between the countries, according to MDOT.
The state, while a partner on the Gateway Project, is also supportive of the $3 billion Detroit River International Crossing proposed for a location further downriver from the Ambassador Bridge. It would compete with Moroun's businesses at the Ambassador Bridge.

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

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