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The Bridge to Canada: Does the End Justify the Means?

June 17, 2012

Michigan will have a new Detroit-Windsor bridge after all, or so it would seem from recent news coverage of the Governor’s deal with the Canadian Prime Minister and the support of the U.S. Federal Government.  This action comes on the heels of legislative rejection of the Governor’s bridge legislation, which itself is only the latest in a series of such rejections that date back to the previous administration.  (Michigan’s current Governor is a Republican but his predecessor was a Democrat, so the history of legislative non-support for this venture crosses partisan lines.)

The need for a new Detroit-Windsor span to support what is the busiest international crossing in North America (if not the world,m as was the case not so long ago) is debated, with the Ambassador Bridge‘s owner, Matty Mouron, claiming that traffic is well below capacity and that crossing delays result from the border security procedures of the U.S. Customs staff stationed there.  The Michigan Department of Transportation issued a report whose findings support the need for a long-term plan to augment the current span, now over 80 years old.

In a controversy as heated and long-running as this, with large amounts of money spent by both sides on publicity and lobbying, the truth is hard for a casual observer to know, at least as regards the advisability of erecting a new bridge with public funding.  (Mr. Mouron states that he intends to build a span with private funding, adding to the confusion generated by this issue.)  What can be known is that legislative rejection of every proposal brought before it to date has not stopped the new bridge from edging closer to coming into being, with the public funding coming from Ottawa and Washington, D.C., rather than from Lansing.  While the legality of the ‘inter-local agreement‘ that will midwife the new bridge has not been challenged in the courts, the notion that a legislative ‘No’ does not stop the executive from executing a desired plan should give us pause.  In a system of checks and balances such as ours, and branch acting in defiance of the wishes of another branch ought to.  No natter the final resolution of the bridge controversy, the span itself may be of less lasting importance than the precedent set, if successful, by this action.  That, for students of government and concerned citizens in general, is the real issue.

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