Billionaire wages war against new international crossing

Billionaire businessman Matty Moroun is waging a war against one of Canada's most important infrastructure projects; a new international crossing in Windsor.

One of the biggest infrastructure projects on the government's books may never happen.

Ottawa wants a new bridge linking Canada and the U.S.  in Windsor, Ont. It's the country's busiest trade link.

But the neighbouring Michigan government is having difficulty passing legislation that would allow construction of a new span across the Detroit River between Windsor and Detroit.

Business leaders, industry leaders, union executives and chambers of commerce on both sides of the border all support a new span.

But billionaire businessman Matty Moroun owns the Ambassador Bridge, the only international bridge crossing in Windsor-Detroit. He has waged a public relations campaign and lobbied the Michigan government all in an effort to keep a monopoly on the crossing.

"This guy is really vicious and he'll target you and character assassination is just part of his regular M.O.," Michigan's Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley said. "You know that taking on a billionaire comes with a fair amount of risk."

Last month,  Michigan politicians voted down legislation needed to build the bridge.

Nearly a third of all trade between Canada and the U.S. - worth $130 billion per year - crosses the 82-year-old, privately owned Ambassador Bridge annually.

It's up to Canada's Consul General in Michigan, Roy Norton, to sell the idea of a new bridge to Michigan politicians.

He says businesses need to know they can easily move goods between the two countries.

"Or they will take their decisions to invest elsewhere and that will hurt this entire region, and by this region I mean the industrial heartland of the United states and Ontario and Quebec," Norton said.

Canada has gone so far as to offer to pick up Michigan's share of construction, more than half a billion dollars.

The federal Government has already spent $60 million buying up and assessing land for the project and with Ontario's help is building a $1.4-billion dollar multilane road leading to the proposed new crossing.

"I'm hoping that they are not doing this just to do it; to say, 'look at us. We're putting up a road and building this bridge," said Jim Periera of Onfreight Logistics, a trucking company that would likely benefit from a new crossing. "I've heard [it's] the bridge to nowhere. I hope that's not the case."

Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, promises to shift gears in the new year. But that's not soon enough for those counting on the project to accelerate international trade in two stalled economies Windsor and Detroit have been two of the hardest hit cities on either side of the border during the recession.

"Everybody's frustrated. Everybody's unhappy. Everybody's in a hurry," Periera said, "especially the guys that get paid by the load."

Moroun declined to speak with CBC News.

With files from Allison Johnson