Billionaire trucking executive Manuel “Matty” Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge, was thrown into jail Thursday for failing to obey a judge’s order in a long-simmering dispute with the Michigan Department of Transportation over a new freeway approach ramp.
Crain’s Detroit Business reported Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards put Moroun and Detroit International Bridge President Dan Stamper behind bars “until the ramp work meets the court's satisfaction.” Stamper was jailed for a few hours last January in the same case.
The jailing is the most dramatic move yet in a range of disputes surrounding the bridge and its unusual status as a private operation that serves as busiest commercial crossing between the United States and Canada. Moroun is fighting efforts to build a public bridge nearby that would compete with his site between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
Edwards last February ruled the bridge company had not carried out its end of a contract with MDOT to complete the $230 million Ambassador Gateway Project. The bridge company was to build a ramp over city streets that provided direct access to the bridge from I-75 and I-96 on the southwest side of Detroit.
MDOT sued, arguing that DIBC’s ramp was intended to be the approach for a second Detroit River bridge adjacent to the existing 80-year-old span.
The bridge is the busiest commercial crossing on the northern border. Moroun’s company proposed a privately-owned twin span. The plan has been vigorously opposed by supporters of a new public bridge about a mile downriver from the Ambassador site.
The $5.3 billion New International Trade Crossing is being supported the state, the Canadian government, cities and political leaders in both countries, chambers of commerce, and several large manufacturers including Ford Motor.
Moroun and his family over the past two years have used litigation and thousands in political contributions to block legislation that would enable the state to move forward with the project. Last January newly-elected Gov. Rick Snyder struck a deal with the Canadian government to front the cash-strapped state’s $550 million share of construction costs, to be repaid by the state’s share of toll revenue.
Moroun is owner of Centra Inc. a holding company that owns the bridge and a network of trucking companies, including Central Transport International, a cross-border less-than-truckload carrier.
To avoid today’s court appearance Moroun claimed last week the bridge was owned by a holding company composed of family members. He will likely remain in jail for a few days before attorneys can appeal to a higher court.