Judge dismisses most arguments by Ambassador Bridge owner in lawsuit over new government span

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DETROIT — A judge dismissed most arguments Wednesday aimed at blocking a new bridge between Detroit and Canada in a lawsuit brought by the owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge, but left standing one challenge that could delay construction.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington said in her 57-page opinion that most of the arguments by Manuel "Matty" Moroun in his effort to stop the construction of the competing $2.1 billion government span were invalid. The remaining item involves an international crossing agreement between Michigan and Canada.

The new bridge — to be named the Gordie Howe International Bridge — is to be built two miles from the Ambassador Bridge. Work on the project is expected to create thousands of jobs in Canada and Michigan. Canada is paying most of the project's cost and plans to recoup it after the scheduled 2020 opening with tolls from vehicles traveling in both directions.

Moroun filed suit in 2010. His Detroit International Bridge Co. has argued that the new span would take away much of the commuter and trade traffic that currently crosses the Detroit River via the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge. He also has been stymied in efforts to build his own new bridge adjacent to the current one.

The Bridge Co. also argued in its lawsuit that it has exclusive rights under a 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to a span connecting Detroit to Windsor. But Collyer wrote that "plaintiffs overplay their hand. They describe an exclusive bridge franchise with which the federal government cannot interfere in perpetuity."

However, she allowed that lawsuit's contention that the U.S. State Department may have violated federal rules by approving the crossing agreement between the state and Canada. The 2012 agreement provides the framework for the new bridge's design, construction, financing and operation.

The Bridge Co. has said the agreement violates state law. That issue could go to trial.

The "invalidation of this particular Crossing Agreement would inevitably undermine and slow the planned construction" of the government bridge, Collyer wrote.

The Associated Press left a message Wednesday seeking comment from the Detroit International Bridge Co.

A spokeswoman for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Collyer's "decision reaffirms the numerous merits of this critical infrastructure project."

"This is just the latest great news regarding the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which is full steam ahead and vital to our shared economic future," said Sara Wurfel.

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