Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, USA

By 2020, a new international bridge will be built across the Detroit River “accelerating the flow of people, merchandise and services” [1] between the United States and Canada for years to come. Not everyone is as thrilled about this venture as the pioneers of the project, resulting in a somewhat rocky path to finalizing plans and beginning construction on the bridge. One community in particular has not had a voice at all throughout this process and will unfortunately suffer the brunt of environmental and social issues resulting from this new crossing. Delray, a low-income minority neighborhood in Southwest Detroit, lies in the midst of major trucking and shipping routes near the U.S. terminal for the Ambassador Bridge. Air pollution is rampant partially due to vehicle emissions and lack of enforcement of anti-idling laws [2]. Additionally, this community suffers from heavy industry which surrounds the Delray neighborhood almost entirely. Heavy industry, a shrunken population, hundreds of abandoned structures and blighted lots and high levels of poverty and pollution have characterized this neighborhood for decades [3]. Delray is about to have one more unwelcomed guest in their neighborhood – the U.S. side of the new international crossing bridge. Governor Rick Synder of Michigan announced plans for the (then named) New International Trade Crossing in February 2012 [4]. Originally proposed in 2004, this bridge received intense opposition primarily by Manuel Maroun, owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge [5]. He argued that it would unfairly compete with his bridge while both car and truck traffic at the border is down [6]. Joining Maroun in his fight were several social and environmental justice organizations who together sued the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 2012 for failing to follow the federal government’s required decision making process and violating the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) Act and other laws when the decision was made to approve the new international crossing [7]. In this lawsuit, plaintiffs noted that this project “relied on erroneous traffic data, failed to examine alternative crossing locations and neglected to address environmental justice issues related to the new bridge’s effect on the low-income, minority Delray neighborhood of Southwest Detroit” [6]. Carmen Munoz of the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development said that other alternative locations were quickly dismissed once wealthy, politically active residents organized against development in their communities yet Delray residents and businesses, lacking the same political clout and money, have been ignored resulting in Delray being selected for the bridge [7]. Bridge proponents have argued that a new crossing is needed because traffic will increase in the future, the project will provide jobs for Michigan workers and ensure smooth commerce [6]. A new bridge crossing route in Ontario is already under construction and will provide uninterrupted traffic flow, bypassing more than 15 stoplights, thus allowing for faster and smoother commerce between the two countries. To ensure fulfillment of the project, Canada offered to fund the construction costs on Michigan’s side of the bridge, an appropriate that was turned down by Michigan Senate’s Economic Development Committee in October 2011 [5]. With strong conviction, and separately from the Senate, an agreement between Canada and Michigan (namely Governor Snyder) was developed in 2012 to ensure the project will proceed with the Canadian federal government funding bridge construction, land acquisition in Michigan and the construction of I-75 on-ramps [5], an agreement hotly protested by State Representative Fred Durhal of Detroit who filed a complaint in February 2013 seeking to invalidate this agreement. Durhal claimed that Gov. Snyder overstepped his constitutional authority when he bypassed lawmakers to pursue the deal on his own and that this was clearly “an overreach of executive power” [8]. In an attempt to halt bridge construction, the Moroun family spent millions on a Michigan ballot proposal in 2012 calling for a public vote before construction of any new international bridge. This proposal was rejected by about two-thirds of voters in the November election [8].
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Basic Data
NameAmbassador Bridge in Detroit, USA
CountryUnited States of America
SiteDelray Neighborhood in Detroit
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
As many as 9,000 trucks pass through the U.S. terminal checkpoints each day.
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Level of Investment (in USD)3,000,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population700-2800
Start Date01/02/2012
Company Names or State EnterprisesDetroit International Bridge Company from United States of America
Relevant government actorsOntario Ministry of Transportation, State of Michigan, Michigan Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Canadian government, Michigan Finance Authority, Transport Canada (who is responsible for transportation policies and programs. It promotes safe, secure, efficient and environmentally-responsible transportation. Transport Canada reports to Parliament and Canadians through the minister of Transport. It works with its portfolio partners, other government departments and jurisdictions, and industry to ensure that all parts of Canada's transportation system work well.)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersLatin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Community Development Advocates of Detroit, Citizens with Challenges, the Detroit Association of Black Organizations (DABO), MANA de Metro Detroit, the Mexican Patriotic Committee of Detroit, Detroiters for Progress
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution
Potential: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Development of AlternativesNo specific proposals suggested as alternative by EJO. Primary actor in fight against the new bridge is Moroun and his alternative is a newer private bridge to replace his Ambassador Bridge.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The Delray community has lost the battle to have the bridge located elsewhere. With little political clout and few resources, they are and will be suffering the environmental, political and social burdens from this project.
Sources and Materials

[1] Gordie Howe International Bridge will be name of new Detroit-Windsor crossing - May 14, 2015
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[2] Clearing the air: Environmental justice in Detroit - November 4, 2014
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[3] New U.S.-Canada bridge will carve through one of Detroit’s loneliest neighborhoods - April 1, 2015
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[4] Detroit-Windsor bridge plan: Seven years, six lanes and one 'mutually agreeable' name - April 12, 2013
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[6] Ambassador Bridge owner, others announce lawsuit against Federal Highway Administration over proposed Detroit River International Crossing - May 14, 2009
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[5] Gordie Howe International Bridge
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[7] Leading Southwest Detroit Community Organizations and Detroit International Bridge Company Unite to Sue U.S. Department of Transportation Over Flawed Decision Making Process - May 14, 2009
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[8] Detroit-Windsor bridge: State lawmaker, Moroun company file suits to block New International Trade Crossing - December 6, 2013
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[9] Supreme Court turns down Moroun challenge to new bridge - February 23, 2015
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[10] Snyder: By building bridge, Michigan is building 'future of economic strength and security' - June 15, 2012
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Lawsuits against polluting companies in and around the Delray community
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LASED v. FHWA lawsuit filed 2012
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Moroun's company sues US leaders, Canada to stop competing span April 9, 2013
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Media Links

Governor Rick Snyder explains the new bridge name
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Other Documents

Sketch of New International Trade Crossing Prepared by Michigan Department of Transportation
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Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, [email protected] and [email protected]
Last update28/10/2015