The big business of owning an international bridge

For starters: How is $60m in toll fees?

July 16, 2020

The Ambassador Bridge might be one of the most valuable pieces of real estate you’ve never heard of.

The bridge, which links Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario in Canada, is the only privately owned border crossing in North America.

Its owner, the trucking magnate Manuel Moroun, died this week — but not before making $60m+ off of tolls alone.

Everyone wants a piece of it

The bridge opened to the public during the 1920s, after an excess of freighters and boats in the river below it led to maritime traffic jams.

A financier named Joseph Bower supplied most of the money for the project, and the bridge became his personal property.

Ever since, titans of business have fought for control of the bridge: Henry Ford was an early financial backer. At one point, in the ‘70s, Warren Buffet owned a 25% stake.

Only in 1979, with the help of a $30B loan, did Moroun wrest control from the Bower family.

It’s no wonder they all wanted in: At least 40% of all trucking shipments into the US from Canadaroll over the Ambassador Bridge.

Enjoy those tolls while you can 

With Moroun’s passing, his son Matthew will take over the family bridge biz. But the Ambassador’s preeminence in North American trade might be fading.

Since 2018, Canada — fed up with what it perceived as poor upkeep on the Ambassador — has been building a rival bridge across the Detroit River.

And this time, there won’t be a private owner: The Canadian government is bankrolling it.

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