Print Friendly and PDF

Bridging Michigan’s Border

Construction on the much-anticipated Gordie Howe International Bridge is slated to begin this year

By: Greg Tasker

The Gordie Howe International Bridge is far from taking shape over the Detroit River, but the long awaited, multi billion-dollar project is getting off the ground on both sides of the border.

On the Ontario shore, more than 1 million tons of fill dirt have been spread on a 130 acre site to raise the low-lying area, the Canadian port of entry. Prefabricated drains have been installed and a perimeter road was built to accommodate local businesses during construction.

On the Michigan shore, the demolition of parts of the Del Ray neighborhood in Detroit is in progress. The Michigan Department of Transportation owns and controls about 85 percent of the properties needed for the American port of entry.

In just a few months, Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), the Canadian entity leading the project, is expected to select a team of architects, engineers and contractors to build the bridge. It is anticipated that this team will begin work in the summer before a final contract with a private partner is signed.

“We hope to close the deal by the end of September and construction would start after that,” said André Juneau, interim CEO of WDBA. “We are devoting all of our energies to making sure this is going to happen.”

The construction timeframe and price tag will come with the selection of the contractor; three international teams are vying for the project. Neither Canadian nor American officials would speculate on the overall cost or when the bridge might open. Once completed, the bridge will be maintained and operated by the private partner.

“People in the engineering business working on similar projects in North America have said this type of project takes a long time, too,” Juneau said. “That’s not reassuring to businesses, but we’re doing our best to make things happen soon.”

Envisioned is a six-lane bridge, with three Canadian-bound and three United States bound lanes. The bridge, which will also include a multi-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists, will stretch 1.5 miles from country to country, making it one of the longest bridges in North America.

Officials on both sides of the river have long promoted a second bridge as a gateway to improve and accelerate cross-border trade. Unlike the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge, the new span will connect both ports of entry to a network of highways, enabling uninterrupted traffic flow for the entire NAFTA supply chain, from Mexico to Canada. The Ambassador Bridge connects to the streets of Windsor.

The Canadian government has already spent $350 million on preparation work for the project — $200 million on the Windsor side and $150 million on the Detroit side. The bridge is named after Detroit Red Wings icon, Canadian-born Gordie Howe. The project is being financed by Canada and will be repaid through toll revenue.

“Now that the project is becoming more of a concrete reality, there is excitement surrounding it,” said Andrew Doctoroff, special projects advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder. “This has been on the drawing board so long, and with groundbreaking approaching there is increased excitement and interest. We only expect that to continue to increase as we move closer to construction.”

Neither Canadian nor American officials expect the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to have an impact on the project.

“The need for trade and smooth movement of goods in this region is going to be there for a long time,” Juneau said. “NAFTA may be a source of uncertainty right now, but that does not change the fundamental economic relationship between Canada and the United States.”

Doctoroff also did not forsee any hurdles because of NAFTA.

“We need this bridge to accommodate the increased levels of commercial traffic that will be crossing the border in decades to come,” he said. “There is no question the number of commercial vehicles will continue to increase. We have to have the added capacity.”

“There’s another reason why we need this bridge,” he added. “In light of manufacturing needs, we need a more seamless border. We will have highway-to-highway connectedness for the first time. This will be transformational.”

Justin Robinson, vice president of business attraction for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the bridge is a vital component for the region’s economic growth and has been a top infrastructure priority for the Chamber for over a decade. Protecting the current crossborder trade corridor is hugely important, however the new span will allow the Detroit region to accommodate the future flow of goods and people as well.

“We are at a time and place where on demand services and companies like Amazon are growing and have a great need to move people and goods,” Robinson said. “Coupled with the future of autonomous fleet platooning, the new bridge only adds to our value as a sizable market with 5.4 million people and a gateway to Canada.”

“We will continue to support any strategy and economic development effort that can lure more businesses to our region.” he added.