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Falling Concrete Spurs Blame Game

Thursday, October 22, 2015

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Debris falling from the Ambassador Bridge led to the closure last week of three streets that run beneath it on the Canada side of the aging structure.

The largest of the concrete chunks that fell measured 22 inches across, the Detroit Free Press reported on Oct. 15.

"We believe there is a significant safety issue at this point," Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said in the city’s news conference on the incident, where the chunks of the fallen concrete were on display to underscore the issue.

"God forbid someone gets injured or killed,” he added.

No one was hurt and no property was damaged by the falling debris.

The city’s press conference was held in an effort to persuade the bridge’s owners to make necessary repairs to the structure.

According to Chief Building Official John Revell, rusting rebar is “pushing the concrete apart.” A visual inspection of the underside of the bridge, which he performed Oct. 14, showed there was damage “almost everywhere…even the repaired areas are degrading,” he told the paper.

A Question of Trust

The Ambassador Bridge, which runs between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, is privately owned by the Detroit International Bridge Co. under billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is said to be the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. Following proposed construction of the $2.1 billion Gordie Howe International Bridge two miles downriver from the Ambassador, Moroun pursued legal action to block it.

He is reported to contend that his company has exclusive rights to operate a Canada-to-Detroit span without competition, according to the Detroit Free Press. The International Bridge proposal, in fact, interferes with Moroun’s own plans to erect a new bridge between the countries adjacent to the current bridge.

The new International Bridge would likely take away 75 percent of the Ambassador Bridge’s truck traffic, the paper said, meaning Moroun would have no position from which to build his own new span.

Patricia Drury / Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge is said to be the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume.

However, last month a federal judge dismissed all but one of the legal counts in the 10-year-old lawsuit.

With those legal wranglings in mind, a representative of Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. suggested that the city of Windsor has its own motive in publicizing the falling debris and closing city streets, the Free Press reported.

Matt Moroun, bridge vice chair and Matty’s son, made statements implying Windsor was using the debris as a tool to hamper his company's efforts to rebuild or repair the structure and throw a favorable light on the International Bridge.

The Detroit News reported that bridge spokespersons even suggested Windsor city officials were “taunting us by criticizing the age of our bridge while simultaneously objecting to any major replacement or repairs.”

In a separate news conference, covered by CBC News, Matt Moroun vouched for the bridge’s safety: "The bridge is not crumbling. We have some old concrete that from time to time needs repair."

According to Matt Moroun, the holes visible from the beneath the bridge are from concrete in the sidewalk, not the roadbed.

"The road bed of the bridge is in fine condition. I travelled on it to get here," Matt Moroun said. "We have no intention of replacing the sidewalk until we build the new approach."

Installing a Safety ‘Net’

In the meantime, Detroit International Bridge Co. is striving to beef up the “catchment system” underneath the Ambassador Bridge, the CBC News reported Tuesday (Oct. 20).

Workers were on site over the weekend to begin installing 2-by-6-by-12-foot long wood boards underneath the bridge, Stan Korosec, the director of security and Canadian government relations for the Detroit International Bridge, told the news agency.

The wood is meant to catch any debris that might fall from the underside of the bridge.

"We're concentrating on the areas over public right-of-ways and the city streets, even in the areas where our engineers have found that there is no danger of anything falling," he said.

Full coverage is expected to take about two weeks to install.

Windsor officials are pleased to see the work underway, but Helga Reidel, the city's chief administrative officer, told CBC News “we won't be removing our road closures at this time until we're satisfied that the work will make our roads safe."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Concrete; Corrosion; Infrastructure; Inspection; Laws and litigation; North America; Quality Control; Rebar; Safety

Comment from Mario Colica, (10/22/2015, 10:17 AM)

The repairs don't solve the problem of concrete crack. Rust must be removed. Spraying zinc could be one efficient solution

Comment from Car F., (10/22/2015, 11:03 AM)

There is a true free market champion: Mr. Maroun does not wants competition, he wants to keep the monopoly over a river crossing, has anyone ever heard anything more ridiculous than that? Of course, the lack of choice has always been the trademark of authoritarians and dictators, whether in government or industry.

Comment from Chuck Pease, (10/25/2015, 7:42 PM)

Indeed Car F Mr. Maroun would have made Milton Friedman a happy man. The Godfather of the "free market" teachings out of the Chicago School of Economics.

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