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Canadian Officials Air Bridge Concerns

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

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Canadian officials have raised questions about the structural integrity of a privately owned span that’s touted as the busiest commercial point of entry between the United States and Canada.

The 86-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which links Detroit with Windsor, Canada, has long been a factor in squabbling between American owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun and local and national officials in Canada.

Documents obtained by the Windsor Star show that officials from Transport Canada, the country’s agency responsible for transportation programs and policy, expressed serious concerns about the bridge’s safety several times in recent years, and owners have allegedly been slow to respond.

Ambassador Bridge
By Mikerussell, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Canadian officials recently ordered emergency repairs to the Ambassador, insisting that barriers be put up because those in place would not be sufficient to stop a car from falling from the bridge.

According to the newspaper, engineers hired to inspect the bridge in June 2014 recommended the Canadian side be rehabbed or replaced. In September of the same year, another team of inspectors issued the same assessment, and then in June 2015, another inspection led to a call for immediate repairs to sidewalks, rails and the bridge deck.

According to the paper, the company responded wtih a plan to replace sidewalks and railings on the bridge, but didn't address the main deck issues.

New Orders

The revelations about the slow process surrounding bridge repairs comes on the heels of a new directive handed down to the bridge owner. On Saturday, Sept. 3, Canadian officials ordered emergency repairs to the Ambassador, insisting that barriers be put up because those in place would not be sufficient to stop a car from falling from the bridge.

Matty Moroun’s company has been doing work to address problems with the condition of the bridge, representatives have stated, but Canadian officials have said the repairs have been slow in coming and inadequate.

Moroun claims the government is attempting to smear his business, the Detroit International Bridge Company (known in Canada as the Canadian Transit Company), which is hoping to build a second span adjacent to the Ambassador, and has been fighting a new public bridge between the two cities.

Past Issues

Last October, local officials closed three streets due to hazards from concrete falling from the bridge. Windsor’s Chief Building Official said at the time that damage was “almost everywhere,” and that “even the repaired areas” were degrading. Matt Moroun, Matty Moroun’s son and bridge vice chair, said at the time that the problem was limited to sidewalks, though the newly disclosed documents indicate that engineers were also concerned about the bridge deck.

In 2012, the elder Moroun and Detroit International official Dan Stamper went to jail in a dispute with Michigan officials over the construction of ramps to and from the Ambassador Bridge.

Conflict Over New Bridge

Detroit International has proposed a second span alongside the Ambassador, though the company has reportedly been unclear about the status of the original, which it has suggested may stay up to handle traffic in situations of heavy travel.

Last March, the U.S. Coast Guard gave the go-ahead to Moroun’s second-span project, irking local officials in Detroit and Windsor. The plan still requires approval from Canada, and from both the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. National Park Service.

Ambassador proposed second span
Rendering courtesy of Detroit International Bridge Co.

Detroit International has proposed a second span adjacent to the Ambassador.

The Canadian government is moving forward with plans to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge, a public span, nearby; Moroun attempted to block that project, for which demolition and initial construction projects have already begun. The Gordie Howe Bridge is being pursued by the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, a nonprofit Crown corporation owned by Canada.

In recent weeks, the WDBA has denied allegations that the Gordie Howe project is already behind schedule; the Authority has reportedly been able to purchase about half of the Detroit property needed to go ahead with the structure, which authority representatives say is where they expected to be at this point.

Privately Owned Bridges

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are at least 2,200 privately owned bridges in the United States, though few approach the size and traffic of the Ambassador Bridge. Private toll bridges, once common, have dwindled, with the Ambassador Bridge and the much smaller Dingmans Ferry Bridge, on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, two of the last surviving.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Bridges; concrete; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Government; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Transportation

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