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Gordie Howe Remains on Track for Completion

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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Despite construction delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials working on the Gordie Howe International Bridge project reported in a recent online community meeting that the structure was still on target to open in 2024.

"Despite the need to change the way we all both live and work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not slowed down," said Bryce Phillips, CEO of Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.

Gordie Howe Project History

The Gordie Howe International Bridge has been in the planning stages for more than a decade, having first been proposed in 2004. In 2012, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder worked out a deal with Canada to construct a new bridge that would provide an additional crossing between Detroit and Windsor. By 2013, former President Barack Obama gave federal approval for the project.

In November 2016, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority announced it had issued a request for proposals to three teams that had been chosen through an earlier request-for-qualifications process for the bridge’s design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance. The RFP process was expected to take 18 months.

However, a few months following the announcement, six companies owned by the Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge (the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada in terms of trade volume), tried to sue Snyder alleging that he acted illegally when he worked out a deal with the Canadian government to fund construction on the American side of the bridge, without the approval of the Michigan legislature, in order to halt construction.

That wasn’t the first time Manuel “Matty” Moroun tried to block the Gordie Howe Bridge: Earlier that same year, a federal judge dismissed a suit the Detroit International Bridge Co. filed arguing that the federal approval of the bridge was unconstitutional. The same judge ruled that several other arguments Moroun made against the construction were invalid in 2015 as well.

Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert Colombo Jr. determined that an agreement made by the state governor with the Canadian government to construct another international bridge was valid, despite the Ambassador owner’s claims to the contrary.

Though the project has faced a number of other legal steps and issues, by October 2018, a $4.4 billion contract for the Gordie Howe Bridge was finalized and a competition date was slated for 2024. Construction officially broke ground on Oct. 5, 2018, with a ceremony attended by both Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

That same year, a fixed-priced public-private partnership contract worth $5.7 billion was awarded to construction consortium Bridging North America. BNA team members include ACS Infrastructure Canada, Dragados Canada Inc., Fluor Canada, Aecon, Aecom, RBC Dominion Securities, Carlos Fernandez Casado and FHECOR Ingenieros Consultores, S.A., Moriyama & Teshima and Smith-Miller+Hawkinson Architects.

The contract includes a design-build phase and an operation, maintenance and rehabilitation phase.

In January of last year, the Michigan Supreme Court blocked an appeal from Moroun. Michigan House Republicans announced in June a budget plan that prohibits the Michigan Department of Transportation from using taxpayer money for the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, regardless of Canada’s claim to reimburse the state for all relevant expenses. In July, demolition and site-clearing work commenced in a stretch of Detroit. In late November, construction on the project was reported to be continuing apace.

At the beginning of the year, the project reportedly received $15 million in funding in U.S. federal funding. The funding was received through a $1.4 trillion spending bill signed by President Donald J. Trump.

The money received is expected to cover inspection and vehicle-screening systems for the port on the U.S. side of the bridge connecting to Canada.

However, in May, CBS News reported that some subcontractors had ceased work on the project from feeling uncomfortable being on the construction site during COVID-19.

"We've had to shift some work around, maybe some work we were expecting to do in two months’ time we're going to do now, so we don't lose time," said WDBA spokesperson Mark Butler at the time. "If you're looking at overall delays for the project, it's far too early to talk about that. We don't know the full impact of what the pandemic [will] bring."

In June, officials from the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority reported that they were still working toward a 2024 completion date and that construction on the project was proceeding simultaneously on the bridge, U.S. and Canadian ports of entry and the Michigan Interchange. At the time, three bridges had already been demolished on the U.S. side, while a bridge footing was completed, and tower footings were being installed.

In addition to the project update, project executives also revealed the nine recipients of its Community Organization Investment initiative—a component of the Gordie Howe International Bridge Community Benefits Plan.

Gordie Howe Progress Update

According to The Detroit News, to construct the bridge’s two 772-foot towers, two tower cranes have been installed at both the Canadian and U.S. bridge sites since the last project update. In addition to this milestone, officials report that the bridge foundation is anticipated to reach completion before the holidays this year.

Work on the bridge towers are expected to begin in the new year, according to Phillips, making the bridge visible on both sides of the river by late winter and early spring. Developer Leslie Martin adds that once the towers are completed, construction on the backspan can commence as well.

"Once the towers start to progress up the road deck level, then you’ll see the bridge deck start to head out toward the center of the river," Martin said. "It will be built from the top rather than from lifting sections from the river. You’ll see progressively the bridge extended out from each of the towers until it meets in the middle."

Other project updates include the completed demolition of five pedestrian bridges and three road bridges over Interstate 75. Over the next several months, crews plan to focus on the reconstruction of three new road bridges over I-75, with a spring 2021 target completion date.

Additionally, Bridge authority spokesperson Mark Butler reports that the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, through the Michigan Department of Transportation, has acquired all the property required for the project and has recently launched the 2021 community organization investment initiative as an opportunity for nonprofits in Windsor and Del Ray to apply for funding.

The authority is working closely with Michigan state officials, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the city of Detroit and Canadian officials. Authority officials said 70% of the construction hours will happen from 2021 through 2023.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Construction; Department of Transportation (DOT); Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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