Gordie Howe Bridge Contractor Named
The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority announced last week that international consortium Bridging North America is its "preferred proponent" to design and build the Gordie Howe International Bridge, and that the group's design calls for the longest cable-stayed main span in North America.
The consortium chosen is composed of companies including ACS Infrastructure Canada, Dragados Canada, Fluor Corporation and AECOM. Private partners also include engineering, architecture and financial firms. The consortium had previously included Canadian infrastructure firm Aecon, but that company withdrew its participation in May.
Bridge History, Recent Lawsuit
In 2012, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder worked out a deal with Canada to construct a new bridge that would provide an additional crossing between Detroit and Windson, Ontario, a project that has since become known as the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Manuel “Matty” Moroun's privately owned Ambassador Bridge, the only bridge between the two cities, is currently the busiest crossing between Canada and the U.S. in terms of trade volume, and the new bridge would be built just miles away from the Ambassador. Moroun has spent years fighting the Howe plan, attempting to make a case that the international deal is null and void because it did not involve the state legislature's approval.
Moroun has brought several suits in the past, all shot down by the courts. In a ruling in October 2017, Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert Colombo Jr. declared the deal to be legal.
In May, Moroun lost yet another lawsuit to try to stop construction of the Gordie Howe. Last month, Moroun sought to persuade President Donald J. Trump through an advertisement into withdrawing the permit needed to build the international span.
Bridging North America was chosen to design, build and operate the endeavor over the course of a 30-year agreement with the Canadian government. WDBA Board of Directors Chair Dwight Duncan told Michigan Radio that the team met all the technical requirements in the RFP.
The international consortium was one of three finalists to undergo a two-year vetting process to earn the role of preferred proponent, said WDBA interim CEO Andre Juneau, who also went on to note that the procurement process was “rigorous, overseen by an independent fairness monitor to ensure it is fair, open and transparent.”
The Bridging North America design will be a cable-stayed span; prior to Thursday's announcement of the contractor, WDBA had said the bridge would be either cable-stayed or a suspension bridge. The group released a new rendering of the bridge based on general parameters of the group's design, though many details have yet to be ironed out.
Bridging North America will also be in charge of the construction of the Canadian port of entry, the U.S. port of entry and the Michigan I-75 interchange that connects to the bridge. The Gordie Howe is slated to have six lanes and a path of bicyclists and pedestrians.
Aecon’s withdrawal from the bridge project in May was largely rooted in the group being too busy to get the project launched in the desired timeframe, noted John Beck, Aecon’s chief executive officer. The firm said the move was unrelated to a proposal on the table at the time to have Chinese firm China Communications Construction International Holding Ltd. take majority control of the contractor. That proposal was blocked by the Canadian government later in May, and Aecon said at that time that it would not be pursuing the sale any further.
Manuel “Matty” Moroun's privately owned Ambassador Bridge is currently the busiest crossing between Canada and the U.S. in terms of trade volume.
Some details of the bridge must wait on closing the financial end of the deal, however: namely, final design plans, a construction timeline and a price tag, which is reportedly likely to end up between $2 billion and $4 billion. The final contract is projected to be in place by September.
Site preparation is underway, and some construction is slated to start later this month.
Trade Tensions, Bargaining Chip
Peter Woolstencroft, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Waterloo and an expert on U.S.-Canadian relations, told Crain’s Detroit Business that President Trump could hold up construction for a year or two as a “bargaining chip.”
"This is yet another commitment of the government of Canada—in spite of other challenges we have on the tariff and trade issue right now—to recognize the importance of the relationship between our two great countries," said Dwight Duncan, chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority's board of directors.
Duncan did acknowledge potential challenges, but added that this “train is leaving the station.”
The construction of a second Detroit River bridge would help to facilitate the flow of auto parts, assembled vehicles, agricultural products and other goods across the border. In 2016, 95 percent of vehicles assembled in Canada valued at $64.6 billion were exported into the U.S., according to Crain’s.
To date, the Canadian government has spent at least $350 million to pave the way for the new bridge, and both the country and the province of Ontario have also spent $1.4 billion constructing the Herb Gray Parkway, a new highway that will connect Ontario's Highway 401 to the bridge crossing.