Gordie Howe Pushes Toward 2024 Completion
According to officials from the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, despite the decline in productivity due to COVID-19, the Gordie Howe International Bridge is still on track for its 2024 target completion date.
“It’s been almost three months dealing with COVID-19 and we are working to understand the impacts and how can we mitigate those impacts,” said Bryce Phillips, CEO WDBA. “The reason why we are still showing the end of 2024 is because that is still four years away and there is still a lot of opportunity over the next four years to mitigate against what’s happened with COVID-19.”
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.
On June 15, 2012, the governments of Canada and Michigan announced that they had concluded an agreement to enable the building of a new publicly-owned crossing between Windsor and Detroit. Eight years later, construction of the #GordieHoweBridge is in full swing. pic.twitter.com/6y2Uw9higr— Gordie Howe International Bridge (@GordieHoweBrg) June 15, 2020
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, last month, 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."
Progress on Gordie Howe
Since the project’s disruption, workers have returned to the Gordie Howe construction site, which now requires a number of safety measures, including personal protective equipment, physical distancing measures, hygiene stations and daily COVID-19 screenings.
While issuing a comprehensive update on the project last week, the WDBA, BNA, BNA CEO Aaron Epstein and the project’s owner announced that they had also implemented the suspension of cross-border travel for non-essential workers.
According to reports, construction on the project is proceeding simultaneously on the bridge, U.S. and Canadian ports of entry and the Michigan Interchange. Already, three bridges have been demolished on the U.S. side, while bridge footing has been complete and tower footings are currently being installed.
“There have been spot checks by the Ministry of Labour a number of times and they always come out two thumbs up dealing with the safety protocols,” said Phillips. “There is a lot of stuff being learned by a lot of people, but Aaron and his team deserve a lot of credit to ensure construction proceeds safely for all those involved.”
Epstein adds that final bridge designs are almost complete as well, with reviews in projects.
In addition to the project update, project executives also revealed the nine recipients through its Community Organization Investment initiative—a component of the Gordie Howe International Bridge Community Benefits Plan.
The $100,000 in total grants will be provided in July and will support projects that are slated to benefit local children and seniors, support businesspeople and honor the area’s rich history.
Recipients for the funding opportunity were chosen by the project’s Local Community Group following an application process that ran from November 2019 through January 2020, resulting in 50 eligible submissions.
“The Gordie Howe International Bridge project will create jobs and economic opportunities for the Windsor/Detroit region,” said Phillips. “Beyond that, the project team is working closely with our neighboring community members, involving them in the project and delivering meaningful benefits that will positively impact their quality of life. We are listening. We are partnering. We are connecting communities.”
A full list of awarded projects can be viewed, here. The application process for the 2021 funding cycle is anticipated to begin in November 2020.