Gordie Howe Officials Dismiss Pandemic Worry
Progress on the $5.7 million Gordie Howe International Bridge is moving right along and, according to officials, likely will not stop even if the area sees another spike in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials gave a quick update recently on the project’s progress and noted that the 2024 completion date is still the target. This comes in spite of both COVID-19- and court-related delays, the latter of which saw its most recent update as a Michigan appeals court again ruled against a challenge to the bridge.
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 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, CBC News reported that some subcontractors had ceased work on the project from feeling uncomfortable being on the construction site during COVID-19.
The assurance comes in spite of both COVID-19- and court-related delays, the latter of which saw its most recent update as a Michigan appeals court again ruled against a challenge to the bridge.
"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."
Despite the initial disruption, project officials assured the public last month that the project is still on track for the 2024 completion, citing the long deadline.
“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 Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. “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.”
A few days after that initial assurance, the Michigan appeals court again ruled in favor of the state against the Moroun family, who argued that the agreement with Canada is illegal because lawmakers had barred the state from spending tax dollars on the project.
“Canada assumed financial responsibility for the project, and any money spent by Michigan is reimbursed by Canada,” the court said. “While some Michigan funds might be used momentarily, no Michigan funds are ultimately expended under the crossing agreement.”
Apart from the ruling, the WDBA held an online community meeting assuring that the project remains on schedule and that 70% of the work will occur between 2021 and 2023.
Cranes are now visible on the site, though, signaling that work is now heavily underway. In Windsor, site preparation has reportedly been completed with an access road, as well as underground cables and drains.
Construction of the foundations are currently underway; each one will consist of 18 26-meter drill shafts. The 37.5 meter-wide, six-lane bridge is anticipated to last 125 years and the entry points are aiming toward LEED Silver ratings with special attention to how the lighting will impact migratory birds.