Gordie Howe Towers Entering Next Stage
Officials for the Gordie Howe International Bridge project recently announced that the bridge’s tower legs, or lower pylon, are at their full height, and the team is working to connect the pylon head to give the tower its distinctive inverted “Y” shape.
“It is an exciting time as the towers – arguably the most visible aspect of construction to date – move into the next and final build phase,” said Bryce Phillips, the CEO of Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA). “With the towers currently standing at over two-thirds of their final 220 meters/722 feet height, they represent the significant progress the project team has been able to achieve.”
The lower pylon reportedly makes up the longest portion of the bridge towers and is composed of 29 different segments. Each segment has an average height of 4.67 meters (15.3 feet) and requires 98 cubic meters (128 cubic yards) of concrete and 55 tons (121,254 pounds) of rebar.
According to the release, the tower legs, at 140 meters, are already the tallest structures in the City of Windsor and taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Tower Leg Milestone
Noted to be a major step in the construction of the towers on each side of the Detroit River, crews are now able to work on the top portion of the tower, or the pylon head. This is anticipated to be completed in the spring and involves modifications to the jump form systems, creating one jump form to provide access for workers as they continue to build up the towers.
?? Did you miss our latest video? The #GordieHoweBridge project has reached an exciting new milestone. Check out the progress and see what’s next for the bridge towers: https://t.co/3P9P54qXc2 #NationalEngineeringMonth pic.twitter.com/PiiM2VqlaU— Gordie Howe International Bridge (@GordieHoweBrg) March 23, 2022
The exterior of the jump forms, which encase the tower legs to provide workers with an enclosed environment, reportedly provided “perfect canvases” for murals painted by artists from Walpole Island First Nation, Caldwell First Nation and Southwest Detroit. The murals feature a Canadian maple leaf and the American stars and stripes, as well as visual stories about the culture and diversity of the region.
According to the release, two concrete pours will be completed in the transition area to construct the upper cross beam that will merge the tower legs into a single structure in both Canada and the United States. Constructed with cast-in-place reinforced concrete, approximately 182 cubic meters of concrete will be used for each tower.
“This is a major engineering feat,” said Michael Hatchell, the CEO of Bridging North America (BNA), the private-sector partner responsible for the design, build, financing and operation of the bridge and Ports of Entry.
“The joining of the two tower legs will mean we’ve achieved an important milestone for the project. BNA has been able to reach this point in the project safely and efficiently and is extremely pleased with the work of our team.”
The pylon head is expected to measure 80 meters in height. The project team reports that as it is critical to the cable-stayed design, anchor boxes within the pylon head will house 216 parallel strand stay cables to connect the towers to the bridge and decks.
“Before you can build up, you have to build down,” added Phillips. “Substantial work was done underground to help support these massive towers that have become a very visible sign of the project’s progress.”
As a foundation, twelve shafts were drilled into the bedrock at a depth of 36 meters to support the towers. These shafts were then filled will approximately 262,000 liters (69,000 gallons) of concrete and connected by 1,600 meters of post tensioning cables.
Additionally, the team reports that two tower cranes are being used to build the towers, with one in Canada and one in the U.S. The cranes have a horizontal jib which can reach 60 meters, have a maximum load capacity of 50,000 kilograms (110,000 pounds) and can reach a maximum height of 244 meters, which will be taller than the actual bridge towers.
Once complete, the two towers are anticipated to reach about 220 meters, which will rival Detroit’s tallest building. The towers and cable system will reportedly support nearly 34 million pounds of weight.
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 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 2019, 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 2020, 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 and 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 June, CBC News reported that some subcontractors had ceased work on the project from feeling uncomfortable being on the construction site during COVID-19. 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.
The following month officials gave a quick update on the project, reporting that the 2024 completion date was still on target. The announcement came despite 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.
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.
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.
At the time, cranes were already visible on the site, signaling that work was heavily underway. In Windsor, site preparation was reportedly completed with an access road, as well as underground cables and drains.
Construction of the foundations were also underway. 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.
In January last year, reports indicated that the two A-frame bridge towers were slated to rise that summer. The two towers—one on the Canadian side and the other in the U.S.—will stand 750 feet above Detroit’s skyline. Once completed, the cable-stayed structure will suspend what will be the longest main span in North America, measuring 2,799 feet.
However, before the towers could be erected by BNA Constructors Canada GP joint venture—which includes Dragados, Aecon, Fluor and ACS Infrastructure—preparation of the ground still must be finalized. Although this portion of the project was nearing completion at the time, the full scope of services involved additional bridge work, both the Canadian and U.S. entry points and the Michigan interchange.
“We had to do a lot of stability work near the seawall [on the U.S. side] because [drilling subcontractor] Malcolm Drilling’s equipment is so heavy,” said Doug Thornton, General Superintendent for the U.S. point of entry, at the time. According to Thornton, crews drove 35 24-inch diameter steel reaction piles into bedrock to support the equipment as the alignment of the structure could not be changed.
Jiri Filipovic, Vice President of Alternative Delivery at AECOM—hired for design services—and a member of the BNA design team, points this to the location’s former salt mining, which has left the ground fraught with cavities.
The bridge is designed to be a continuous curve, anchored at each end by the A-frame towers that suspend the bridge deck with cables across the river. The side spans are to be supported by 27 backstay cables and three pairs of ancillary piers.
In addition to commencing ground preparations, crews will also have to complete the installation of more than 150,000 wick drains for the Canadian point of entry and 105,000 for the U.S. side. Sitework also involves the relocation of utilities and 12 new caissons, which will be dug on the U.S. side sometime this year.
On the Canadian side, shafts were dropped roughly 98 meters into the ground—six shafts per pier cap for each tower leg—with a more than 131-feet cylindrical rebar cage filled with concrete for the caissons. Aaron Epstein, CEO of BNA, said at the time that the project is on course to make its 2024 completion.