Gordie Howe Bridge Completion Delayed
While work continues on the $5.7 billion Gordie Howe Bridge, a study conducted by financial analyst S&P Global Ratings shows that the completion date for the project has been pushed back to August 2025.
The report, obtained by the Windsor Star, cited construction delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues, but pointed to the largest area of concern as the design of the newly created interchange with the I-75 freeway on the Detroit side.
“Design responsibility and incompleteness: the project believes the siphon designs provided by WDBA are not complete which delayed the construction,” said the report, which also cited utility conflicts around the interchange that also stalled construction.
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.
The opening of the $5.7 billion Gordie Howe International Bridge between Detroit and Canada is now likely to be pushed to August 2025, according to a new analysis #construction #infrastructure https://t.co/AcXv1uhvgt pic.twitter.com/0Y83dUCw90— Construction Dive (@constructdive) November 8, 2022
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.
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.
In March, officials 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. 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.
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.
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 would be completed in the transition area to construct the upper cross beam that would 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.
The pylon head is expected to measure 80 meters in height. The project team reported this was 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.
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. 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.
Back in June, a section of a street near the construction of the bridge collapsed while crews were conducting piling in the area as part of the bridge project. No workers were onsite at the time of the West Ford Street collapse.
“The road failure caused the compromised concrete to collapse inward in an area approximately 100 feet in length,” said Tara Carson, a spokeswoman for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, at the time. “Sheet piling was taking place as part of the [bridge] project construction activities in the area.”
Carson added that she did not know how deep the collapse was. The cause of the road failure is still under investigation. Carson told reporters that Bridging North America is responsible for the street repair costs under their contract.
Work continued on the bridge and surrounding projects, and the road reopened to traffic on June 14 for one lane in each direction. However, on June 15, Fort Street roadwork was halted to determine a cause of the collapse.
Heather Grondin, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for the WDBA, said at quarterly construction update for the bridge that a root cause analysis of the concrete failure is being undertaken to help “determine what, if any, steps need to be taken to prevent a similar type incident occurring again.”
S&P reportedly conducts regular reviews of the Gordie Howe Bridge project. In a report from earlier this year, the firm found that the new anticipated completion date for the bridge is August 2025, eight months past the contracted completion by the end of 2024.
Design completion, COVID-19 delays, supply chain issues and labor shortages have reportedly all contributed to the project push back, as work remains ongoing on the structure.
According to reports, BNA has formally requested relief from the WDBA for the contracted project completion date. Should the project now run over to its anticipated August 2025 date, BNA would face substantial monetary penalties with their financial institution backers for each day late beyond the originally anticipated completion date.
“It remains unclear if and when BNA will succeed in getting schedule relief and/or cost compensations for some of its claimed delays,” said the analyst’s Aug. 26 report which indicated talks with WDBA remaining ongoing.
The “complaints” seeking relief from the contract were reportedly filed with a standing committee formed to settle any potential disputes between the contractors and WDBA.
“To date, the project has raised more than 40 supervening event notices and there are 11 formal disputes which have been referred to a standing committee for hearing,” said the S&P report. “The majority of these claims remains outstanding, but the project indicates WDBA is willing to continue the dialogue, which is positive.”
Grondin told reporters that there are currently no plans to alter the project agreement or completion date outlined in the contract.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic and related safety precautions now at a steady state, we are actively assessing the potential impacts of the pandemic on the project schedule,” she said. “While such assessment continues, the contracted substantial completion date for the Gordie Howe International Bridge project — by the end of 2024 — has not changed.
“The contractor (BNA) is obligated to meet the contract date specified in the project agreement and they are making adjustments to their construction approach to manage challenges they encounter.”
However, Grondin also added that construction is being carried out by the contractor consortium on four siphon structures. All previous road bridges over I-75 have also been demolished and are being replaced with four new road bridges.
“These are now complete and three are currently open to traffic,” Grondin said. “At the same time, construction is underway on four of five new pedestrian bridges, all at various stages of construction. Simultaneously, work continues with the construction of the connecting ramps linking I-75 to the U.S. port of entry.”
Last month, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada also released a 32-page report examining the WDBA, making eight recommendations to “gaps in the information received by the board on performance reporting, risk management, and appointments.”
Conducted every 10 years, the audit identified three areas where the WDBA could improve the way it assesses, monitors and reports risk related to the infrastructure project, which is anticipated to be the largest along the Canada-U.S. border.