Gordie Howe Bridge Towers Near Completion

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2023


Construction of the towers on the Gordie Howe International Bridge between the U.S. and Canada is reportedly approaching completion, as the last concrete pour for the sloped architectural heads at the top of the pylon head is now complete.

According to a news reports from The Windsor Star, the tower on the U.S. side of the bridge, in Detroit, has now reached its full height of 722 feet.

Project Background

First announced in 2015, the Gordie Howe International Bridge was expected to rival the height of Detroit’s tallest building and become the fifth longest bridge in North America.

According to the WDBA, the bridge project was first envisioned in 2008, after a traffic study begun in in 2000, to provide a safe, efficient and secure end-to-end border crossing system directly connecting Highway 401 in Windsor, Ontario and I-75 in Detroit. It was officially given the green light in the U.S. in April 2013.

The WDBA stated that two designs were under consideration: a suspension bridge like the nearby privately owned Ambassador Bridge or a cable-stayed bridge.

The bridge’s towers were expected to rise to a height of 750 feet, making it just taller than the city’s Renaissance Center, which tops out at 740 feet. At about 150 feet above the water surface, the bridge deck would be high enough to allow passage of ships beneath it.

The six-lane bridge would contain three Canada-bound lanes and three U.S.-bound lanes over the Detroit River. It was to have a clear span of 2,788 feet across the river with no piers in the water. Two approach bridges (one on each side) would connect the main span to the Canadian Port of Entry and the U.S. Port of Entry.

The bridge and its approaches were to span about two miles, making it one of the top five longest bridges on the continent. (The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in New Orleans tops the list as the longest continuous bridge passing over water.)

The WDBA also revealed that the bridge construction would require approximately half a million tons of concrete, about 22,000 tons of steel (which is specified to be made in the U.S. or Canada) and almost 5,000 tons of bridge cables.

The full project included construction of the bridge, the Canadian Port of Entry, the U.S. Port of Entry and the Michigan Interchange.

In May 2017, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority said that it expected Phase Two prep work on the Canadian side to wrap up by mid-2018, and construction on the bridge itself to begin the following summer. At a meeting detailing the WDBA's past fiscal year, the authority announced it had spent $22 million acquiring properties in Detroit that are necessary for the bridge to come to fruition.

The WDBA announced that month that it had issued $86 million in contracts related to Phase Two of prep work at the Canadian port of entry for the bridge, which was planned to span the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. That work included removing transmission towers and relocating power transmission cables underground, in concrete-encased duct banks, the authority says. Other towers will simply be relocated.

Then in July 2018, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority announced 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 called for the longest cable-stayed main span in North America.

The consortium chosen was composed of companies including ACS Infrastructure Canada, Dragados Canada, Fluor Corporation and AECOM. Private partners also included engineering, architecture and financial firms. The consortium had previously included Canadian infrastructure firm Aecon, but that company withdrew its participation in May 2018.

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.”

In October of the same year, construction on the Gordie Howe Bridge officially began, kicking off with a ceremony on Oct. 5, attended by both Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

Both Snyder and Trudeau agreed that they would like to see the bridge completed more quickly than its current slated finish date of 2024, a date that is two years later than original estimates.

On the day of the ceremony, Snyder noted that there were a number of options for speeding up construction of the bridge, but he did not name specifics. The governor of Michigan also thanked Canada for paying for the bridge up front. (Michigan was to repay its half through tolls.)

According to the Windsor Star, the Canadian government would pay roughly 85% of the cost of the project to the global construction team over the next 30 years, with the consortium covering the remaining 15%, mostly through bonds. Trudeau also noted that the bridge will provide economic opportunities for both Detroit and Windsor.

In January 2021, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments General Assembly hosted a meeting regarding the construction of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge project. 

Canadian Consul General in Detroit, Joseph Comartin—a keynote speaker at the meeting—predicted that once the project is completed, the structure would be as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge.

However, before the towers were to be erected by the Bridging North America (BNA) Constructors Canada GP joint venture—which includes Dragados, Aecon, Fluor and ACS Infrastructure—preparation of the ground had to be finalized. Although this portion of the project was nearing completion, the full scope of services involved additional bridge work, both the Canadian and U.S. entry points and the Michigan interchange.

Then, in November 2022, a study conducted by financial analyst S&P Global Ratings showed that the completion date for the project had 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.

S&P reportedly conducted regular reviews of the Gordie Howe Bridge project. In a report from earlier that year, the firm found that the new anticipated completion date for the bridge was August 2025, eight months past the contracted completion by the end of 2024.

According to reports, BNA had 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.

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.

Final Steps of Construction

According to the news report from WXYZ, crews will now reportedly begin removing the jump form system, which is the blue square around the tower featuring artwork from a local artist. The last steps will reportedly start on the Canadian bridge tower this month.

“We are excited to share the U.S. tower has reached its final height and the Canadian tower is nearing completion. These majestic towers have been the most visible and inspiring signs of progress representing a major step forward in construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge," Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority CEO Charl van Niekerk said in a statement.

Work on the towers reportedly began in 2019, with underground foundational work and the tower footings were complete in December 2020. Lower pylon construction finished in March 2022, and the jump forms encased the towers, meaning workers had an enclosed environment to work in while each tower rose.

The report states that it will take about four weeks to remove the jump form system.

The towers are reportedly a vital part of the bridge, as well as the house the anchor boxes that attach stay cables from the towers to the bridge and road decks, which provides the support system for the weight of the bridge.

The report states that bridge towers are essential to the cable-stayed design of the bridge since they house the anchor boxes that attach the stay cables from the towers to the bridge and road decks.

In addition to the stay cables, the towers provide the support system for the entire weight of the bridge and the load it will eventually carry.

Work has reportedly continued on the rest of the bridge as well, with officials stating that this year has had significant achievements for the project. This reportedly includes the first bridge deck segments over the Detroit River being placed, the first stay cables installed and the fourth and final road bridge reconstructed on the Michigan interchange.

"The length between the two towers is about half a mile, the total length from port to port is about 2.5 miles," said Grant Hilbers, vice president of engineering for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.

"The bridge itself is one of four components, so the overall project includes ports of entry in Canada and the U.S. as well as some work on I-75.”

According to the report, during the peak time, about 2,000 to 2,500 people are working on the bridge.

The Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority and Bridging North America are also reportedly working as a team to open by the end of 2024, though there have been delays from COVID-19 and supply chain issues. However, the report states that the upside is high with the two-fold community benefits plan.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Construction; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Roads/Highways; Tower

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