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Gordie Howe International Bridge Once-In-A-Lifetime Undertaking

Gordie Howe International Bridge

A conceptual illustration of the 2.5 kilometre, six lane, Gordie Howe International Bridge. Graphic courtesy of the WDBA.

The Gordie Howe International Bridge A Once-In-A-Lifetime Undertaking

Two of the largest infrastructure projects in the Windsor Essex region to be undertaken in the next few years are the Regional Acute Care Hospital to be built on County Road 42, and the Gordie Howe International Bridge (GHIB).

Both projects have had their detractors and attracted a number of conspiracy theorists. But, suffice it to say, the two projects are on track and should be providing enormous job opportunities for this region.

I recently sat down with the Director of Communications for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), Mark Butler, and received a brief update on the progress of the GHIB.

Mark Butler, Director of Communications with the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority stands in front of the showcase of an autographed Gordie Howe hockey jersey presented by the Howe Family. Photo by Joe McParland.

Biz X: Mark, what is your background that brought you to this project?

Butler: I am a graduate of Memorial University in Newfoundland, and also obtained a diploma in journalism from Sheridan College. I then embarked on a long career with Canadian federal public service, retiring as Senior Advisor with Transport Canada.

Biz X: When did this process for the new bridge start?

Butler: The WBDA is a not-for-profit Crown corporation established in 2012, which reports through the Minister of Infrastructure and reports to Parliament. As a P3 (Public Private Partnership) it is wholly owned by the Government of Canada. It is structured like a private company and operates independently from government. The project began as the Detroit River International Crossing (PartnershipBorderStudy.com) in 2004, and received approvals in 2007 and 2008, with Ontario beginning Windsor Essex Parkway construction in 2011.The roadway, renamed the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway in December 2012, was completed in November 2015.

Biz X: Where are we in the process of building the new bridge?

Butler: We’re completing the procurement process to select the private sector partner to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the GHIB project, and we are doing a huge amount of proprietary activities on both sides of the border so that we have both ports of entry ready for the private sector partner that will soon be selected. This will enable them to begin construction later this year.

NOTE: Prior to publication of this issue, the preferred private sector partner finalist was selected from three finalists: Legacy Link Partners Team; Bridging North America Team and CanAm Gateway Partners Team. Each of these three proponent teams are comprised of architects, contractors, subtrades, finance sources, legal, etc. As teams, the three shortlisted proponents have submitted their financial and technical details relevant to the RFP requirements for review and analysis by WBDA. Learn the outcome in an updated article.

Biz X: Are all properties required on both sides of the river secured at this point?

Butler: We have over 90% of the properties under Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) control who purchase the properties with funding from WBDA. All residential properties have been acquired; most of those residents have moved on and found other places to live. There are still a few commercial properties to be secured and some will likely require court actions.

Biz X: Will the remaining 10% of the properties end up as imminent domain?

Butler: Yes, that is correct for some of them. ‘Imminent domain’ is the U.S. equivalent of Canada’s ‘expropriation’. There will be some challenges and that is regrettable, but in many construction projects it is unavoidable. We are confident that all the required properties will be in MDOT control in the very near future and allow actual construction to begin in late 2018.

Biz X: What proprietary work if any has been undertaken on the U.S. side?

Butler: Because the acquisition of private properties on the U.S. side presented more challenges, in the next few weeks we will be kicking the proprietary work into full gear. There has been some utilities work done, but much of the work obviously needed resolution of properties before demolition could occur.

Biz X: How many lanes on the bridge? How many Customs Inspection booths are planned?

Butler: There will be six vehicular lanes (cars and trucks) with two utility lanes for pedestrian and cyclists. There will be 24 Canadian and 36 U.S. inspection booths as per requirements of the two customs services. All facilities will be state of the art and all commercial clearance onsite.

Biz X: Where are tolls collected?

Butler: All tolls will be collected on the Canadian side.

Biz X: Mark, any final thoughts …

Butler: Despite those who doubted this bridge would ever be built — it WILL BE! Once complete, the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be among the top five longest bridges in North America. It will WOW people when they see it. And it will serve as a catalyst for many new businesses to develop nearby, both on the U.S. and Canadian side.

I hope this quick summary has helped bring everyone up to speed on the progress of this new bridge. I for one cant wait for it to be built. It is certainly a project for the ages!