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Detroit-Windsor bridge plan gets U.S. Coast Guard approval

Richard Gilbert

Construction of a new bridge between Canada and the U.S. is moving forward under a public-private partnership, after U.S. regulators granted a permit and a U.S. judge dismissed a legal challenge against the project.


The U.S. Coast Guard approved plans for a design-build concept of an international bridge to be constructed across the Detroit River between Windsor, Ont. to Detroit, Mich.

“Prior to commencement of construction, the permittee shall submit to the District Commander for approval, plans showing the final design chosen for the construction of the bridge,” said Brian L. Dunn, Chief, Office of Bridge Programs in the permit.

“The final design chosen shall, at a minimum, provide the navigational clearances as shown on the approved plan sheets revised Nov. 22, 2013. Failure by the permittee to adhere to any part of this condition renders this permit null and void.”

The permit issued on May 30 was the last one needed for the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge to move forward. It also required the President’s approval, under the International Bridge Act of 1972, which was granted in March 2013.

The Windsor-Detroit trade corridor is the most important international land crossing in North America, handling 30 per cent of Canada-U.S. trade carried by truck. The Canadian government says about 2.5 million trucks carrying more than $100 billion in trade used this corridor in 2012.

The 2014 federal budget will provide $470 million over two years for procurement and project delivery. In addition, the federal government is providing $631 million over two years to advance construction.

According to a brief prepared by law firm Norton Rose Fulbright in February 2014, the project involves the construction of four components.

These are: an international plaza on the Canadian side; an 850-metre suspension or cable-stayed international bridge; an international plaza on the US side; and a direct connection from the US plaza to Interstate 75.

It is estimated the project will cost $US2.15 billion: $US1.3 billion related to assets to be built on the U.S. side, and $US850 million to those on the Canadian side.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority is overseeing the project. It is a Canadian Crown corporation created under the terms of the Canada-Michigan Crossing Agreement signed in June 2012.

Under the agreement, Canada is responsible for the entire project, including an investment of up to $US550 million for costs that would normally be covered by Michigan for the project’s U.S. portion.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority is using a public-private partnership for the procurement of all four construction components. The authority will approve both the procurement process and the final agreement.

The international plazas and the bridge will be constructed under a design-build-finance-operate-maintain framework. However, the concessionaire will not be responsible for operating and maintaining the I-75 interchange. This responsibility will be retained by Michigan.

It is estimated the project will generate 10,000 to 15,000 construction jobs in Ontario and Michigan.

According to U.S. court documents, the owners of the Ambassador Bridge were seeking an injunction to prevent the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing the permit for the DRIC bridge.

The Ambassador bridge, which carries more than one quarter of the total commercial traffic between the U.S. and Canada, is located just a few miles upstream from the planned site of the DRIC bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge is owned by the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), who want to construct a twin span adjacent to the existing bridge to service customers, while maintenance work is done on the Ambassador Bridge.

DIBC applied for a navigational permit from the U.S. Coast Guard about ten years ago, before the Canada-Michigan Crossing Agreement was formed.

The Coast Guard refused to process the application, because DIBC failed to obtain air easement rights over a public riverside park in Detroit.

In response, DIBC sued the Coast Guard and claimed its statutory right to construct the bridge was violated by the failure to issue a navigational permit for the twin span.

DIBC testified that if the government constructs the DRIC bridge, DIBC will not be able to secure funding for the Twin Span, because there is no economic justification for two additional bridges based on current traffic projections.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that the U.S. Coast Guard was correct in its decision to reject DIBC’s application for a permit.

Collyer also said DIBC’s claims were unduly speculative and insufficient to justify preliminary injunctive relief.

DIBC failed to provide clear evidence of how it would be unable to obtain private capital if a government bridge goes ahead.

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