Progress continues on preliminary works for the multi-billion-dollar Gordie Howe International Bridge project with $350 million already spent on both sides of the Detroit/Windsor border and the highly anticipated announcement of the preferred proponent now just weeks away.
That’s the word from Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) spokesperson Mark Butler, who said once the winning team is announced, the owner and the proponent will sit down to hammer out an agreement on financial close. When that is achieved, probably in September, formal construction will begin immediately.
The project has tended to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. There was legal action by Manuel Moroun, owner of the competing Ambassador Bridge; concern about the procurement timetable; difficulty in acquiring some of the 600 U.S. properties the WDBA has targeted; and just recently, the launch of a TV ad from Moroun urging U.S. President Donald Trump to cancel a Buy American waiver.
But Butler said planning is moving forward smoothly as procurement approaches the end of the RFP phase.
“We have done a huge amount of due diligence, a huge amount of collaboration on both sides, so when we start construction of the bridge itself, which will be this year, things will be ready,” he said.
Butler said 95 per cent of the U.S. properties needed for the build have now been acquired or are controlled, all legal challenges have so far been dealt with and permitting is in good shape.
It’s a huge piece of infrastructure, he pointed out, with two national governments, two subnational entities in Ontario and Michigan, two sets of labour pools and numerous other complexities.
“Any piece of infrastructure of this size and complexity would have lots of challenges, but given that it is an international one going across the water, it makes it even more complex,” Butler said.
“We are building a bridge that when completed will be one of the five longest bridges in North America. We will have a clear span, with no piers in the water, of 850 metres, that in itself is an engineering challenge.
“And we are dealing with a piece of critical infrastructure. We are dealing with security implications. We’ve been meeting for some years with Homeland Security, Canada Border Services Agency, unions and the communities to help them be aware of any possible disruptions…on either side of the border.”
To get the project moving, in 2012, the Canadian government created the WDBA, a Canadian Crown corporation, to oversee it and agreed to foot the entire bill. Butler explained given the Canadian commitment, the U.S. government agreed to waive the Buy American stipulation usually associated with U.S. federally funded projects. Instead, it has been determined that steel, iron and similar materials must be procured from either Canada or the U.S., not overseas, Butler said.
The build is a public-private partnership and the contract will be design, build, finance, operate and maintain. Canada and Michigan will own the bridge when the job is complete. It’s expected the build will take four or five years and the cost will be well over $3 billion; Butler said the contract value and projected completion date will be confirmed at financial close.
Beyond the early works that have been undertaken over the past three years involving demolitions, land preparation, roadworks and significant utilities relocation, there are four components to the main project. The bridge itself will run 2.5 kilometres including approaches over six lanes plus a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists. Butler said the choice between cable-stayed or suspension will be announced at financial close.
The Canadian and U.S. ports of entry will be constructed on 130-acre and 167-acre sites respectively, with extensive inspection facilities, toll operations and ancillary buildings required. And finally a new Michigan interchange for the I-75 will involve numerous connections, four new road bridges and railroad crossings.
Three teams emerged from the RFQ process in 2016. Legacy Link Partners features several divisions from SNC-Lavalin while CanAm Gateway Partners includes significant EllisDon participation. Bridging North America included Aecon until earlier this year when the firm pulled out. Butler said that team has successfully reorganized.
“The procurement process that we designed allowed for a change in partners within the proponent teams,” he said.
Parsons Inc. was awarded a contract as the WDBA’s general engineering consultant in 2015 and this past spring the firm was announced as the owner’s engineer with a contract worth $61 million.
Preparatory works contracts dealing with utilities relocation announced in 2017 gave $86 million in work to Prysmian Cables and Systems Canada, Valard Construction and AMS, a joint venture of Amico Infrastructures and Mid-South Contractors.