The Gordie Howe International Bridge Project
Following years of study and community consultation, work has begun on a massive infrastructure project that will benefit the economies of Canada and the United States; the Gordie Howe International Bridge project.
Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) is a Canadian Crown corporation responsible for the delivery of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project.
The project includes a new bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan, ports of entry of both sides of the border and the reconfiguration of a portion of Interstate-75 in Michigan to provide new connecting ramps to the US Port of Entry. Each of these components of the project is significant. Together they comprise what is the largest infrastructure project the Canada-U.S. border, and is arguably one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge is a once-in-a-generation project. Not only will the project deliver much-needed transportation improvements for international travelers, it will also provide jobs and opportunities for growth to the Windsor-Detroit region and includes features that make this project truly unique.
The 5.7 billion-dollar project is being delivered through a public-private partnership (P3). On September 28th, 2018, WDBA announced the selection of Bridging North America as its private-sector partner. The team of Canadian, American, and international firms combine local experience and knowledge with world-class transportation expertise and a proven track record of delivering large infrastructure projects that have included bridges, port facilities and highways.
As the private-sector partner, Bridging North America is responsible for the design, the construction, the financing, the overseeing of operations, and the maintenance of the bridge as well as both the Canadian and U.S. POE. Whereas the firm will only be responsible for the design, the construction and the financing of the Michigan Interchange, while the State of Michigan will be responsible for the operations and maintenance of the Michigan Interchange.
On October 5, 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, François-Philippe Champagne and former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, celebrated the official start of construction. Prior to that, significant work – in excess of 250 million dollars - has already occurred to prepare the sites of the bridge and the Canadian and US POE for the work to be undertaken by Bridging North America.
An international project on such a massive scale can present challenges. WDBA has taken steps which will reduce risk and contribute to the project schedule by initiating an ambitious preparatory activities plan.
The Canadian POE totals 53 hectares (130 acres) and is located in the west end of Windsor. It was the location of several light industrial buildings and residential houses. It is adjacent to an ecologically-sensitive area as well as a major electrical transmission plant. These factors, including the soluble nature of the soil at the site, required the WDBA to undertake both minor and major efforts, including the relocation of the structures, the installation of a sophisticated drainage system, and special measures to protect the surrounding environment.
Utility relocation: various existing utilities including water lines, sanitary and stormwater systems, natural gas lines, and electricity lines were located within the area of the Canadian POE. Several of these utility lines were obsolete and needed to be abandoned. Many more needed to be relocated so as to ensure that service to existing customers was not disrupted. A complex network of overhead high-voltage electrical distribution and transmission lines connected to the province’s power grid were also within the Canadian POE area. Many of these overhead lines were moved underground, and some were connected to new transmission towers to provide adequate room for the new bridge span.
Drainage: The new Canadian POE will include several buildings, roadways and parking lots as well as bridge ramps and bridge piers. All of these elements will require a solid base on which they can be built. As so, more than 9,000 tonnes of topsoil had to be removed to make possible a comprehensive drainage plan and to begin sculpting the POE landscape. To ensure that the site is prepared for additional loading, various geotechnical soil improvement techniques were used. These techniques include the installation of approximately 900 kilometers of wick drains and in excess of one million tonnes of fill surcharge which will accelerate the settlement of the underlying soils. An existing municipal drain adjacent to the POE site has also been reconstructed and widened to over 20 meters (65 feet) in sections to accommodate future needs, such as a rare storm event.
Environmental: Site preparation included the removal of more than 902 tonnes of waste from the Canadian POE site. Over 5 kilometers (3 miles) of exclusion fence have been erected around the POE perimeter to limit access to the site by species at risk, other wildlife, and people. Collection and relocation of species at risk is ongoing and experts have already collected and relocated hundreds of fauna and flora from the site. Hibernacula – homes/habitat for snakes including species at risk that may be in the surrounding areas – have also been installed and all workers on the project have received species at risk training in accordance with environmental obligations.
On the U.S. side of the project, preparing the site required the acquisition of 959 properties. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is leading the acquisition process. Other preparations included the installation of new siphons and combined sewers along a portion of I-75 adjacent to the U.S. POE.
Geotechnical investigations are also underway on both sides of the border. A series of test pits and bore holes have been drilled and soon, deep pile drilling will begin in order to test the capacity of the pier foundations. Each deep pile, one on each side of the border, will be approximately 30 meters deep (100 feet).
The completion of these critical preparations is important to prepare WDBA and its private-sector partner to begin significant construction of the bridge, the Ports of Entry and the Michigan interchange.
The Windsor-Detroit trade corridor is the busiest commercial land border crossing between Canada and the United States, and accounts for over 25 percent of the total bilateral trade between the two countries and more than 30 percent of trade transported by truck.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of Canada and the United States and is expected to create thousands of jobs in both Ontario and Michigan. The six-lane bridge will facilitate the movement of people, goods, and services by ensuring there is sufficient border crossing capacity to handle the expected growth in cross-border trade and traffic by providing a much-needed crossing alternative. It will also provide improved border processing capabilities and, for the first time, a highway-to-highway connection that will directly connect traffic to Highway 401 in Windsor and I-75 in Detroit.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge will not just positively impact the prosperity of Canada and the United States but will also transform the Windsor-Detroit landscape.
With a clear span of 853 meters (0.53 miles), the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. At a height of 220 meters (770 feet) the bridge piers will rival the height of Detroit’s GM Renaissance Center which has dominated the Detroit and Windsor skyline since 1973.
The Canadian POE will be the largest inspection plaza along the northern border and the U.S. POE will be one of the largest anywhere in North America.
WDBA recognizes the permanent influence that the Gordie Howe International Bridge will have on Windsor’s and Detroit’s skyline and its role as a new gateway symbol for Canada and the United States. Therefore, the utmost commitment to aesthetics has been considered for all aspects of the project. The bridge design, building architecture, landscaping, lighting and functionality for commercial users and everyday travelers have all been carefully considered.
Significant attention is being given to ensuring the bridge meets and exceeds the needs of commercial users and that the project includes features that will contribute to the efficient and timely movement of drivers through the facility and toward their destinations. WDBA will integrate design elements to make it easier for trucks to cross, which include: dedicated truck lanes on the bridge and in the POEs, driver-friendly road lighting, safety design accommodations such as the ability to deal with truck breakdowns in a timely fashion with minimum impact on traffic flow; and an onsite weather monitoring station allowing for advanced notification of unfavourable conditions.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge project also includes a comprehensive Community Benefits Plan that will be delivered by Bridging North America with stringent oversight by WDBA.
The Community Benefits Plan will have a positive impact on communities in Windsor and is comprised of two components: the Workforce Development and Participation Strategy which is geared toward engaging businesses and focuses on supporting workforce, training and pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship opportunities and the Neighbourhood Infrastructure Strategy which focuses on collaborating with stakeholders and community members through consultation to develop a community infrastructure strategy based on identified priorities.
WDBA and Bridging North America are continuing consultation with communities and anticipate announcing the details of the Community Benefits Plan in April 2019.
For updates on our progress and for more information on the Gordie Howe International
Bridge project, please visit www.gordiehoweinternationalbridge.com.