A bridge to the future

by Ron Stang

WINDSOR, Ont. — Truckers used to current back-ups at the Windsor-Detroit border should welcome the fact that new toll booths at the government-owned Gordie Howe International Bridge will be flexible to accommodate both trucks and cars, and can be reconfigured to meet traffic demand.

More details of the bridge’s configuration and design were released in early July, when the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), the federal crown corporation overseeing its construction, announced the name of the contractor that will build the bridge. The consortium, Bridging North America, won the contract, and it includes some of the most experienced bridge builders now working on the continent, including on such projects as Montreal’s new Champlain bridge and New York State’s Harbor and Tappan Zee bridges.

After almost two decades of studies, public consultations, site selection and requests for proposals, an ebullient WDBA chairman Dwight Duncan told a news conference that major construction will finally get underway early this fall.

The date of bridge completion has been pushed back several times, from 2020 to now 2023, though WDBA officials couldn’t confirm a new opening date.

“You will actually see advanced work starting this month on the U.S. side and ‘Big C’ construction will start as soon as we’ve signed the financial close which will happen before the end of September,” Duncan said. “It might be the first week of October, it depends.”

Bridging North America’s leads are Fluor Canada and ACS Infrastructure Canada, the same companies that led construction of the $1.6-billion Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway, completed just over two years ago, an 11-km extension of Hwy. 401 that ends just before the start of the footprint for the new bridge’s Canadian port of entry, which will contain tolling and Customs inspection booths.

The remaining two proponents, those that didn’t make the cut, were CanAm Gateway Partners, including companies like EllisDon and Bechtel, and Legacy Link Partners, which included SNC Lavalin and VINCI Concessions.

All proponent submissions contained numerous Canadian, U.S. and multinational construction, financial and design teams.

Details of the type of bridge were also announced at the news conference. The 2.5-km bridge will be of cable stayed design, rather than suspension, and will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America at 853 meters.

The final bridge cost has yet to be determined and will be released at the time of financial closing, officials said.

The consortium, under a public-private partnership (P3), will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the bridge for 30 years. The bridge will have a 125-year life.

The so-called ports of entry, containing Customs and inspection facilities, will encompass 53 hectares on the Canadian side and 68 hectares on the U.S. side.

Two roughly 400-meter ramps will connect the U.S. port to both north- and southbound Interstate 75. Trucks will share their ramps with passenger vehicles.

All primary and secondary inspections will take place at the ports of entry.

Altogether, there will be 24 Customs booths on the Canadian side and 36 on the U.S. side.

The booths “will be two storeys, if you will,” WDBA spokesman Mark Butler said. “They can be converted to either commercial – so higher up for the cabs of the trucks – or lower down for passenger vehicles.”

While cars and trucks will still be kept in separate lanes, the booths can be readily reconfigured to accommodate either type of vehicle, given the mix of traffic at any one time.

WDBA chairman Duncan drove home the importance of getting the bridge built.

“This is a bridge between two peoples, two countries,” he said. “In this community and other border communities we appreciate the importance of trade between our countries. Thirty-four states of the union, their number one trading partner is Canada.”

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