$4.4B Gordie Howe Bridge aims to open in 2024; construction to start next week

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
A rendering of the Gordie Howe International Bridge

Windsor, Ontario — Late 2024 is the target opening date for the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will become one of the most vital pieces of infrastructure between the United States and Canada.

Construction starts Friday,  Oct. 5, which means it will take six years to build the new Detroit-Windsor link and the customs plazas in both countries, Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority officials said at a Friday press conference in downtown Windsor. 

The cost to build the public bridge and blocks-long customs plazas along with operating and maintaining the facilities for 30 years will cost $4.4 billion, or $5.7 billion in Canadian dollars. Construction alone is expected to cost $2.9 billion, or $3.8 billion.  About 2,500 workers will be needed to build the bridge. 

A rendering shows an aerial view of the U.S. port of entry and customs plaza.

"Today is the start of a new chapter for Windsor and Detroit, as well as Canada and the U.S.," said Dwight Duncan, chair of the WDBA, which is the Canadian agency overseeing the bridge. "It will be the best and most beautiful crossing in the world." 

Officials touted the design of the future six-land bridge that will have technology aimed at preventing long delays for trucks as well as have pedestrian/bicycle paths. Safety features will allow trucks with hazardous materials to use the bridge, unlike the nearby Ambassador Bridge. 

Michigan and U.S. taxpayers are not paying for the project. After years of inaction in the Michigan Legislature as well as the Obama administration, the Canadian government decided in 2015  it would pay to build the bridge and both customs plazas. 

A rendering shows an aerial view of the Michigan interchange of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The Canadian government aims to recoup the costs through tolls. The bridge will be owned by the Canadian government and the state of Michigan, and built two miles south of the privately owned and operated Ambassador Bridge.

Canada is the largest market for U.S. exports, taking in 15 percent of American goods and services worth $337 billion annually, according to the U.S State Department. Detroit and Windsor constitute the busiest trade crossing along the U.S.-Canada border, with more than one-fourth of all goods exchanged between the countries crossing the Detroit River to get to its final destination.

On average, 7,000 trucks daily cross the Detroit River. It is the busiest link in the North American auto industry whose supply chains span both countries.

The new bridge is named after the Canadian hockey great who played for the Detroit Red Wings.

A rendering of the Gordie Howe International Bridge includes a lane for bicycles and pedestrians.

It will be the longest "cable-stayed" bridge in North America at 2,798 feet, A cable-stayed bridge has one or more towers from which cables support the bridge deck. A distinctive feature of such bridges is the cables form a fan-like pattern.

The span will connect Detroit and Windsor by linking Interstate 75 and Interstate 96 in Michigan with the new extension of Highway 401 in Ontario.

The effort to build the bridge began decades ago and most of the land in Detroit's Delray neighborhood has already been cleared. The state of Michigan bought out dozens of homes and businesses to make way for the project.  Earlier this year, work began on the land to prepare for construction of the bridge and customs plazas.

Workers clear land along West Jefferson Avenue and Schroeder Street in the Delray neighborhood in Detroit  Thursday. The land will be used for a truck and customs plaza for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The private owners of the nearby Ambassador Bridge still are attempting to thwart the publicly owned bridge. The Ambassador Bridge, about two miles east of the Howe bridge, is owned by Manuel "Matty" Moroun. Moroun is a billionaire who, along with his son Matthew, control trucking and logistics firms in the United States and abroad. 

The Morouns have made 25 legal challenges to halt the Howe bridge, WDBA officials said earlier this year.  All of the challenges have failed.

The beginning of a new ramp for the potential expansion of the Ambassador Bridge Detroit is seen Thursday. The bridge company doesn't have permission yet for that expansion.

So did a 2012 Michigan ballot measure, for which they spent an estimated $50 million to support, that was aimed at thwarting, or at least delaying, the project. Earlier this year, Moroun officials told the Wall Street Journal it has spent nearly half a billion dollars buying property and conducting environmental studies.

The Ambassador Bridge is nearly 90 years old.  Five years ago, chunks of concrete crumbled and dented a  parked car. Trucks carrying hazardous materials must cross the Detroit River by ferry because the bridge doesn’t have modern spill protections.

The Morouns have not given up. Earlier this year, representatives for the Moroun family bought a commercial on Fox News, urging President Donald Trump to revoke the permit to build the publicly owned bridge based on Trump's "America First" policies.

The Wall Street Journal reported this month that Detroit Bridge International Co. President Dan Stamper attended a Trump Victory fundraiser and spoke to the president during a small group meeting.


Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN