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Canada offers peek at Gordie Howe bridge work

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Windsor — Canadian officials on Thursday touted construction progress on their side toward building the Gordie Howe International Bridge while Michigan officials said they are on schedule to build the span.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority took reporters on a two-hour tour to see work done on the Canadian Port of Entry, where a small bridge will cross over a highway and railroad tracks.

Plans are underway to build what will be the largest port of entry to Canada, which will connect to the Gray parkway on 132 acres of land, expand to the west and then turn north over the Detroit River.

The tour offered a peek at how the Howe bridge will snake across the river that separates Ontario from Detroit. Power lines and high-voltage cables and towers in the path of the project will be placed underground.

The planned $2.1 billion bridge has the backing of various U.S. and Canadian government agencies. It aims to open in 2020.

Michael Cautillo, the president and chief executive officer of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority based in Windsor, said he always believed this project would get done since he became involved in 2005.

“I knew this was going to happen, there was no doubt about it,” Cautillo said as he rode the tour bus. “It will happen, and you’re seeing proof of it happening. There’s a lot of work going on. We’ve got the property. We’re doing the advance work. We’ll get it done.

“I’m elated at what we have accomplished and what we’ll accomplish,” he added.

The Howe bridge will provide a second highway link for heavy trucks at the busiest U.S.-Canada crossing point, the second span to the aging Ambassador Bridge owned by Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who has been attempting to build a second, private span over the river.

Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of the bridge, which will have to be repaid through tolls. The state of Michigan in 2014 acquired from Detroit properties in the bridge’s footprint that were tax-reverted. The properties cost about $1.5 million, to be funded by Canada, said Andy Doctoroff, special projects adviser to Gov. Rick Snyder who represented Michigan on the tour.

Cautillo said Canadian officials don’t look at what they are doing on their side as a competition with Michigan and “is not an us and them, this is all part of the same project.”

State officials have already started to make offers to buy nonresidential properties, although some have been rejected because appraisals were too low. The state needs to buy about 670 parcels to make way for the bridge and the Customs and Border plaza, with an estimated cost of $370 million to purchase the land.

Doctoroff said progress on the United States side is not stalled and that the project will be completed.

“We will acquire all of the properties. If we have to do it through legal actions in court, we will,” Doctoroff said. “But the important thing is that we are confident that we will be able to acquire the properties and that our defense ... to any claims that might be brought are very compelling and we have confidence in them.”

Doctoroff said all construction schedules “takes into account the length of litigation” and other struggles with acquisitions issues that could delay the project.

Doctoroff said the project on both sides is on schedule with land acquisition and other aspects.

“This bridge will get built,” he said. “This bridge is happening and there are many, many, many hundreds of people who are committed to making sure this bridge gets built. I have every confidence in the world that there will be a beautiful span to connect Ontario and Michigan. I think today simply underscores our confidence in that fact.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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Twitter:@leonardnfleming