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Officials for the Gordie Howe International Bridge declared Thursday that the planned new Detroit-Windsor link has overcome all obstacles that could kill the project, and said construction may start the first week of October.

"This is really the beginning of the end," Dwight Duncan, chairman of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, said at a Thursday news conference in Windsor. "Now construction starts and we have fought off every challenge imaginable."

Duncan was referring to the 25 legal challenges the owners of the private Ambassador Bridge have made in an attempt to halt the Gordie Howe bridge, which would be built two miles west of the Ambassador Bridge. All of the legal challenges have failed, Duncan said. So did a 2012 Michigan ballot measure — for which the Ambassador Bridge owners spent an estimated $50 million to support — that was aimed at thwarting, or at least delaying, the project.  

"There are going to be physical challenges, engineering challenges, but ... we won’t be slowed down," Duncan said. "We will move forward in a prudent, firm manner and get this bridge opened as soon as is practical.”

The planned new bridge across the Detroit River will be the longest "cable-stayed" bridge in North America at 2,798 feet, officials said. 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. 

Six lanes are planned, including a pedestrian and bicycle path. 

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority announced Thursday the winning development team, made up of eight businesses from across the globe, who will build and operate the bridge. The consortium is called Bridging North America. The lead companies behind the team are Irving, Texas-based Fluor Corp. and Toronto-based ACS Infrastructure Canada Corp.

Over the coming months, the bridge authority, which is run by the Canadian government, will negotiate the final contract with the development team. The cost of the project, design details and expected construction schedule will be announced by the end of September, officials said. 

Earlier estimates pegged the cost of building the bridge at $2.1 billion, but recent Canadian press reports say the estimate may have climbed to $4.8 billion. That prompted the Canadian federal government to order a review of the costs, according to Canadian media outlets. An earlier estimate for the bridge's completion was 2022.  

Canada is paying to build the bridge and expects to recoup its investment through tolls charged to cross the international bridge. The bridge will connect Detroit and Windsor by linking Interstate 75 and Interstate 96 in Michigan with the new extension of Highway 401 in Ontario. The bridge will be owned by the Canadian government and the state of Michigan. 

The Detroit side of the bridge will be in the Delray neighborhood. About 97 percent of the property needed for the bridge work has been secured, said Andrew Doctoroff, a special projects adviser to Gov. Rick Snyder's office. 

The Michigan Department of Transportation has ownership or control over 636 parcels, leading to relocations of 229 homes and close to 90 businesses.

"So we are literally in the red zone ... knocking on the goal line," Doctoroff told reporters during a bus tour near the future points of entry in Canada and the United States. "We really have never done this type of eminent domain project in, we believe, the history of Michigan. This is, by far, is the most complicated and ambitious land acquisition project that anyone familiar with the project knows of." 

The effort, he said, has led to the demolition of 255 structures and clearing of 4,700 trees and several football field-sized areas of debris.

Major preparatory work has already begun and is expected to ramp up in Detroit this summer, officials added.

On Thursday, a demolition crew was razing the former J & L Steel complex, in the footprint of where the future U.S. plaza will be. An open field sits just in front of the site off South Street where homes once stood. 

Meanwhile, Ambassador Bridge owners have not given up opposition to the public bridge. Last month, 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.

Last fall, the owners of the Ambassador Bridge gained approval from the Canadian federal government to build a second span next to the existing bridge. The approval was a major hurdle Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun needed to clear for a new six-lane span. 

The approval came with a list of conditions, including acquiring more Windsor properties and demolishing the existing Ambassador Bridge within five years of the replacement span opening.

Representatives for the Ambassador Bridge declined to comment Thursday. 

Thursday's announcements on the progress of the Gordie Howe  bridge came about a year after Detroit City Council approved a set of agreements to provide protections to the southwest Detroit community in the bridge footprint.

Simone Sagovac, a member of the community-initiated Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, said residents are monitoring the potential impact of truck traffic, congestion and pollution associated with the project.

Sagovac said Thursday that she and others are glad to hear that after years of anticipation the project is advancing. 
 
“It’s been a long time coming, especially for the residents,” Sagovac said. “There’s some level of relief that it’s finally gotten to this point. There’s some assurance that the sacrifice of many has led to something.”

Bridging North America, she said, was the sole group of the three that took up an invitation to tour with the group in the community.
 
“We’re happy that they are the ones that will continue to be talking with us,” she said.

 

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN 

 

 

 

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