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Beginnings of Gordie Howe bridge take form in Canada, U.S.

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Windsor — Construction of the two main towers that will support the Gordie Howe International Bridge across the Detroit River is underway at both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the bridge project.

The bridge towers, which will be the highest points of the bridge — at 750 feet or 220 meters tall — will rival the GM Renaissance Center, bridge officials said during a Tuesday media briefing on the $4.4 billion project that is expected to open in 2024.

Construction crews are working to prepare the tower foundations by drilling 12 shafts on each side to remove water, dirt and debris from the land.

Rebar cages, a group of steel bars used as tension devices, will be installed and then filled with concrete. The rebar cages are 134 feet tall and weigh nearly 166,000 pounds each.

Ten of the 12 shafts are done on the Canadian side, while one of the 12 is completed on the U.S. side. Work will continue during the winter, and the towers will rise by the summer.

“As you can see today, this is the beginnings of the bridge,” said Mark Butler, a spokesman with the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority, at the construction site Tuesday. “With any construction project, people have to realize you have to go down first before you go up. There is lots of work like utility relocation, but we are on schedule."

When completed, the bridge will connect Windsor with Detroit.

An auger used to drill through solid rock is pulled out of the shaft at the construction site in Windsor, Ontario, for the Gordie Howe bridge Tuesday.

Bridge officials Bryce Phillips, CEO of the bridge authority, and Aaron Epstein, CEO of the construction company Bridging North America, said there have been no issues with finding workers for the project. Vendor summits were held on both sides and hiring will ramp up in the summer, Epstein said.

The current workforce includes 200 professionals, 300 to 400 designers and several hundred craft workers and subcontractors, Epstein said. More than 175 Detroit residents have been assigned to work on the project, Butler said.

"We are going to need a lot of workforce to help us out," Epstein said. "The large workforce, the real needs on this project, is going to happen in the 2021, 2022, 2023 time frame, when it's really going to start ramping up with a lot more construction activities will be ongoing."

Bridge officials said 95% of the U.S. property needed has been acquired to clear the way for construction, with two parcels left to negotiate. 

Bridge officials also launched the first neighborhood initiative under the community benefits plan by announcing a $50,000 annual investment allowance for each the United States and Canada to invest in U.S. and Canadian neighborhoods affected by the bridge's construction.

Organizations can submit applications for funding ranging from $1,000 and $25,000 (Canadian dollars) to support events, programming and infrastructure improvements that will benefit the Sandwich/west Windsor or Delray/southwest Detroit neighborhoods.

Officials say the community benefits are intended to advance economic, social or environmental conditions for those living in the areas. 

The open call period for funding applications runs through Jan. 31. The applications are available at gordiehowieinternationalbridge.com.

Butler said applicants for the money must be a registered charity and be located in or provide services to the Sandwich/West Windsor community or Delray/Southwest Detroit community. Individuals, public-sector and for-profit organizations are not eligible.

Funds can be used for community partnerships, community safety and connections, economic benefits, and aesthetics and landscaping. Butler said examples include a community celebration or picnic, a community garden, community art show, community market or job training.

Projects/initiatives that could be considered religious or political in nature will not be considered for funding, but applications by religious groups may be considered if the proposed project/initiative is non-religious and will provide benefits to the greater community.

Two community meetings are planned for bridge project updates: Dec. 9 in Windsor at Mackenzie Hall from 3-7 p.m.; and Dec. 10 in Detroit at the Historic Fort Wayne visitor center from 3-7 p.m.