Trudeau, Snyder look to speed up Howe bridge construction

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from left, and  Gov. Rick Snyder, center,  pose with construction apprenticeship students  Frida, in Windsor, Ontario, where they announced that the Gordie Howe Bridge, a multibillion-dollar construction project to build a link between Detroit and Windsor, is officially underway.

Windsor — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed the start of construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge as a symbol of the deep economic ties between the two nations and downplayed the thorny trade issues going on between his administration and President Donald Trump.

Trudeau also said he and Gov. Rick Snyder are exploring ways to speed up the finish date of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge. The target opening date for the bridge is late 2024.

Trudeau said "accelerating" the timeline for the bridge is a sign how "very much ...  we are focused on getting this done as quickly as we can." Snyder confirmed talks are underway "to go even faster" to finish the bridge but said it was too soon to go into specifics.

Trudeau arrived in this border city Thursday night for a Liberal Party fundraiser, and on Friday morning spoke at the Windsor location of the future bridge. It is in an industrial area next to the Detroit River. On the Detroit side of the river is the massive Zug Island facility. 

Earlier this week, the Trudeau administration ended months of tense negotiations with the Trump administration over a revised North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Canadian and U.S. officials reached a tentative deal after warnings by the Trump administration that it would have left Canada out of the new pact.

The Gordie Howe bridge "is even more important this week" because of that new trade deal, Trudeau said. The revised trade agreement has been renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

During the stalemate, Trump called Trudeau "weak" and dishonest" and threatened tariffs on autos and did enact tariffs on steel and aluminum. Trudeau called for the elimination of those tariffs.

"They are not just hurting Canadian businesses and Canadian workers, but they are also hurting American businesses and American workers," Trudeau said. 

At the bridge event, Snyder criticized the "lack of civility" — he didn't name the president directly — during the trade talks and in American culture overall. Trudeau smiled and nodded his head as Snyder talked.

"I appreciate the patience and understanding of Canada with respect to the tone of that agreement and the tone of America today," Snyder said. "The greatest challenge in America today is not foreign issues, but us being nice to ourselves."

Trudeau said he has a "constructive, positive relationship" with Trump and described the trade agreement as "piece of good news" for each nation.

"There will always be points of difference, of disagreement, but, where we can come to together to create opportunities for our citizens, there will always be alignment, and that's what I always focus on with President Trump," Trudeau said. 

Trump has said he intends to sign the agreement by November and submit it to Congress for approval. The deal would be subject to review in six years and end in 16 years unless all three countries agree to another 16-year renewal.

Canada is the largest market for U.S. exports and the new bridge will become one of the most vital pieces of infrastructure linking the two countries. Canada takes in about 15 percent of American goods and services worth $337 billion annually, according to the U.S. State Department.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder post for a photo with workers on the Windsor side of the Gordie Howe Bridge construction site.

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

Site of the future Gordie Howe 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 southwest of the privately owned and operated Ambassador Bridge.

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

The span will connect Detroit and Windsor by linking Interstates 75 and 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.

Meanwhile, the private owners of the Ambassador Bridge owners have not given up opposition to the Gordie Howe bridge. The Ambassador Bridge, about two miles northeast of the Howe bridge site, 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.

Earlier this year, representatives for the Moroun family bought a commercial on Fox News, urging Trump to revoke the permit to build the publicly owned bridge, based on Trump's "America First" policies.

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

The Ambassador Bridge owner plans a second span next to its existing bridge. The Morouns overcame a major hurdle by gaining approval from the Canadian federal government to build the second 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.

When asked about the potential of the Ambassador Bridge owners gaining approval for its plans, Trudeau declined to comment. Instead, he brought the hope that the Gordie Howe Bridge can open before late 2024 as currently planned.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN