Ground breaks on the Gordie Howe International Bridge

Ambassador Bridge (Image: Shutterstock)

A quarter of all goods exchanged between the US and Canada cross the Detroit River, which runs between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, according to The Wall Street Journal. As it stands, there are three ways to transport goods between Detroit and Windsor: the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, the rail and barge system, and the Ambassador Bridge.

The Detroit-Windsor tunnel allows trucks, but with clearance at 12 feet, 8 inches, many commercial carriers are unable to rely on the tunnel for trade. The rail and barge system, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, is already dedicated to handling oversized and hazardous materials, eliminating this option for most shipments.

That leaves the Ambassador Bridge, a 7500 foot, 4-lane suspension bridge that is privately owned by Detroit’s Moroun family. In recent years, it has become clear that a new link between Windsor and Detroit is a necessity, as the bridge is not without its issues. According to the Detroit Free Press, $500 million worth of trade passes over the Ambassador Bridge each day, but its passengers have outgrown the 4-lane stretch of road and are tired of the delays associated with using the Ambassador Bridge.

A study by the Canada West Foundation discovered that delays associated with border crossing cost Canada anywhere from $15 billion to $30 billion CAD annually. By 2020, these same delays are anticipated to cost the US $15 billion USD each year. To make matters worse, the bridge is also falling into disrepair–chunks of concrete have been falling off of the bridge and onto Windsor streets since 2015.

The search for a solution has ended in the proposal to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge, a 6-lane, 1.5 mile suspension bridge that would connect directly to Ports of Entry in the US and Canada. The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) notes that the “construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will help spur economic activity in Ontario and Michigan. Once in service, the new bridge will accelerate the flow of goods and services and provide a much-needed crossing alternative at the busiest Canada-U.S. commercial border crossing, creating thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border.”

In the 2012 Canada-Michigan Crossing Agreement, both nations stipulated that the Canadian government will be responsible for covering costs associated with land acquisition and construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, though it will be jointly owned and utilized by the US and Canada. Tolls will be collected on the Canadian side of the crossing in order to reimburse the Canadian government for the cost of the project.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority is also making strides to accommodate truck drivers in the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, giving “significant attention…to ensuring the bridge meets and exceeds the needs of commercial users and that the project includes features that will contribute to the efficient and timely movement of drivers through the facility and toward their destinations.”

The design of the bridge will involve elements that ensure easier crossings, from “dedicated truck lanes on bridge and in the POEs; driver-friendly road lighting; safety design accommodations such as the ability to deal with truck breakdowns in a timely fashion with minimum impact on traffic flow; and an onsite weather monitoring station allowing for advanced notification of unfavorable conditions,” according to the WDBA’s website.

Despite the terms, the Moroun family has fought hard to strike down the deal. In June 2018, the family wrote an ad asking President Trump “to revoke a key permit approved by the State Department in 2013.” It’s clear that the Morouns are not quite ready to give up their “monopoly on cross-border truck traffic,” as the Editorial Board for The Wall Street Journal wrote, nor are they ready to feel a decrease in their $60 million toll revenue each year.

Amid lawsuits and the ad appealing to President Trump on “Fox and Friends,” ground is being broken in Detroit this week, and construction on the Gordie Howe International Bridge is anticipated to begin this fall.

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Maria Baker, Staff Writer

Maria is a staff writer who has covered everything from the environment to sign-on bonuses and women in the industry. She is a recent graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South, where she majored in English literature and minored in environmental studies. Maria loves writing about freight almost as much as she loves Emily Dickinson and the self-imposed challenge of finding the best iced mocha in Chattanooga.