Construction of Gordie Howe International Bridge a Top Priority for Canada and Michigan
A Symbol of International Friendship: Canada and Michigan Partner to Build North America’s Longest Cable-Stayed Bridge
Extraordinary things can be achieved when nations combine their resources to create world-class infrastructure. Such is the case with the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, an ambitious venture between Canada and Michigan to build the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, ports of entry on both side of the border, and a new highway interchange in Michigan.
This design-build project is being delivered through a public-private partnership (P3) between Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), a not-for-profit Canadian Crown corporation overseeing project development, and Bridging North America (BridgingNA), a private-sector consortium comprised of ACS Infrastructure, Fluor and Aecon.
The bridge will be co-owned by the Canadian government and the state of Michigan, and built 2 miles from the Ambassador Bridge, which currently carries about 25 percent of trade between the U.S. and Canada. Construction officially commenced in October 2018 and will take 74 months to complete.
A Bi-National Focus on Prosperity and Unity
The project’s main goal is to provide a safe, efficient, and secure end-to-end border crossing system directly connecting Highway 401 in Windsor, Ontario, and Interstate 75 in Detroit, Michigan. The new bridge will add capacity and provide for redundancy at the Windsor-Detroit Gateway, a bustling trade corridor carrying approximately 7,000 trucks daily and about 2.5 million trucks annually.
Ultimately, improved border processing and highway-to-highway international connectivity at this key gateway will positively impact the flow of traffic and goods and bolster both national economies. In addition, “the Gordie Howe International Bridge will encourage new investment between Canada and the United States and help to maintain and create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border,” says Heather Grondin, Vice President, Communications and Stakeholder Relations, WDBA.
In a joint statement issued in May, government leaders in both countries reaffirmed their support of this top-priority project. Both the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, and Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, François-Philippe Champagne, acknowledged this venture will stand as a symbol of friendship and unity for generations to come.
World-Class Bridge Design
Multiple design options were considered for the Gordie Howe International Bridge, named in honor of a Canadian-born hockey player who led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup victories. Ultimately, a sleek cable-stayed form was chosen in part for its contemporary appearance. The structure will range from white to dark gray in color, with bridge towers shaped to mimic the curvature of a hockey stick in a slap shot move. According to Grondin, the distinctiveness of this visually striking landmark will serve as an “impressive and inspiring new gateway symbol for Canada and the United States.”
From a technical standpoint, this design was deemed less intrusive in terms of foundation excavation when compared to the requirements of a suspension bridge. The cable-stayed approach also has much greater stiffness (which decreases the likelihood of bridge deck deformations under live loads) and offers greater redundancy if a single cable were to fail.
Unlike the nearby Ambassador Bridge, a four-lane suspension bridge built in the late 1920s, the new 123-foot-wide Gordie Howe International Bridge will contain six traffic lanes over the Detroit River and extend approximately 1.5 miles. The LED-illuminated structure will also have a multi-use pathway to safely separate pedestrians and cyclists from vehicular traffic.
“An interesting aspect of the project is that the main bridge will be ‘dual-designed,’ meeting the requirements of both CAN/CSA-SG and AASHTO LRFD,” Grondin notes. “The superstructures may be steel, concrete or a combination of both. A 125-year service life must be demonstrated for non-replaceable elements.” Formed concrete is being used for all the towers and piers, with pier heights ranging from roughly 15 to 100 feet.
A balanced cantilever method is being used to construct the two 820-foot-tall main towers. Next, workers will build the bridge deck piece by piece until the two 1,395-foot-long cantilevers meet in the middle. “Each ‘half’ of the bridge will be constructed completely independently of the other and will not interact until joined in the middle, high above the Detroit River, and will be constructed at the same time so they are simultaneously ready for completion,” Grondin says.
The crossing will have a clear span of just over half a mile and no piers in the water. “This approach will ensure minimal disruption to the busy river traffic during the operation of the bridge,” she adds.
Other Key Project Elements
The project team is also building approach structures on either side of the bridge to connect the main span to two new ports of entry: one in the historic Windsor community known as Sandwich, and the other in southwest Detroit’s Delray neighborhood. The architecture and landscape design that will be featured at these locations, Grondin says, showcase functionality, design excellence, sustainability and barrier-free accessibility.
The U.S. port of entry is situated on 167 acres, bounded by Jefferson Street to the south, I-75 to the north, Springwells Street to the west and Campbell Street to the east. Once completed, it will be one of the largest ports in North America, containing 326,335 square feet of total building space, 36 inspection booths for both passenger and commercial vehicles, commercial exit control booths and parking areas.
The Canadian port of entry is being constructed on a 130-acre site, making it the largest Canadian port along the Canada-U.S border. It will have a 133,881-square-foot main building, 16 toll booths and 24 inspection booths for both passenger and commercial vehicles.
The project also calls for 1.8 miles worth of local road improvements to connect I-75 in Michigan to the U.S. port of entry. “This component is a significant piece of construction, consisting of over a dozen roadway and pedestrian bridges ranging in length from 100 to 1,700 feet,” Grondin says.
P3 Approach Saves Developer Over $560 Million
This project is not even a year into construction, yet it has already earned several prestigious industry awards, including CG/LA Infrastructure’s 2019 Oracle Project of the Year Award in the Engineering Project category. Last May, it was named an outstanding emerging project by the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships (NCPPP).
The NCPPP anticipates the extraordinary innovation and creativity demonstrated by the Gordie Howe International Bridge project will set the standard for future P3 ventures. “We are proud to recognize innovators and leaders whose work serves as exemplary partnership models,” says NCPPP President Sandy Hoe, “particularly at a time when P3s are taking on a more prominent role in the United States.”
In 2015, WDBA initiated a rigorous P3 procurement process to choose a private-sector partner with the skills, experiences and resources necessary to deliver this once-in-a-generation project. The complex procurement process addressed the interests of multiple jurisdictions and agencies and culminated in a fixed-price contract with BridgingNA, which is following a design-build-finance-operate-maintain delivery model composed of a six-year construction schedule and a 30-year operations and maintenance period.
“The private sector is paid on performance, aligning financial incentives for on-time, on-budget delivery and for the achievement of performance standards during the useful life of the asset,” Grondin says. The total project cost is approximately CA$5.7 billion (or $4.4 billion in U.S. dollars). “A Value for Money analysis demonstrated that the P3 model for this project resulted in a savings of approximately CA$562.8 million, or 10.7 percent as compared to delivery of the project using traditional procurement methods.”
Truly, the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be a marvel to behold once it opens to traffic in late 2024. To reach this milestone, BridgingNA is partnering with local stakeholders, businesses, professional associations, unions, First Nations and educational institutions to ensure the successful design, construction and operation of the various project components.
“Bridging North America is honoured to be a long-term partner with WDBA to deliver one of North America’s largest infrastructure projects,” says BridgingNA CEO Aaron Epstein. “We are committed to the success of the Gordie Howe International Bridge and look forward to building prosperity and empowering progress for the Windsor-Essex and Detroit area.”