Construction jobs, economic boost on horizon as Howe bridge moves forward

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Windsor Star/Dave Battagello

Hundreds of jobs and a major economic boost for Windsor should be less than a couple years away now that the final stage of bidding has been launched to select a builder for the Gordie Howe International Bridge, said local business and political officials.

Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority officials Thursday detailed how they have launched a request for proposals and that a private sector partner to build the crossing will be in place within 18 months.

“There was speculation out there — although not by me — that this project may never happen,” said Jim Lyons of the Windsor Construction Association. “The fact they have taken this next step is obviously good news.”

Dwight Duncan, interim chair of the WDBA’s board of directors, and president and CEO Michael Cautillo provided the update during a Thursday news conference.

The bridge authority also announced business meetings in both Windsor and Detroit will be held Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 where local suppliers or subcontractors can meet and form partnerships with the three short-listed global consortiums that will make their pitch to finance, design, build and operate the Howe bridge.

“I can’t imagine how there won’t be a lot of local content (during construction) from a supply standpoint, but also how labour will be maxed out,” Lyons said.

“This is going to be something long-term and include big man hours for a lot of different trades. That is very good news for the region.”

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said despite months of delay on the bridge project, he was constantly reassured by the bridge authority everything remained on track.

“Although everything was delayed a few months, it’s very positive they are now moving forward,” Dilkens said. “This is a multibillion-dollar project. Anytime you have a project of this magnitude with that amount of investment, it is great for the local economy and will serve Windsor well for many years.”

Release of the final bidding stage for the bridge project, “eliminates any uncertainty that may have been circulating — not just in business sector — but the community,” said Matt Marchand, CEO for the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber.

“It is critical these new (international bridge) lanes will be there for exports, especially for our agriculture and auto sectors,” he said.

“This helps remove uncertainty for investors looking expand or locate here. This will be state-of-the-art infrastructure and they know now help (getting goods across the border) is on the way.”

Windsor-Detroit truck ferry operator Gregg Ward is a member of the Howe bridge project community advisory board for Delray and said one important factor with release of the final bidding stage is how it provides “predictability” to residents in Detroit who for years have been left wondering when — or if — the bridge will be built.

“You can better plan your life around this project locally now knowing it’s closer to happening,” he said.

There are still many final design issues to be resolved for residents who will remain in proximity to the Howe bridge plaza on the Detroit side, Ward said.

“Now that we know the proponents are putting together their bids, we can get our voice out there, express our concerns and get our issues resolved,” he said.

Andy Doctoroff, special projects adviser on the Howe bridge for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, said property acquisition in Delray is “going very well.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation is overseeing property purchases to clear the way for the bridge, plaza and new feeder road to link with I-75 freeway in Detroit.

“Michigan has obtained more than 50 per cent of the parcels needed for the bridge project that are located inside the footprint,” Doctoroff said.

He would not give an exact timeline, but added: “We fully expect to obtain all needed parcels in a timely manner so as to not delay construction.”

Doctoroff also does not expect Tuesday’s U.S. federal election that resulted in President-Elect Donald Trump rising to power will make a difference.

“Michigan has already obtained all necessary federal permitting for the project, including the Presidential Permit and the Coast Guard navigational permit,” Doctoroff said.