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Gordie Howe Bridge Takes a Major Step Forward

by: Debra Wood
The Gordie Howe Bridge hit a critical milestone as the first two stay cables are put in place on the U.S. side.
The Gordie Howe Bridge hit a critical milestone as the first two stay cables are put in place on the U.S. side.
Crews work on the piers and deck of the bridge on the Canadian side.
Crews work on the piers and deck of the bridge on the Canadian side.
Ramps to connect the bridge to I-75 are under construction.
Ramps to connect the bridge to I-75 are under construction.
Crews work near the top of one of the towers.
Crews work near the top of one of the towers.
Crews installed the first two stay cables on the U.S. side of the bridge in January 2023.
Crews installed the first two stay cables on the U.S. side of the bridge in January 2023.
Work takes place on the back span of the bridge on the U.S. side.
Work takes place on the back span of the bridge on the U.S. side.
Crews work on one of the back spans.
Crews work on one of the back spans.
The bridge approach on the U.S. side earlier this year.
The bridge approach on the U.S. side earlier this year.
Significant progress has taken place in the past year on the new $5.7 billion (Canadian) Gordie Howe International Bridge, which aims to improve the movement of people and goods between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit.

“The project – the bridge, the two new Ports of Entry and the Michigan Interchange, along with the already completed Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway, will address four regional transportation needs or redundancy or crossing choice, capacity for future traffic demand, improved border processing and direct freeway-to-freeway connection between Highway 401 and the Michigan Interstate system,” says Heather Grondin, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and External Relations at Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), owner of the bridge and ports of entry.

The Need for a New Bridge
The current Ambassador Bridge serving this area opened in 1929 and carried more than a quarter of all trade between the United States and Canada, making it the busiest crossing between the two countries. The Ambassador will remain open.

The new bridge is named after a popular Canadian hockey player. Planning for it began more than two decades ago. It is being built to both Canadian and U.S. standards.

“The construction of any large infrastructure project, especially one which spans an international border, is no easy task,” Grondin says. “It takes years of study and planning before the first shovel can go into the ground.”

Design, build, finance, operate, and maintain concessionaire Bridging North America (BNA), a joint venture among Dragados Canada of Toronto, Fluor of Calgary, Canada, and AECOM of Toronto, received the 36-year contract. CS Infrastructure of Coral Gables, Florida; Fluor; and AECOM will maintain and operate the bridge, and the state of Michigan will take responsibility for the Interstate 75 interchange.

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The project includes a Community Benefits Plan. From September 2018 to September 2022, 42 percent of more than 7,900 individuals, 4,454 in the United States and 3,449 in Canada, were oriented to work on the project have been local to Detroit or Windsor-Essex. Additionally, 240 local businesses in Windsor and Detroit have been engaged to provide goods or services to the project, including 189 in Canada and 51 in the United States.

Progress on the New Bridge
Construction on the six-year project began in 2018. Separate BNA teams are completing work in Canada and the United States. “The project has progressing significantly over the past year,” Grondin says.

Both the U.S. and Canadian bridge tower legs have been joined together and are rising as single pylons. Both are more than 571 feet tall. During the next year, they will increase in height to 722 feet. The six-lane bridge will rise 138 feet above the water and is supported by drilled shafts. Crews are building the structure from both shores and will meet in the middle.

“The first girder over the Detroit River was placed by crane in late December 2022. Work on the bridge deck and construction of the road deck on the back span of the bridge continues through this year,” Grondin reports. “Stay cable installation, critical to the design of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, is well under way.”

Crews installed the first two stay cables on the U.S. side of the bridge in January 2023 and in February 2023 on the Canadian side. Completing the process for each pair takes between two to five days and involves multiple steps, beginning with lifting white weather-resistant, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic pipes from their crates on the ground up to the road deck. They are connected together before any strand can be fed through.

“Once welded, the first strand, referred to as the ‘reference strand,’ is inserted into the pipe,” Grondin says. “With the reference strand in place, one end of the pipe is lifted into position on the tower by a crane with support from workers on the mast climber, which is steel scaffolding attached to the tower. Workers stationed on the mast climber take the reference strand and feed it into the anchor box inside the tower. Another crew of workers stationed inside the anchor box takes the reference strand, anchors it, and secures it with a steel wedge.”

Then workers on the deck bring the other end of the pipe to its location on the edge girder and secure the reference strand using the same technique, she adds. Once both ends of the reference strands are secured, the process is repeated for the rest of the metal strands in the pipe. When the reference strand is first installed, the HDPE pipe appears to sag. Every time a strand is added, the piping begins to straighten. Once all strands are inserted and anchored, the installation of one stay cable is complete.

The bridge will feature a more than half-mile long clear span, the longest main span of any cable-stayed bridge in North America, Grondin reports. It also will have a toll-free multiuse path for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Continuing Activity on the Ports of Entry and Roads
Work is progressing on both the U.S. and Canadian ports of entry, which are in various stages of completion. On the U.S. side, crews are working on underground utilities, and electrical and plumbing work at some buildings, while foundation and structural work is under way at others. On the Canadian side, work is progressing on all buildings, canopy structures, and the toll booths.

Crews also are working on roads on both sides of the border, including a retaining wall on the road from the port of entry to the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway in Windsor, and interchange activities with Interstate 75 on the Detroit side.

“The project team has reached a significant construction achievement with the start of the ramps connecting the U.S. Port of Entry to the Michigan interchange at I-75,” Grondin says. “Construction of the ramps is anticipated to continue over the next few years.”

Additionally, road bridges over I-75 are being reconstructed, and the interstate is being widened. At the end of 2022, the project team completed girder installations over main streets close to the I-75. Once finished, there will be four new road bridges and five new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pedestrian bridges. The project is scheduled for completion next year.

“The opportunity to work on a legacy project that will change the skyline of Detroit and Windsor, positively impact the economies of the United States and Canada and provide direct benefits to the community neighbors is a great source of pride,” Grondin concludes. “Everyone working of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project recognizes that they are contributing to a better a future.”

Photos courtesy of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority