Gordie Howe bridge plaza work making significant progress

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September 1, 2016, One million tonnes of gravel has been hauled to the 132-acre plaza site of the the Gordie Howe International Bridge, creating a manmade hill which stands eight metres tall.

Where a year ago there was a mass of trees and shrubbery on the outskirts of the city’s west end, there is now a mound of gravel brought in on 30 ships from Ohio, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Leamington and Manitoulin Island to form a massive base for the new bridge’s toll area and customs facility.

The Windsor Star was granted an exclusive look Thursday at the preliminary work that’s being completed at a cost of over $100 million.

Before (left) and after (right) photos of the Brighton Beach area plaza site for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

There have been 42,000 wick drains already installed to provide adequate drainage for the plaza.

The Broadway Drain — a critical natural water link for nearby protected Ojibway park lands, which fish also use to spawn — has undergone extensive improvements and widening.

Paving for a new municipal ring road around the plaza to replace the city’s existing Broadway Street and Sandwich Street will begin next month thanks to a temporary concrete plant being constructed on site.

“It’s really quite something to stand here and look out across,” said Michael Cautillo, CEO for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. “You see trucks bringing in soil, work on the Broadway drain storm water pond. You have front-end loaders, cranes, other machines. You can look and be proud one million tonnes of gravel have been put on the site.

“It’s really coming together. You can really see the progress accomplished in the past year. We are moving fast and will keep it going. That’s not me just saying it, you can stand here and see it.”

More than 500 workers over the past year have been trained to participate on various parts of the project, being led by Windsor-based Amico Infrastructure, with an average of 100 employees in place on any given day.

A large part of the job has been the intricate work of utility relocation which includes high-pressure Union Gas lines, city of Windsor water and sewage lines, Bell phone lines, Cogeco cable lines and a myriad of hydro lines.

An Amico project manager estimated the job is just over half completed and should be fully finished about one year from now.

“It’s gone very well,” said Jamie Dilaudo, vice-president of infrastructure for Amico. “What we are doing is creating new standards for construction in this area. Some of the things being accomplished on the Herb Gray Parkway or this plaza are things almost unheard of before on how construction is done.”

Having a local company like Amico involved on such a massive project is a “once-in-a-career thing,” he said.

All that is the good news.

But questions remain as to why the bridge authority’s board has not yet launched the final step of the bidding process — known as a request for proposals — to select the private sector contractor.

The bid documents were scheduled to be released by the bridge authority in January, but nine months later they remain on hold.

Board chairman Dwight Duncan, who did not attend Thursday’s tour, has attributed delays to property acquisition issues in Detroit — land needed for the Howe bridge.

He fears expropriation of the lands, which include several properties owned by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, may lead to prolonged court battles that may impact the project.

Howe bridge work also has been moving at a much slower pace on the Detroit side where efforts are being led in part by the Michigan Department of Transportation. Dozens of required properties have been purchased, but only about three dozen homes have been demolished and some utility relocation has just begun on the U.S. plaza site.

The Howe bridge was scheduled to be completed by 2020, but that target date is no longer firm following delays to complete the bidding process.

“The plan is to get this bridge built as quickly and prudently as we can,” Cautillo said.