Job numbers for new bridge should mirror parkway project, union leader says

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Aug 07, 2014, The Windsor Star
Up to 5,000 workers may be employed during the duration of the Detroit River International Crossing bridge project — matching the numbers which have worked on the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway, according to local officials.

Construction work on the parkway on June 19, 2014. (Tyler Brownbridge/The Windsor Star)

Construction work on the parkway on June 19, 2014. (Tyler Brownbridge/The Windsor Star)

Both Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt have vowed thousands of jobs — potentially between 10,000 to 15,000 – are coming to help build the planned Detroit River bridge.

But based on local experience with the parkway — which included similar political job promises — those in the know are being more realistic this time around.

In June, there were 19,000 man-hours for general labourers on the parkway project, said Rob Petroni, business manager for Labourers’ International Union of North America Local 625.

It’s been roughly the same on average each month over the past year — which equates to about 250 workers at any given time on the job, he said.

That doesn’t account for dozens more of skilled trades workers, heavy machinery operators, supervisors and white-collar administrative staff also employed daily on the parkway.

In total more than 5,000 employees have received training — required for anyone to perform the smallest amount of work on the parkway site — since construction began in 2011, according to Ontario’s transportation ministry.

“For our part, we expect the bridge and plaza together are going to equal the same amount of man-hours as the parkway,” Petroni said. “The plaza itself, from what I understand, is enormous and will take a lot of man-hours.”

And that’s very good news for this community, he said.

“There is other (construction) work going on,” Petroni said. “But for our guys it’s been the continuation (on the parkway) of a lot of work for them.

“The way it should flow is moving from one project to another project to another for a number of years.”

Petroni believes workers moving over to start on the new DRIC crossing will be seamless as the parkway project wraps up by the end of next year.

He also believes construction on the proposed $400-million Detroit River rail tunnel project will follow next, right after the DRIC bridge is completed.

“Construction is usually seasonal — slows down in the winter months — but we should have most people working year-round for another few years,” Petroni said.

On the parkway job each LIUNA labourer is earning $42 an hour, including benefits and pensions. He expects the DRIC bridge project to equate to roughly the same wages for workers.

And that money is getting spent back into the community one way or another, creating more jobs, Petroni said.

“It’s all going back into the economy through vehicles, toys, houses and lot of other things,” he said.

Long-term, once the DRIC bridge is built, it could spell even more good economic news.

“My hope is once (the bridge) gets completed, then industry will start looking at Windsor again to set up shop,” Petroni said. “Hopefully, that will lead to large commercial and industrial projects.”

Holding out the same hope is Sandra Pupatello, CEO of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation. Each step the DRIC bridge takes toward reality improves her agency’s ability to attract investment to this region, she said.

“The crossing will give us better interaction with our American neighbours,” she said. “Then we can sell that as a function of economic development.

“It’s really difficult to say (how many long-term jobs), but it’s already part of our pitch that the new bridge is coming. This will make the ease of our interaction with the U.S. so much better.”

The Economic Alliance for Michigan is counting on the DRIC bridge creating jobs — not only during construction, but long after.

“I think the 10,000 to 15,000 (during construction) is hard to quantify,” said Bret Jackson, president for the alliance, a statewide business-labour coalition representing Detroit Three automakers, unions and other organizations.

“But having the freeway-to-freeway connection is crucially important in cutting time down for suppliers. We believe jobs will be generated through this project that will aid economic development for both Windsor and Detroit.”

Jackson indicated the auto companies he represents also “believe (the bridge) will turn into millions of dollars of annual savings in transport costs, time and efficiency.

“That’s a large amount of money — and you are just talking about (the auto) companies,” he said.

Dave Battagello
Aug 07, 2014 – 5:51 PM EDT
Last Updated: Aug 08, 2014 – 8:41 AM EDT