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Early construction on Gordie Howe bridge progressing, footings for main towers to be installed over winter


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November 27, 2019 by David Kennedy

A rending of the new three-lane bridge connecting Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich. It’s scheduled to open in 2024. PHOTO: Infrastructure Canada

The first components of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge are beginning to take shape in Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich.

In an early project update this week, Bryce Phillips, CEO of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, and Aaron Epstein, CEO of Bridging North America, said work on all four of the $5.7 billion project’s main components are progressing simultaneously, and on schedule.

“The design-build phase of the bridge is well underway,” Phillips said, adding the project’s design teams are regularly finalizing plans for various aspects bridge and then handing them over construction crews to execute.

Along with building the 2.5 kilometre cable-stayed bridge, the project includes ports of entry on both sides of the border and an interchange that connects with Interstate-75 on the Detroit side of the river.

So far, work on the Canadian side has advanced further.

Bridging North America, the private group of companies taking on the project, has completed 10 of the 12 drilled shafts required for the main towers on the Canadian side. It’s now turning its attention to six others needed for the bridge’s backspan. Consortium members Dragados Canada, Fluor and Aecon Group Inc. are looking after construction, while Aecom is in charge of design.

“The drilled shafts themselves are enormous, they’re about 36 metres long,” Epstein said. “We put them in in segments and they’re about three metres in diameter.”

Epstein said the build team expects to install the main tower footings on the Canadian side over the winter. Formwork and rebar can be put in place once the shafts are complete, followed by concrete pours. It will be at least next summer before the main piers, which are located on land as opposed to in the river, begin to rise.

Drilling has begun on the opposite bank of the Detroit River, but is moving more slowly, due in part to necessary seawall changes.

Early work on both ports of entry is underway as well, with most of the focus so far on getting the riverside soil ready for the building foundations. On the Canadian side, Epstein said about 150,000 wick drains need to be installed prior to most other work taking place. Phillips noted much of the utility relocations on the Canadian side have already been completed.

Crews have started some of the prep work for the new highway interchange on the Detroit side of the river.

Preparing to ramp up construction over the next two years, the arms-length government corporation and the private consortium responsible for getting the six-lane bridge built have been holding vendor summits and recruitment initiatives.

“On this project, we’re going to need a lot of workforce to help us out,” Epstein said. Finding labour has not been a problem yet, but that it may become an issue as more substantial work gets underway between 2021 and 2023, he said. About 70 per cent of all man hours required fall in that time period, according to the WDBA.

Construction on the new international span is scheduled to be complete by 2024.