Gordie Howe bridge project struggles to finish on time

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Construction delays due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic could push the opening of the Gordie Howe International Bridge to early 2025.

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A financial analyst’s report points to the need for a renegotiated date for project completion beyond the contractual end of 2024 date agreed upon by both the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and the contractor of the $5.7 billion project. , Bridging North America.

Under the current agreement, the contractor – a consortium of global companies including Fluor, Aecon Group and Dragados Canada in equal partnership – would face significant fines with their financial institutions for any day late after the originally scheduled completion date.

According to an analyst report from S&P Global Ratings, BNA formally requested “temporary relief” and “cost compensation” due to the pandemic last year.

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In the midst of last June’s pandemic, the project’s US plaza would be 147 days behind schedule, while the Canadian plaza was 136 days behind schedule, according to the analyst who estimated the new completion date as April 25, 2025.

Giant girders that will eventually make up the ramp section of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be on display on Thursday.
Giant girders that will eventually make up the ramp section of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be on display on Thursday. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

The pandemic has not only caused employment problems at the bridge construction site, but also shortages of supplies and materials, along with the timely completion of design work, as those businesses have also been hampered by virus-related issues.

Officials from WDBA, the poor federal government agency overseeing the project, said that despite the challenges, efforts are continuing to open the bridge to traffic by the contract date of late 2024.

“The contractor (Bridging North America) is required to comply with the contract date specified in the project agreement and to adapt their construction approach to accommodate any delays,” said Heather Grondin, vice president of Corporate Affairs and External of the company. bridging authority. relationships.

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“Given the size of the project and the length of construction time, all kinds of challenges can arise that can affect the schedule. The pandemic is an example of a challenge and could lead, among other things, to adjustments in planning.”

The bridge authority and the Canadian government – which will pay for the bulk of the public-private partnership (P3) project – have opposed opening and amending the massive contract deal for the Howe bridge project out of concerns it could lead to a swamp. of other issues that further threaten the completion of the project.

“Now that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated security measures are in a stable state, we are actively assessing the potential impacts of the pandemic on the project schedule,” Grondin said.

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But so far, WDBA has maintained the existing contract and the end date of late 2024 provided significant leeway to complete the project and was the date chosen by Bridging North America itself. Therefore, it said, it remains the contractor’s responsibility to ensure that this happens.

Part of the construction site at the Canadian gateway to the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will soon span the Detroit River, will be shown Friday.
Part of the construction site at the Canadian gateway to the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will soon span the Detroit River, will be shown Friday. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Bridging North America officials declined to comment.

Fluor and the other global partners leading the Gordie Howe Bridge project are in the midst of dozens of massive infrastructure projects around the world where similar complications have arisen from the pandemic.

More than a year ago, contractor Michael Hatchell — who successfully led the on-time completion of the Herb Gray Parkway — returned to Windsor to take over the local bridge project and hopefully get it back on track.

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The project includes a six-lane cable-stayed bridge, inspection plazas on either side of the border, and a new three-mile freeway connector in Detroit to I-75 freeway.

Other complications for the Howe bridge project, due in part to the pandemic, include “cost escalations” for materials, according to the S&P analyst’s report.

The project also had to work around the province-wide strike by crane operators and carpenters that stretched over several weeks in May.

“The strike that took place in May had a limited impact on activities on the Canadian side involving the striking unions as other work could progress,” Grondin said.

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Struts that will eventually form the road section of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be displayed Thursday on the Canadian side of the new border span under construction.
Struts that will eventually form the road section of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be displayed Thursday on the Canadian side of the new border span under construction. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Currently, the construction of the Howe Bridge Project has allowed both the Canadian and American towers of the new bridge to reach approximately two-thirds of their full height. Ramps connecting to the towers and leading back to the squares on either side of the border are now also visible.

Work on several building structures for the plazas on both sides of the Detroit River is also underway, with construction of eight of the 11 structures on the Canadian side and four of the 13 structures on the American side.

In Detroit, construction so far has focused on the construction of a new interchange on I-75 to connect to Bridge Square, and the construction of several new pedestrian bridges over the highway.

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