A second international bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, is expected to begin construction this summer.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge, likely a multibillion-dollar project, is expected to create thousands of jobs and support local industries.
Canada is Michigan’s top trading partner, with nearly $71.8 billion in goods traded annually, according to statistics from the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, the Canadian organization responsible for the project.
The Ambassador Bridge currently is the busiest commercial crossing between the U.S. and Canada, transporting 25 percent of the total Canada-U.S. bilateral trade.
Nine million U.S. jobs are supported by Canada-U.S. trade, with 260,000 of them in Michigan.
Many of these include jobs in the auto, furniture and agriculture industries, said Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s clear that having a healthy, strong border crossing is an economic necessity, not just for Michigan, not just for Ontario, but for an expansive supply chain that extends throughout the country,” said Andrew Doctoroff, senior special projects adviser to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the one responsible for overseeing Michigan’s participation in the project.
That’s why some of the “strongest supporters” of the project are West Michigan business leaders, including CEOs Brian Walker of Herman Miller and Doug DeVos of Amway, and former Steelcase and current Ford Motor Co. CEO James Hackett.
“It’s well-recognized that the trade that crosses the border makes its way to and from western Michigan to a meaningful extent,” Doctoroff said.
He added the six-lane bridge accounts for future traffic growth.
“All long-term projections say and have said that there will higher volumes of border crossings in the decades to come,” Doctoroff said.
He said modern manufacturers have a need for “just-in-time delivery.” The new bridge will provide a “seamless border” with highway-to-highway access, allowing manufacturers to plan for shipments and avoid delays. The only stoplights between Mexico City and Montreal occur in the 7 miles after exiting the Ambassador Bridge into Canada and driving to the next highway, he said.
Construction will include two new customs facilities that would allow for advances in border inspection technology and contribute to the “seamless border.”
The second bridge will provide “redundancy.” If an unforeseen event were to close the Ambassador Bridge, it would have devastating economic effects. A second bridge would allow transport to continue, he said.
The next major step toward construction happens in May when the bids are due from private companies to provide construction and maintenance.
Once the agreements have been made, there will be a better idea of the project’s total cost and end date, according to Mark Butler, communications director for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.
So far, Butler said there has been preparatory work worth $200 million on the Canadian side and $150 million on the U.S. side that includes site examination, relocation of utilities and compacting soil to accommodate the new structures.
Doctoroff said about 93 percent of the properties needed have been acquired.
He said litigation against the Detroit International Bridge Company — the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge — to acquire the remaining properties is “going well.”
DIBC did not respond at press time to inquiries about its opposition to the project.
Canada is funding the project completely, including the work done on the U.S. side. Canada will be reimbursed with tolls once the bridge is in use.
Michigan is eligible to receive federal transportation matching funds — expected to total $2.2 billion — for every dollar Canada spends in the U.S., which will be used for transportation purposes across the state.
Doctoroff said the “once-in-a-generation” project will contribute to long-term economic growth in more ways than may be clear at the moment.
“It’s going to allow us to say to ourselves that we collectively can do great things,” he said. “It’s going to catalyze all sorts of economic opportunities that perhaps people aren’t even thinking about today.
“The fact is that the project is going to be one of a few extremely important deliverables that show Michigan is really creating economic opportunities for its residents and strengthening our future, solving long-term concerns with long-term solutions.”