Gordie Howe International Bridge

by John Corrigan, 3 October 2021 | Comments

Travel between two countries for business, leisure, importing, and exporting is vital to any local or federal economy. Therefore, connecting the United States with Canada by means of a bridge between two major cities is vital. This bridge can link the self-proclaimed automotive capital of the world with the great north. Currently, the Blue water bridge links Port Huron and Sarnia. The aging Ambassador Bridge connects Detroit with Windsor. The Ambassador bridge will soon be competing with a reliable and efficient Gordie Howe International Bridge which will connect Detroit to Windsor. There is approximately 400 billion dollars in yearly trade between the two countries and the Ambassador bridge makes up 27 percent of that trade, which is done with more than three million commercial vehicles crossing it every year. Therefore, this is obviously an extremely important crossing that cannot afford any shortcomings. This paper will discuss the challenges surrounding such a large infrastructure project and why one might fail or is failing. This will also include why one might be more likely to succeed vs the other.

Image source: Forbes, USTradeNumbers

In 1927 Joseph Bower fronted money for the construction of the Ambassador Bridge. The Mayor of Detroit at the time, John Smith was against the private funding and ownership of the bridge which was the first hurdle of the bridges long standing history. This resulted in the citizens having a vote for the bridge. Due to positive public perception of the bridge at the time it was strongly supported and won by a 7-1 margin. In 1929 it was completed for 23.5 million dollars.

Due to the private ownership of the bridge, it immediately fell into default with the bank in 1931. Then in 1932 taxes took a major toll on the finances of the bridge. By 1936 on top of unpaid taxes there was 8.2 million dollars in accrued interest that was not paid. This is all in the first seven years. In 1970’s Warren Buffet became partial owner when he purchased 25% of the stock. Bower continued to own the bridge until Matt Moroun purchased the stock from Buffet then he became the owner.

Moroun was now the owner and was immediately in legal trouble with the Canadian government as they required 50% interest. This battle raged on in court for 10 years within the Canadian legal system. The US then attempted to take over three acres of land that Moroun owned in Detroit. This legal battle went on for 25 years before Moroun was awarded 15 million dollars. Another court battle that continued to deteriorate the public perception of this bridge was in 1985 when Maroun sued by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for racketeering. This suite showed that he had been luring customers such as General Motors to use the bridge. This was settled in 1988.

In 2004 the issues continued as Moroun built new toll booths for the federal border patrol agents then requested money from the government to reimburse him. Moroun was eventually sent to jail for a short period of time as he failed to connect the bridge to local highways as agreed upon.

Outside of legal issues there has been a lack of planning that has lessoned the public support. In 2014 Transport Canada had recommended that the entire side of the Canadian half of the bridge be replaced or completely redone. This resulted in Windsor closing two streets because large chunks of concrete began to fall from the bridge. This was remedied by building a wooden infrastructure over the bridge’s concrete that would catch the concrete as it broke off.

Therefore, there have been multiple legal issues that stemmed from private ownership of the international bridge as well as inability to pay for repairs or even accrued interest. There has been deteriorating public support for the bridge and poor planning surrounding repairs. This bridge is not a failure however, it is heading in that direction, especially with its newer, up to date Gordie Howe International Bridge just around the corner.

There are no shortage of issues when it comes to private ownership of an international bridge. This is why the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be government funded. This will alleviate a lot of the concerns previously mentioned. The construction began in June 2018 for this future international bridge.

Image source: Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority

The overall cost of the Howe International bridge is 5.7 billion Canadian dollars. Only 15 million was awarded through federal US funds in US dollars. Michigan Department of Transportation spent nearly 86 million in 2019 on the project in US dollars. This is because Canada is financing a majority of the project with an agreement for future tolls. As our book references user charges this will be utilized with the toll as well.

The city of Detroit agreed with the state of Michigan to sell land needed to complete the Gordie Howe International Bridge. This will result in money being earmarked for specific programs. 33 million dollars will go towards neighborhood improvements. 10 million dollars will go towards on the job training. The remainder will be able to assist with a going green plan as 2.4 million will go towards monitoring the air pollution levels and 3 million will go towards the Detroit water and sewage.

"WDBA is a non-agent Crown corporation established by Letters Patent pursuant to ss.29(1) of the International Bridges and Tunnels Act. It is a Schedule III, Part I parent Crown corporation under Part X of the Financial Administration Act (FAA)." – Gordie Howe International Bridge offical website

There is a lot of public support for the Gordie Howe International bridge. First and foremost, both sides of the bridge offer a huge hockey fanbase. The name is symbolic as Howe was born in Canada and played most of his career with the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit has experienced constant battles with the private ownership of the aging Ambassador bridge. Windsor has felt the pain as well as concrete was once pouring down on streets so bad that they had to be temporarily closed. Ambassador bridge is a very steep bridge and only four lanes. The new Gordie Howe Bridge will offer six total lanes. The current governor of Michigan (Whitmer) has voiced her support for the bridge as recently as July 2021 in a press statement.

"This full-throated support of this vital bridge comes as President Biden and Congress continue to make progress on bipartisan and significant investment in transportation and other infrastructure." – Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Between 2015-2019 efforts were made to make sure the community was involved. This was done with a consultation approach in which the government reached out to local residents which resulted in over 200 unique suggestions. Outside of overwhelming support for the bridge by the public is the creation of countless jobs that will be created. Roughly 1,100 extra jobs will be created that range from food services to retail which are not related to the 2,500 jobs directly related to the building and maintenance. The types of jobs are expected to span across 151 different occupations.

Planning for the Gordie Howe International Bridge began years prior to ceremonial groundbreaking which took place under Michigan Governor Synder in July of 2018. In 2012, the Crossing Agreement was signed by the state of Michigan and the Government of Canada. Currently all planning is on schedule even with the covid-19 pandemic. The bridge is set to be completed in 2024 and its lifespan will allow it to last until 2149. Hopefully, the management behind the Gordie Howe International Bridge has learned from the mistakes made by the nearby Ambassador Bridge.

Annotated Bibliography 

Detroit Historical Society. (n.d.). Ambassador bridge. Encyclopedia of Detroit. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/ambassador-bridge

The Encyclopedia of Detroit references many Detroit landmarks – specifically, the history of the Ambassador Bridge. Many related topics are outlined, including the funding of the bridge in the 1920s and public perception of the bridge as it was built.

Federal Highway Administration. (2020, March 23). Ambassador bridge crossing summary. FHWA freight management and operations. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/freight_analysis/ambass_brdg/ambass_brdge_ovrvw.htm

This reference shows that the Ambassador Bridge’s average wait time drastically increased following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It features statistics surrounding the amount of outbound and inbound traffic as well as annual trade.

Government of Canada. (2021, August 12). Financial administration act. Justice Laws Website. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/f-11/page-16.html#h-229273

This Canadian government website outlines statutes surrounding Crown corporations and explains and defines specific terms.

Muller, J. (2012, January 12). Why one rich man shouldn't own an international bridge. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2012/01/12/why-one-rich-man-shouldnt-own-an-international-bridge/?sh=336881876c18

This article features interesting information about the Ambassador Bridge's current perception. It references cross-border trade statistics and discusses the security risks presented by an international link such as the bridge.

Shenouda, S. (2017, June 23). Bridge agreement earmarks $48M for job training, neighborhoods in Detroit. DBusiness Magazine. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.dbusiness.com/daily-news/bridge-agreement-earmarks-48m-for-job-training-neighborhoods-in-detroit/

This 2017 article outlines the structure of various agreements between the city and the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. It discusses the bridge’s ability to generate economic development within the city via job creation, land sales, and increased environmental protections.

Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. (2021). Gordie Howe International Bridge. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.gordiehoweinternationalbridge.com/en

The official website for the Gordie-Howe International Bridge serves as a comprehensive source of information relating to the project. It includes a variety of maps, renderings, plans, and progress updates.