Preparations begin for DRIC bridge

Dave Battagello, The The Windsor Star

It might seem things have fallen silent since a presidential permit was granted in April by the Obama administration to build the new $1-billion Detroit River bridge, but preparation work is underway on Windsor’s west end for the crossing. A fence has recently been erected in Brighton Beach to mark off the new federally owned property which will be home of the Canadian plaza for the Detroit River International Crossing that will sit about two kilometres downriver from the Ambassador Bridge.

Transport Canada – which is overseeing the process – has also launched environmental measures required within the lands that will serve as the launching point for the new bridge, said Mark Butler, spokesman for the federal agency. “Transport Canada has completed several environmental mitigation measures,” he said. “They include the relocation of at-risk species and plants off of the plaza site, breeding bird surveys and vegetative surveys.

“A separate snake barrier has also already been erected to contain any potential at-risk snakes, including the Eastern Fox Snake and the Butler Garter Snake. They will be contained to the property for relocation to protected areas.” The federal agency is also working closely with other departments, including the Canada Border Services Agency, on the design of the Canadian plaza, Butler said.

On the Canadian side, Transport Canada is also in the midst of completing negotiations with one residential property owner and five industrial property owners for the remaining lands required for the Canadian plaza site.

All other property leading up to the bridge in Windsor has already been acquired under the joint Ontario-Canada government efforts to finish construction of the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway – the new 11-kilometre border highway that will connect Highway 401 to the DRIC bridge.

On the U.S. side, design work for the plaza and customs inspection area to be located in the industrial community of Delray is also well underway, Butler said.

“Transport Canada has been working with our U.S. and Michigan partners with a focus on the Michigan port of entry that includes design work and discussions on property acquisition,” he said.

Government officials from both sides of the border overseeing the bridge project indicated construction should begin in either late 2015 or early 2016. It is expected to take four years to complete, likely putting the first vehicle on the new bridge in 2020.

Until construction gets started a new international bridge authority of six officials – three each from Canada and the U.S. – must be appointed. They are to establish a publicprivate partnership corporation, similar to the parkway project, that will be responsible over decades for funding, building, managing and maintaining the new bridge.

A request for qualifications process will be undertaken by the authority to find a private sector partner. That is expected to take at least a year depending on how many bids are received and must be studied.

The DRIC bridge is viewed by government leaders as a needed replacement for the current 83-year-old bridge, which annually carries 25 per cent of Canada-U.S. trade which last year overall reached nearly $750 billion.

Truck drivers from both sides of the border have remained frustrated for years by delays and inefficiencies on the aging four-lane bridge which is difficult to reach in Windsor because of more than a dozen stoplights between Highway 401 and the bridge.

The trucking industry and its drivers are attempting to be patient as preparation and construction of the DRIC bridge slowly gets underway, said Stephen Laskowski, vice-president of the Ontario Trucking Association.

“The private and public sectors will always define quick differently,” he said. “That said, the trucking sector is very aware and appreciative that both Ottawa and Queen’s Park continue to make the construction of the new bridge a very high priority.”

The Canadian government has agreed to pay up to $550 million for Michigan’s share of the DRIC project – largely for property acquisition and feeder roads connecting the bridge to I-75 freeway in Detroit. The government will also pay for the Canadian plaza which is projected to cost $387 million, while the private sector partner will be asked to help pay for the $1-billion bridge itself with costs to be recovered through tolls.