Gordie Howe bridge’s main deck will be connected within weeks

Trevor Wilhelm/The Windsor Star

After more than 2,000 days and 13 million hours, there are only weeks to go. 

Perhaps the most significant milestone in the historic construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will occur by the end of June, when the two sides of the bridge deck finally connect 46 metres above the Detroit River.

The $6.4 billion bridge won’t open until 2025. But once the deck is connected, it will officially become an international crossing with border officers keeping watch 24/7.

“For our workers who will be doing the balance of the work to complete the bridge, they’ll have to go through security checkpoints at border control with both sides of the border,” David Henderson, CEO of Bridging North America (BNA), said Tuesday during a media tour of the Canadian side. “When they leave the bridge or cross into the other country, they have to go through the same procedures as you would with your passport or Nexus card.” 

Only 26 metres of open space — about the width of an NHL rink — remained Tuesday between the Windsor and Detroit sides of the bridge deck. Crews will soon install one more 15-metre segment on the U.S. side.

Then they will shift the Canadian bridge deck about six inches so they can fit the last piece, called the mid-span closure, into the final 11-metre gap.  

“We’ll actually jack the Canadian side of the bridge a little further away to make room,” said Henderson, who represents the consortium of contractors building the bridge.

Each side of the bridge has 27 pre-designed segments averaging about 15 metres long and 37.5 metres wide. When the mid-span piece is installed, the bridge will be 853 metres long, making it the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. It also has the longest composite steel and composite bridge deck of any cable-stayed bridge in the world. 

Finally getting the opposite sides of the bridge to within shouting distance of each other has created a buzz among many of the roughly 11,000 people who have worked on the project. Most of them signed their names on a floor beam that now sits inside the bridge deck. 

“It’s amazing, it’s what we work for,” said field engineer Manuel Bello, who has worked on the bridge for five years. “So you see it, every two weeks we get closer to the other side. There’s a lot of anticipation. You see the colleagues on the U.S. side closer and closer every day.” 

Heather Grondin, chief relations officers with the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, said it’s not only the workers who have been voicing their excitement.  

“But more than that, we’re seeing social media comments, we’re seeing how excited the community is about the bridge deck connection taking place,” said Grondin. “And that’s a real inspiration for us. To see how people are engaged on this project motivates us in many ways.” 

While the deck will soon be connected, there is still a massive amount of work to be done before the bridge’s planned opening late next year. 

“All 11 buildings and structures at the Canadian port are underway,” said Grondin. “Things like utility installation inside of the buildings. Painting, carpet installation is going on. Thirteen structures at the U.S. port of entry. Similar work is going on over there. Concrete paving is taking place. The Michigan interchange is significantly progressing.” 

Construction began Oct. 5, 2018. The teams building the bridge celebrated the 2,000th day of construction on March 27.

“It’s been amazing,” Bello said Tuesday. “It’s a massive project. And it’s rare that you work on a project that’s in between two countries. So it’s been great working with people from all different backgrounds in a project that’s between two countries.” 

The opening date for the bridge was initially set for November 2024. But BNA and the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA), which oversees the project for the Canadian government, announced in January the long-awaited day was being pushed back by 10 months. 

They also revealed the cost of building the bridge had increased from $5.7 billion to $6.4 billion. Officials blamed COVID-19 for the delays and increased costs. 

The hope now is to finish construction in September 2025, with the first vehicles expected to cross that fall. 

With six traffic lanes, Henderson said the Gordie will “more than double” the border crossing capacity in Windsor-Detroit.  

“This is a wonderful transformative project,” he said. “Not just at the moment. It will be an iconic landmark for our community from now on.”