The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 11, 2012

Trades go back to work completing Gateway Project

By The Building Tradesman

DETROIT –About that Bridge to Nowhere: Nevermind.

Some concrete support piers and stub of a bridge that were intended to be the starting point of a span alongside the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario were being demolished by the building trades over the past few weeks. Meanwhile, the trades were similarly busy in the vicinity on the city’s southwest side, finishing a ramp (S-32) that will substantially complete the purpose of the $230 million Gateway Project.

The impetus for the renewed construction activity at the Gateway site is a March 8 ruling by Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentice Edwards, who directed Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Maroun to cede his company’s control of their portion of the project. Maroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. was ordered by the judge to put $16 million into a Michigan Department of Transportation account to complete work on the Gateway project in accordance with the original design. MDOT hired Dan’s Excavating to do the work.

“MDOT has mashed the pedal to the metal to get this portion of the project complete,” said MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi. “We’re confident that we will be able to meet our deadlines, with the goal of getting truck traffic from the Ambassador Bridge off of local streets and onto direct access to the freeways.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation sued Maroun in 2009 after the bridge owner sponsored construction that deviated from the original design, in the form of a bridge stub that he intended as a first phase of construction of a new span to Windsor next to the aging Ambassador Bridge. However, the infamous concrete Pier 19, which was adjacent to Fort Street and supported the bridge-stub, blocked a key two-lane truck route from the bridge intended to move the vehicles directly onto area freeways.

The entire Gateway Project began in 2007 and was intended to create an interchange to facilitate traffic flow among I-75, I-96 and cars and trucks entering and exiting the Ambassador Bridge. The project was substantially completed by 2010. But what was needed to finish the job – essentially removing the newly constructed bridge stub and Pier 19 and completing the S-32 ramp – has been tied up in the courts.            

Now, according to MDOT: “The first priority is to construct the two-lane truck route leading from the Detroit International Bridge Co. plaza to I-75 and I-96. This truck route will remove all inbound commercial traffic from the local streets and take it directly to the freeways. This two-lane truck route, a vital component in the Gateway project design originally agreed upon in 2004, is expected to be completed and open to traffic on May 20. Afterwards, the multi-lane roads within the plaza will be reconfigured, also to meet the original agreed upon design.”

About 10,000 trucks a day cross the Ambassador Bridge. The entire Gateway project is expected to be complete by October.

Completion of the Gateway Project will hardly end the ongoing saga involving the Ambassador Bridge or a new Detroit River crossing. Maroun, of course, wants to privately build and operate a new bridge next to the Ambassador. He has run television ads all over the state questioning why taxpayers should foot the cost for a new bridge.

Government authorities in the U.S. and Canada want to build a new bridge about a mile down river. The Canadian government wants to divert traffic away from downtown Windsor, and has offered to pick up the $500 million tab for Michigan’s cost of the bridge, which would be reimbursed over time through fare collection.

The primary argument for a government-owned bridge: the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada should not be in the hands of a private individual. And, Maroun’s plan of having two spans so close together heightens the chance of an incident or terrorist attack taking out both bridges. Late last month, Maroun announced that he would seek to gather more than 300,000 petition signatures to force the state to seek voter approval before building a new bridge.

On Oct. 19, 2011, the Michigan Senate Economic Development Committee voted 3-2 not to report a bill authorizing the bridge to the full Senate. That vote came even though Gov. Rick Snyder has made building a new bridge a top priority, and local, state and federal and Canadian approvals have all been granted. Snyder may do an end-around the state Legislature via some sort of executive action. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, as reported by MIRS news service, said April 30 that the new bridge “will happen. It's imperative for the state that it does, and it’s just a matter of time.”

PIER 19 – THE STUB OF billionaire Manuel Maroun’s hoped-for second bridge to Canada, is under demolition by the building trades. The white concrete bridge supports are in the way of a key two lane surface truck route that will keep much heavy traffic off of local roads.

THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE, next door to the Ambassador Bridge, gets demolished where it meets Fort Street in Detroit. Photos by Jim Lemay/MDOT Photo Lab