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Windsor, Ontario awaits crossing jobs boom

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by Vince Versace

Whether one or two new crossings are built over the Detroit River, the Windsor Construction Association says it is ready to answer the construction call.

Infrastructure

Whether one or two new crossings are built over the Detroit River, the Windsor Construction Association says it is ready to answer the construction call.

A recent study by the Detroit Regional Chamber concludes that a proposed second span of the Ambassador Bridge is no longer needed thanks to the slowdown in the North American automotive industry.

This project is separate from the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) initiative which aims build to a new international crossing between Windsor and Detroit, near the west-end of the Canadian border city.

“We would love to build two bridges — it is a great problem to have,” says Jim Lyons, WCA executive director.

Manuel Moroun owns the Ambassador Bridge which is operated by the Detroit International Bridge Inc. He has proposed a $1 billion second span next to the current Ambassador Bridge and has launched a legal battle to stop the DRIC project. The Ambassador Bridge requires repairs and the Michigan Department of Transportation has spent $230 million to expand its customs plaza.

The second span, if built, would be the primary traffic option with the older bridge only put in use to provide traffic overflow relief.

Lyons notes that to build a potential second span to the Ambassador Bridge would require careful planning regarding traffic access through Windsor. Traffic to the DRIC crossing, in contrast, will be serviced through the proposed Windsor-Essex Parkway, which aims to reduce truck and border traffic on city roads. The second Ambassador Bridge span appears to still rely mostly on current-access thoroughfares.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Ontario in July released a request for qualifications to pre-qualify and shortlist teams to design, build, finance and maintain the proposed Windsor-Essex Parkway.

The new parkway will connect Highway 401 to a new Canadian inspection plaza, the new international crossing over the Detroit River, a U.S. customs plaza and to Interstate 75 in Michigan. The parkway project is the single largest highway investment in Ontario’s history. It also includes community and environmental features, such as 300 acres of green space, 20 kilometres of recreational trails, extensive landscaping throughout the corridor and noise and environmental mitigation measures.

“This parkway is a $1.6 billion below-grade solution to the new bridge,” says Lyons. “We do not want trucks to be using local streets anymore — we want them to use the 400 series highway.”

Windsor’s construction community is not just looking to the border projects as potential activity drivers, says Lyons. Current federal Infrastructure Stimulus Fund initiatives have not yet delivered employment relief to unemployed construction workers, let alone creating new construction jobs.

“We have had a few contractors in here shaking their heads. Whereas the infrastructure funding is supposed to simulate the economy, we still do not have full employment here,” he explains. “It is timing of monies and contracts and some of the projects were not necessarily shovel-ready and realistically, some projects take time to engineer.”

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