The $5.7-billion Gordie Howe International Bridge, a 1.5-mile cable-stayed span to connect Detroit and Windsor, Ont., with a far larger land border crossing than currently exists between the two cities, may be delayed in substantial completion beyond the end of 2024.
The design-build contractor, a consortium known as Bridging North America, has been plagued by slowdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic and unknown conditions in the Michigan Interchange part of the project on the U.S. side.
An August report by analyst S&P Global says a new estimated opening date in mid-August 2025 is being discussed, mainly due to problems with building the Michigan Interchange that will connect traffic from the bridge to Interstate 75.
The analyst stated that the consortium has said design was not completed when construction of the interchange began and the relocation of a power line that was previously relocated to the siphons area of the interchange is preventing the project from carrying out scheduled construction. With several large projects in the area such as the Hudson's redevelopment, team executives said skilled labor was as hard to come by as it is anywhere in June.
"The project faces growing delays, and MI is now on the critical path of achieving substantial completion," the report states. "Due to prolonged delays because of siphon works issues, MI is reporting a more than 600-day delay, eating up all the cushion the project had between the MI handover date and the SC (substantial completion) date. Therefore, the project's critical path shifted to MI (from U.S. port of entry previously) and the delay in MI has led to a seven-and-half-month delay to the SC date, compared with a 4-month delay in our last review in August 2021. The siphon works issues remain unresolved and will likely cause additional delays."
The overall project includes the bridge itself, both U.S. and Canadian ports of entry and the Michigan Interchange.
S&P Global downgraded the project's rating from A— to BBB+ as a result of this most recent update.
The Canadian government is paying the majority of the project cost. The Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority, which is the Canadian crown corporation created to act as owner of the bridge, has has balked at extending the project's schedule because of a lack of good, traffic-free options to handle freight is already regularly reaching critical stages on the existing Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
Both crossing options now have overhead structures that limit movement of tall trucks. The agency insists that the project is still on schedule and the contractor team—which includes Fluor, Dragados USA and AECON—has not yet formally requested the seven-and-one-half month extension that would bring the project's completion date to August 2025.
"As it relates to the project schedule¸ the contracted substantial completion date for the Gordie Howe International Bridge project has not changed. WDBA and Bridging North America continue to work toward opening the bridge to traffic by the end of 2024," an authority spokesperson said in a statement.
The project team has raised more than 40 supervening event notices and there are 11 formal disputes that have been referred to a standing committee for hearing, the S&P Global report stated. The contractors characterized the situation as merely discussions at this point.
"Bridging North America has a contractual obligation to complete the Gordie Howe International Bridge project by the end of 2024. With the COVID-19 pandemic and related safety precautions now at a steady state, we are actively assessing the potential impacts of the pandemic on the project schedule," said the consortium in a statement. The team "continues to have discussions with Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority on schedule and has not made a formal request to move the completion date of the project."
The majority of project claims remain outstanding but the report indicates the agency is willing to continue a dialogue, "which is positive," S&P Global said.