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The Ambassador Bridge has received federal cabinet approval to build a new six-lane span. It is the last major permit it needs to start construction, though there are a long list of conditions.
Conditions of approval
These are some of the conditions the Ambassador Bridge must meet as part of the approval it received from the Canadian government to build a new span:
— Tear down the current bridge within five years of the replacement span opening to traffic.
— Acquire a stretch of Huron Church Road between College Avenue and Wyandotte Street. A new local road providing the same north-south traffic access must be constructed nearby.
— Build a new new west-end fire hall somewhere in the area bordered by Prince Road, Peter Street, Brock Street and Felix Avenue to replace the one on College Avenue.
— Complete construction of the twin span within five years, plus complete a new Canada Customs facility that meets all security standards before the new span will be allowed to open.
— Demolish all Indian Road and other nearby buildings within the new span’s corridor and maintain as parkland an area between Wyandotte Street and Riverside Drive.
The detailed list of conditions is on Transport Canada’s website.
The Ambassador Bridge has received federal cabinet approval in Canada to build a new span between Windsor and Detroit, it announced Wednesday.
The approval is the final major hurdle Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun needed to clear to construct a new six-lane span to replace the existing one and compete with a yet-to-be-built publicly owned bridge.
The go-ahead comes with a long list of conditions, which include acquiring certain properties in the area and demolishing the existing bridge within five years of the replacement span opening to traffic.
For years, the Ambassador Bridge has been planning and purchasing property on the city’s west end for a new six-lane Detroit River crossing just metres to the west of the existing 87-year old span.
All major permits for the project were issued in recent years, except for an order-in-council — approval from the federal cabinet.
That permission was granted unceremoniously in Ottawa on Wednesday, according to the bridge company.
“The Ambassador Bridge will now build North America’s longest cable-stayed bridge next to the original span of the privately funded Ambassador Bridge which was the longest suspension bridge when it opened in 1929,” said Matthew Moroun, a bridge company executive and Matty’s son.
“We especially thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada for issuance of the final permit supporting our company to make this major investment in international infrastructure.
“There have been many challenges our company has faced over the years in pursuit of this moment. We are now tasked with the duty to construct a privately funded bridge with the hard work of thousands of engineers, steel workers, construction experts that will be employed to deliver this once in a lifetime project.”
Moroun noted that there “are those who never thought our permit would be approved” and added: “Hopefully now we can all come together and take pride in watching a new bridge rise across the shared border between our great nations.”
The second span is controversial in Windsor because of its proximity to thousands of residents on the city’s west side.
In the 1990s, the bridge company started buying and boarding up homes on nearby residential streets — primarily Indian Road. It now owns more than 120 properties, most of which are dilapidated.
The City of Windsor ordered the Morouns to repair the homes. They have fought the issue all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court.
Mayor Drew Dilkens said he was given a heads-up in recent days by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau that cabinet would approve construction of a new Ambassador Bridge to replace the existing one.
“They have done that, now the devil is in the details,” Dilkens said. “Until we know the conditions and what’s included in the permit, we are not in a position to respond.”
Litigation over the fate of the bridge’s boarded-up homes continues, he said.
“We need to know what’s in the permit before we know whether that lawsuit should even continue,” he said.
Given that federal permission has been granted for the twin span, it would be impossible for the city to halt the process, the mayor said.
“But we own the roads and there is infrastructure underneath, so there will need to be easements and transactions that will have to occur,” Dilkens said. “But the last large hurdle for them to overcome was this permit and they have done that.”
Both the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency previously signed off on all necessary environmental approvals for the crossing.
The Morouns say the proposed cable-stayed bridge will cost them US$1 billion to build.
Bridge watchdog and Sandwich Street bake shop owner Mary Ann Cuderman called the federal government’s approval of the new span “devastating news” for her community, which sits in the shadows of the bridge.
“This is just awful,” she said. “To have this happen to Sandwich is just unconscionable This area has fought for so long. You might as well just cut off this community and let us float down the river to see if we can find a better spot to be.”
Cuderman is worried hazardous goods, banned on the current bridge, will be allowed on the new span.
“It’s going to get worse and we will have no say,” she said.
MP Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor West) said the details of the federal permit need to be made public so those who live close to the crossing and border truck corridor on Huron Church Road know what to expect.
“If it’s just a blanket permit there are a number of serious questions about the environment and economy,” he said. “We need those specifics because the impacts could be significant. The relationship to the neighbourhood is of immediate concern.”
The Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce embraced the announcement, saying it wants as much new infrastructure as possible at the Windsor-Detroit border — North America’s busiest trade crossing.
“From the business community’s perspective it’s welcome news to get certainty on at least one of the two (bridge) projects moving forward,” said Matt Marchand, the chamber’s CEO.
“I am not really surprised. This project has been on the books for a number of years and approval was going to come sooner or later. We not only need both bridges, but the rail tunnel, as well. We need everything updated and completed, so this is a step in the right direction.”
Late last month, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority announced the selection of a contractor to build the new publicly owned crossing — to be called the Gordie Howe International Bridge — has been delayed. It wants to have a contractor picked by late 2018.
Several more months in 2019 will be needed for a fairness monitor to verify the process was carried out properly. Then the bridge authority has to negotiate a final contract with the winning bidder and workers will have to be hired before construction can start.
That pushes the anticipated completion date back to early 2023, as it is estimated construction will take at least 42 months.
The three consortiums bidding on the project have pulled staff from the Windsor area until they receive more definitive information from bridge authority.
The Howe bridge project is “separate and distinct from the plans by the Ambassador Bridge,” said Heather Grondin, vice-president for the bridge authority.
The bridge authority and federal government remain committed to the project, she said.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who supports construction of the Howe bridge, said Canadian approval for a new Ambassador Bridge span “reflects the reality” the Windsor-Detroit border crossing is the busiest commercial corridor between Canada and U.S.
“It also addresses the physical limitations of the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge by calling for a replacement span, rather than the construction of a ‘twin’ span,” he said. “However, construction on a replacement span would not begin unless and until further governmental approvals in the U.S. are obtained and several conditions established by Canada are met.”
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