CBC Q&A:

Minister of Infrastructure won't commit to Gordie Howe bridge completion date

Federal Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi isn't willing to commit to a completion date for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

'The 2020 deadline for this project was a very irresponsible approach'

(WDBA)

Getting the Gordie Howe International Bridge constructed by 2020 was an "irresponsible" deadline set by the previous Harper government, according to federal Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi.

The minister maintained the federal Liberals still have an "unwavering commitment" to the project, despite delays since they took over in 2015. His comments come at a time when the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority finds itself without a president and CEO. Michael Cautillo is on a personal leave of absence and it is unknown when he will return.

Sohi spoke about Cautillo, the bridge and delays during an interview Thursday with CBC Windsor.

Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi, Wednesday January 13, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When will the Gordie Howe International Bridge be completed and in operation?

"September, 2018 is the timeline when the deal will be closed with one of the successful proponents. The construction will start immediately after that. But having said that there is a lot of work being done on the Canadian side as well as proceeding ahead with property acquisitions on the U.S. side.

I just want to stress that the 2020 deadline for this project was a very irresponsible approach given that we have not had any necessary properties in possession. It would have been too risky for taxpayers."

So, it could be 10 years before we see it in operation?

"I would not comment on that kind of assessment. What we feel is, that once the proponents who are bidding on this project, once they have done their due diligence and analysis, we would have a better understanding of the timelines."

How will you ensure this bridge is completed in a timely manner?

"We have a board of directors that understand the importance of this project. We have a very committed administration team at the WDBA [Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority], who are experts in this area. And we have my department who work very closely with the WDBA to ensure this project is proceeding in a responsible manner."

Officials from the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority held its first public meeting to discuss plans for the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Windsor on Thursday. The authority's interim chairman Dwight Duncan (left) and president Michael Cautillo address news media.

We know WDBA president & CEO Michael Cautillo has been off on leave since August 24, and still is to this day, so what's going on with Cautillo?

"Michael is on leave for personal reasons, but he still remains the CEO of the bridge authority."

When will he return?

"Well, he's off for personal reasons. I cannot go into those and that's the decision, because of personal circumstances, he had made, but he still remains CEO."

How will the WDBA operate efficiently and effectively without a president at the helm?

"We have a very dedicated team of both board members and the administration of the WDBA. I have every confidence that this bridge is in good hands. We are very confident that we have the right people in place to undertake this large project."

Is this causing further delays? "Absolutely not."

In January, 2016 the WDBA announced three teams were short-listed ahead of the RFP being issued. Originally the previous Conservative government said a successful bidder was to be chosen by January, 2017. However, the RFP submission date has been pushed back another four months at the request of the bidders.

Why is the government allowing these delays to continue?

"We want to make sure that we're proceeding in a responsible way. That we are using taxpayer dollars to get the best value for those taxpayer dollars. We want to make sure that once the RFP is closed, this project does not run into problems. We are doing all of the due diligence that is required for such a large and complicated project."

There should not be any uncertainty on this project at all.- Federal Minister of Infrastructure  Amarjeet   Sohi

Sohi reiterated his government was committed to the Howe bridge project.

"There should not be any uncertainty on this project at all. We are committed to this project. We will build this project. We need to make sure that we're putting structure in place and that we build this bridge in a timely fashion and in a responsible way. So rest assured that we will get this project built."