Canada's infrastructure minister, Mich. governor break ground on Gordie Howe International Bridge

Weeks after the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority named a preferred proponent to take on the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, officials on both sides of the Ontario-Michigan border break ground in the state.

Amarjeet Sohi would not comment on how U.S. tariffs could affect multi-billion dollar project

Canada's Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi, centre, is joined by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for the ground breaking of the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Delray, Mich. Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority)

Canadian Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will break ground today on a bridge project that has been hailed as a done deal by politicians.

In Delray, shovels will hit the dirt for the Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting the Michigan community with Windsor, Ont. 

"This is a very important crossing between Canada and the U.S. Billions of dollars worth of trades cross through this corridor," said Sohi.

"This is a major milestone in the life of the work we have done so far to move this project forward."

The federally funded, multibillion-dollar project has been doubted by many, in part because of several attempts by the competing Ambassador Bridge Company to have it killed.

The most recent attempt involved a TV commercial urging U.S. President Donald Trump to repeal an 2013 Obama-era Buy American waiver granted for the project. 

But Sohi said the president has been aware of this project for some time. 

"The first communication between Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau and President Trump mentioned this bridge to be a priority project for both countries, and we appreciate that and we're moving forward," Sohi told CBC's Windsor Morning.

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft attended the ceremony on behalf of the Trump administration, further hammering the message home that the bridge will be built.

"Our administration stands behind anything that promotes economic prosperity and security, and the Gordie Howe bridge certainly does this," she said.

This plan shows where the Gordie Howe International Bridge is slated to be built and where the privately owned Ambassador Bridge now stands. (CBC/Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority)

Sohi has also doubled down on the government's commitment to the project, citing the major property acquisition in Delray as a testament to how quickly Trudeau's Liberals have worked to get things off the ground. 

"Our government has shown strong commitment and have demonstrated that commitment," said Sohi.

At what cost to taxpayers

Earlier in July, the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) announced they had selected Bridging North America as the consortium group to oversee the design, build and financing of the project. That group had constructed another major infrastructure project — the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway — which will eventually link the end of Ontario's Highway 401 to the new bridge. 

The WDBA also unveiled the towering cable-stayed design, touting the structure as the longest bridge of its kind in North America.

The bridge will have a 125-year lifespan, hold six lanes and a pedestrian lane, and be 853 metres in length. 

Bridging North America, the consortium selected for the project released this image of the cable-stayed structure that will connect Canada and the U.S. (Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority)

But what is unknown is when the bridge will be completed or how much it will cost Canadian taxpayers. 

"We are negotiating a financial close and once that is done in September, at that time the actual construction cost will be known as well as how much time it will take to complete construction," said Sohi. 

Earlier estimations set the bill at $4.8 billion, with a completion date in 2022 that was set by the Harper government. However, Sohi previously stated that deadline was "was a very irresponsible approach." 

On Tuesday, Sohi said it was too soon to speculate.

"In my mind, it's premature to speculate on the cost and completion because we want to ensure the best deal possible," he said. 

Troubling tariffs

Sohi also reiterated the problematic tariffs issued by Trump, but said he hopes the issue will be "resolved shortly."

However, he was not certain what those tariffs could mean for the Gordie Howe bridge. 

"It's very disappointing that the U.S. has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum… both countries' economies are so integrated, it's going to have an impact on jobs and including the cost of infrastructure projects," he said. 

Sohi said the Canadian government is in a difficult position to retaliate on those tariffs like other countries have chosen to do, saying it's "not something that benefits either countries."​

The consortium group which is overseeing the Gordie Howe bridge, Bridging North America, has began preliminary construction in both the U.S. and Canada. (Jason Viau/CBC)

With files from the Canadian Press


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