Ambassador Bridge officials say they have 'final permit' to build new span

The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit says it will replace the existing bridge now that the Canadian government has approved what it calls the "final permit."

Canadian, Michigan governments say some conditions must still be met

The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge is planning to build a new span after receiving what it calls a final permit from the Canadian government, but officials on both sides of the border say some conditions must still be met. (Detroit International Bridge Company)

The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit says it will replace the existing span now that the Canadian government has approved what bridge officials are calling the "final permit."

But officials on both sides of the border say there are several conditions associated with the approval.

A Canadian document says the company must commence construction of the new span within five years and then "demolish" the existing bridge no more than five years after the new bridge opens to traffic. It must also demolish dozens of boarded-up homes it owns in the shadow of the existing bridge, purchase the ones it doesn't, and then develop and maintain the area as public parkland. 

"We all know there are those who never thought our permit would be approved," said Matthew Moroun of the Detroit International Bridge Co. in a release issued Wednesday afternoon. "Hopefully, now we can all come together and take pride in watching a new bridge rise across the shared border between our great nations."

An order-in-council dated Aug. 31 and posted on the Privy Council Office website approves the "construction and operation of a new six-lane international bridge immediately west of the Ambassador Bridge and the alteration of the Canadian border services facilities of the Ambassador Bridge."

Built with private money

Bridge company president Dan Stamper, reached Wednesday in Warren, Mich., said the $1-billion span will be built with private money and create thousands of jobs. 

"I think our relationship with Canada is better today than it has been for a long time and that's one of the reasons we got our permit today," said Stamper.

"We hope it's a new page for relationships with a lot of folks and takes off the table the question of whether we would ever be able to build a new bridge. Now we know it's possible and we plan on doing it. We hope we can make a lot of friends along the way and create thousands of jobs."

The company that owns the bridge says it will twin the existing span. (Derek Spalding/CBC)

Background documents supporting the approval indicate the existing bridge will be closed to traffic and eventually demolished after the new span is built. 

"It's not something we want to fight about today or even tomorrow," said Stamper. "Canada is apparently asking for five years after the new bridge is open, so our concentration is on a new bridge."

Gordie Howe Bridge not affected

 CanadianTransport Minister Marc Garneau said, "The construction of the replacement Ambassador Bridge together with the Gordie Howe International Bridge project will ensure that Canadians continue to benefit from the efficient movement of people and goods at this crossing while providing infrastructure improvements for the local community."

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said the announcement addresses the "physical limitations of the 87-year-old Ambassador Bridge," but noted the company can't begin construction until further government approvals are secured in the U.S. and Canadian conditions are met.

Government officials on both sides of the border say the new span won't affect the Gordie Howe Bridge project. (CBC)

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority is responsible for building the rival Gordie Howe Bridge farther west along the Detroit River. Officials insisted Wednesday that plans for that $4.8 billion bridge were still on track, despite a recent extension being granted to potential bidders on the project.

WDBA spokesperson Heather Grondin insisted the Gordie Howe project was "separate and distinct" from the new Ambassador Bridge plan and "addresses future needs" in the busiest trade corridor between Canada and the U.S.

Ambassador Bridge officials have long waged a campaign, primarily in the courts on both sides of the border, advancing their twin-span concept and arguing against the need for the Gordie Howe Bridge.

City of Windsor officials, meanwhile, have fought against a twin span because the Ambassador Bridge is located in the heart of Windsor's west side and beside the University of Windsor. 

There have been many roadblocks to construction of the Gordie Howe bridge. We spoke with Dwight Duncan, who is leading the Gordie Howe Bridge project. 11:22

The provincial government has already constructed a $1.6 billion road called the Herb Gray Parkway designed to ferry truck traffic around the city to the new Gordie Howe Bridge crossing, but that road could also ferry vehicles to the Ambassador Bridge location, sparing some but not all of the city from excessive truck traffic.

The replacement to the Ambassador Bridge will be six lanes — three in each direction — and feature an additional 12 commercial inspection booths, said the company in a release.

"It's rather shocking that we would receive the heads-up from an American billionaire about the fate of our city and construction of a new border crossing that has been rather controversial," said Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse shortly after the news broke Wednesday afternoon.