'Dropping the ball': Former minister doubts Liberal's commitment to Gordie Howe Bridge
Officials move to acquire land in Delray but Moroun properties have yet to be acquired
Surrounded by piles of rubble, abandoned homes and an empty playground, Delray native Beverly Wylie is one of the last remaining residents in the way of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge.
- Crosstown Tour: CBC Windsor Live in Sandwich
- American permit calls for protection, not demolition of Ambassador Bridge
She's lived in her quaint Holly Street home for 60 years but she's moving out at the end of the month as officials purchase the last remaining parcels of land required for a new bridge — a span some fear may never be built.
"I thought I'd be here until the end," Wylie said Tuesday. "I'm probably going to cry when I move out of here because it's going to be hard."
Her once-vibrant neighbourhood rich with memories has been transformed into a desolate area with more rodents than humans. As she packs her possessions into cardboard boxes, Wylie, 71, thinks back to the precious moments she spent with her late-husband and three daughters.
"I think about my daughters sitting on the porch, my grandkids sitting on the porch," she said.
The Michigan Department of Transportation is in control of 85 per cent of the necessary properties on the U.S. side to build the new bridge. So far, they've spent about $50 million scooping up 540 of the 636 properties. Most of the residential homes have been purchased. The bulk of what's left is commercial or industrial land.
At least 20 required properties are owned by the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, which has long opposed the Howe span and which has so far refused to sell its holdings in Delray.
"You don't have to have all of the property -- ideally you want to have all of the properties by the time construction begins," said Mohammed Alghurabi, senior project manager. "But you also can begin construction ...while you're pursuing the remainder of these properties."
Alghurabi said all of the "main" properties for the project are in MDOT's possession. However, U.S. officials are also busy trying to purchase 96 pieces of land, some considered condemnation cases -- a court process that ensures both parties agree on a cost for the property.
"Possession is certain and it will be in our hands," Alghurabi said. "We're confident in time for construction to commence that we will be ready to proceed."
Not everyone is so optimistic. Former Conservative Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt, who spearheaded the project at the beginning, has lost confidence altogether. She doesn't believe the Howe bridge will ever get built under the Liberals, who recently gave the Ambassador Bridge approval to build a second span.
"It's not by accident that they're dropping the ball," said Raitt, referencing recent delays. "They clearly don't have dedication to getting this project done."
Raitt believes the Liberal government has other plans for the $4-billion earmarked by her government for the Howe bridge. Raitt said the Grits "would love to have that money to apply it against projects that they deem are more worthy of federal dollars."
Adding to the uncertainty, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority's president and CEO has been on personal leave since August 24 with no expected date of return. Raitt said that's another red flag.
"It's easy to slow these projects down. In fact, you don't have to do much of anything to slow them down," said Raitt. "The harder part is actually keeping the action going and that's what my job was to do. You have to be on it every single day and, if you're not, then you're going to have slipping timelines."
During an interview with CBC Windsor last week, Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi said the original 2020 deadline set out by the Harper government was "irresponsible." The minister also maintained the federal Liberals still have an "unwavering commitment" to the project, despite delays since they took over in 2015.
Raitt believes the 2020 completition date was achievable. She said it was agreed upon by her government, the bridge authority's board of directors and the Michigan governor's office.
"This was not taken lightly at all," said Raitt. "This was a real date and if it wasn't a real date, I wouldn't have had the Prime Minister say it."
The Liberal government isn't willing to commit to a new deadline for the project. However, officials maintain a contract to build the bridge will be awarded by September 2018 and construction "will start immediately after that."