By Julia Fields

The new international bridge linking Windsor and Detroit is expected to produce game-changing future business opportunities for Port of Windsor, which will play a critical role in its construction.

The Canadian-funded bridge, which was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in June, and its connecting road interchanges and buildings will not only require millions of tons of construction materials that can be delivered by ship but economists believe it will help put the region on the map for new manufacturing and logistics investment.

David Cree, President and CEO of Windsor Port Authority, said:  “We’re very pleased that the federal government and the State of Michigan have reached an agreement on how to proceed with a new bridge.  We think it will bring terrific benefits to the City of Windsor and the port.”

Work has already begun on the Windsor Essex Parkway that will connect Highway 401 to the new bridge, and that infrastructure alone will require as much as 2.5 million tons of stone, the vast majority of which will arrive by ship through the port of Windsor.

Port of Windsor is home to major construction-related companies such as CBM-St. Mary’s Cement, Miller Paving, Essroc Italcementi, Lafarge Canada Inc, Southwestern Sales Corp Ltd and Coco Aggregates.

A similar road connection will be required on the U.S. side of the new bridge, along with a new 100-acre staging area for trucks, customs buildings and toll booths on the Canadian side. Although estimates have not yet been calculated on the total tonnage of steel, cement and stone required for the four-year bridge construction project, Cree expects that it will also provide a big short-term boost to shipping through the port.

More significantly, however, will be the long-term future business opportunities that will come from Windsor having a more efficient cross-border route that serves one of the most populous regions of North America. The Windsor-Detroit region, due to its location West of Chicago and East of Toronto, is within close proximity to a significant portion of the North American population. The existing Ambassador Bridge is already the busiest international border crossing between Canada and the U.S in terms of trade volume.

Major corporations such as Chrysler Group and Ford Motor Company have said that having an additional second bridge to cut down on congestion and improve the efficiency of their supply chain will be crucial to their future international competiveness and new investment in the region.

Bill Anderson, Director of the Cross-Border Transportation Studies Institute at the University of Windsor, said: “The idea of building this crossing is to improve the economy by making it more productive and that in itself will create more investment and job opportunities.  An efficient border crossing will make this region more attractive to manufacturing investment and also those companies involved in logistics and warehousing.”

Cree believes that the port will be an ideal location for companies that are looking for quick access to the bridge along with water transportation to bring in materials. “The Port has a 30-acre parcel of land which is adjacent to the new Canadian truck plaza.  Now that the bridge announcement has been made, we believe our property will be highly desirable for a manufacturing or logistics operation. “

Windsor Port Authority is also working with CP and Borealis Infrastructure to build a proposed double-stacked rail tunnel between Windsor and Detroit. The $400-million project is currently seeking financing from government sources. Known as the Continental Rail Gateway, the new rail tunnel would replace the existing tube constructed in 1909. Despite its age, the current Windsor-Detroit rail tunnel handles 400,000 railcars and $22 billion in trade each year. But it is too small to handle the growing trend toward larger, double-stack rail cars – many coming from the port of Montreal.

Cree says that the new international bridge crossing, together with the proposed rail tunnel and the port, would provide super-efficient multimodal access between Canada and the U.S. that would be unrivalled in this part of North America.

“The Windsor-Detroit region has the potential to become a multimodal transportation hub for Continental North America — a region that is both a manufacturing engine and a huge consumer marketplace for Canadian, American and international businesses.  Port of Windsor will play a crucial role in that future supply chain.”