From left, Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Dwight Duncan, chair of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the Hon. Amarjeet Sohi, Canadian Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and Kelly Craft, U.S. Ambassador to Canada, shovel dirt during a ceremonial groundbreaking event for the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Detroit, Tuesday, July 17, 2018. The Canadian-financed span will connect Detroit with Windsor, Ontario. Currently, the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel are the only commuter crossings between the two cities.(Todd McInturf/Detroit News via AP)

Canada and U.S. break ground on Gordie Howe International Bridge

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Canadian and U.S. officials took up shovels on Tuesday to throw around some dirt for a good cause.

Canadian Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder participated in an event to mark the Michigan advance construction groundbreaking for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The groundbreaking ceremony, a glimmer of good news in the recently strained trade relations between the two North American neighbours, was also attended by several other dignitaries, including U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft, Detroit Police Chief James Craig and senior executives from Bridging North America, the Preferred Proponent selected to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The federally funded, multibillion-dollar project has faced fierce opposition from the owners of the competing Ambassador Bridge Company who have even taken TV ads imploring U.S. President Donald Trump to kill the project.

Busiest commercial land border crossing

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. (Courtesy of Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority)

The proposed 850-metre six-lane, cable-stayed international bridge will tie together existing highway networks in Windsor and Detroit, the busiest commercial land border crossing and an important trade and transportation route between Canada and the United States.

About 2.5 million trucks cross the Windsor-Detroit border each year. In 2017 this represented over $138 billion in bilateral trade ($106.5 billion US).

“Today’s milestone is an important step in the building of one of Canada’s top infrastructure priorities,” Sohi said in a statement.

“Along with the recent announcement of the Preferred Proponent, the reveal of the bridge design, and the advance construction that has been happening on the Canadian side, it is clear that progress is well underway towards full construction starting this Fall.”

The Gordie Howe International Bridge project includes the construction of the bridge itself, Canadian and U.S. ports of entry, including customs facilities and a tolling station on the Canadian side, a Michigan interchange connecting Interstate 75 to the U.S. port of entry.

Once constructed, Canada’s port of entry will be the largest Canadian port on the Canada-U.S. border and the American port of entry will be one of the largest in North America, officials said.

Immortalizing a Canadian hockey legend

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, left, and Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Murray Howe, right, Gordie Howe’s son, unveil a portrait of the hall of famer during a news conference, Thursday, May 14, 2015, in Windsor, Ontario, announcing that a planned bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, will be named after the hockey great. (Tanya Moutzalias/The Ann Arbor News via AP)

The bridge is named after Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, who spent most of his career playing with the Detroit Red Wings NHL team.

“This is an exciting day for Detroit, Windsor, Michigan, Ontario, the United States, and Canada,” Snyder said. “After more than seven years of hard work, today we broke ground on what will be a thriving legacy named for a legend. Gordie Howe represented the best of Canada and the United States.”

Advance construction activities include design work to progress with foundation construction of the main bridge, test piles, preparation work at Interstate 75, and geotechnical exploration.

It is not clear how much the construction of the bridge will cost Canadian taxpayers.

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