It was a dramatic scene when, under balloon lights, the final section of the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan was lifted into place on June 14.

Ironworkers and technicians from both the Canadian and American sides worked into the early hours, with their countries’ flags hanging from the hoisting cables, to install the final component that officially created the third international border crossing between the two cities, after the Ambassador Bridge and the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, both of which are nearly 100 years old.

Weather conditions were monitored and installation of the mid-span closure was postponed until night time when temperatures were cooler, thus reducing the risk of steel expansion.

“In the end, our planning and measurements worked. The edge beams fit perfectly into place,” said Jaime Castro-Maier, Canadian engineer with the Bridging North America consortium.

This followed the installation a few days earlier of six temporary bracing pieces (closing beams, wind struts and transverse struts) to keep the deck aligned. Construction of the bridge began in December 2022 and consisted of 54 segments, 27 of which were built from towers on both the American and Canadian sides.

CanAm Group of Quebec manufactured the custom components for the final segment: two edge beams, nine redundancy beams, two floor beams, 12 prefabricated panels and 12 soffit panels. Unlike the other segments, the closure did not require stay cables.

This photo shows the opening in the middle of the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, which was filled by the mid-span barrier.
THE GORDIE HOWE INTL. BRIDGE PROJECT — This photo shows the opening in the middle of the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich., which was filled by the mid-span barrier.

The $5.7 billion bridge has 216 cables and is the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, with a main span between towers of 2,813 feet (853 m).

After the temporary center span segment bracing remeasured the approximately 36-foot opening to ensure an exact fit, two edge girders were installed, the first bolted to the American side. Crews used locking devices and temporary jacks to ensure continued alignment.

They then bolted the girder to the Canadian side. And the sequence was repeated for the second edge girder.

After this, the temporary closing beams and bargeboards were removed and the remaining center span components were installed and bolted into place.

Subsequently, a global inspection of the entire structure was carried out, the guy cables were re-tensioned if necessary and the prefabricated panels were stitched together.

The remaining temporary crutches were removed.

Following installation, a topping out ceremony was held with an evergreen tree. Crews from Ironworkers Locals 700 (Windsor) and 25 (Detroit) signed the girder.

An iconic handshake between Canadian and American metalworkers symbolically completed the connection.

Workers draw a girder as the Gordie Howe main span is completed.
THE GORDIE HOWE INTL. BRIDGE PROJECT — Workers draw a girder as the Gordie Howe main span is completed.

One of those workers, Jason Huggett, a second-generation ironworker from Ontario, said, “It was about time we shook hands after almost two years of seeing each other from a distance. It was really something special. That handshake means a lot to my family, my two sons and my father, who helped build the double-span Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia.”

His colleague, Casey Whitson from Michigan, added: “We saw each other, but we were far apart all those months, on opposite sides of the river, working.

“To actually meet each other, shake hands and say hello is really cool. It’s the biggest moment of my career and I share something with my dad, who helped build the Renaissance Center in Detroit.”

Jason Roe, Local 700 Business Manager, said, “I am so proud of every member who helped build this iconic structure and ensured everyone was able to return home safe and sound to their families that evening.”

During the 18-month construction period, the bridge was built 150 feet (46 m) high and over the Detroit River, allowing cargo ships to pass under the bridge on the busy commercial waterway of the Great Lakes.

But the bridge project is far from complete before it opens in the fall of 2025.

Work crews will need to re-tension cables and install electrical, fire-fighting and drainage systems, as well as barriers, signage, lighting, paving, road markings and a multi-use path that will also accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.