A crowd of business and political representatives listens as the community benefits plan for the Gordie Howe International Bridge is laid out at the St. Clair Centre for the Arts in Windsor, June 14, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Howe Bridge project rolls out community benefits plan

It was four years in the making, and it was revealed in a big way on Friday.

Hundreds of people representing the business, political, and engineering communities from both sides of the international border gathered at the St. Clair Centre for the Arts in Windsor to hear the details of the long-awaited community benefits plan for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

The comprehensive package is the product of many public consultations and feedback from a wide variety of sources. It consists of two main parts, a Workforce Development and Participation Strategy, which covers 80 workforce initiatives focusing on job opportunities for Windsor and Detroit residents, as well as for Indigenous peoples and their businesses; and the Neighbourhood Infrastructure Strategy, which is a $20 million community investment to be split evenly between Windsor and Detroit.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said the latter component will be a big benefit to west side residents.

“Sandwich Towne will be the largest recipient of the benefits in this community benefits program,” said Dilkens. “They’ll start flowing out later this year until about 2025. So it’s very, very exciting. You’ll see a number of things happen that I think people will be very appreciative of.”

Among those planned benefits are a business development program for the Sandwich Towne area and the implication of an international walking and cycling tour highlighting the uniqueness of Sandwich Towne as well as Detroit’s Delray area. Walking and cycling trails connecting to the span are also included in the neighbourhood strategy.

Questions had been raised over funding for the bridge project on the Michigan side of the bridge, with one Republican legislator urging his colleagues to not fund the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) bridge plan, despite the fact that Canada is reimbursing Michigan for all its expenses. The Detroit News has since reported that the state’s transportation budget passed with the bridge funding left alone.

Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, representing Governor Gretchen Whitmer, said people have nothing to worry about and he is thrilled with the progress made already.

“It’s all been rectified,” said Gilchrist. “We’re committed to making sure that we’re partnering with anyone who’s interested in job creation and moving this project forward. It’s going to be a tremendous amount of jobs. This community benefits package that was put together is really extraordinary for people on both sides of the bridge.”

Local MPs Brian Masse and Cheryl Hardcastle were among the attendees, along with mayors and councillors representing municipalities across Windsor-Essex. A representative from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office also made a presentation.

The complete community benefits package is now available for public viewing on the official website for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority.