Thursday, June 20, 2024

A Brief History of the Gordie Howe International Bridge


With the installation of final edge girders on the Gordie Howe International Bridge on June 14, 2024, the long-awaited connection between the Canadian and United States sides of the Detroit River transpired.

This momentous occasion was the culmination of a nineteen year journey which began on June 15, 2005, when the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced that a new international bridge was being proposed by a bi-national partnership between the United States Federal Highway Commission and Canada’s Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Its mission was to address “border crossing needs in Southeastern Michigan and Southwestern Ontario.”

Highway traffic research on both sides of the border indicated that the present Ambassador Bridge, which went into service over ninety years ago in 1929, was inadequate to meet the region’s future needs. The new bridge project originally known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) would have six lanes with an additional twelve foot wide pedestrian and bike lane, rather than the four lanes of the current Ambassador Bridge.

The cable-stayed bridge would have a 138’ clearance from the river and a total length of 8,202’ (1.5 miles). At its highest point of 722’, the bridge would rival the height of Detroit’s Renaissance Center. Two-hundred, sixteen spun steel cables will support the roadway and bear the traffic weight loads. The bridge will be illuminated at night with high-powered LED lighting.

The bridge plazas will have 24 primary inspection lanes and 16 toll booths. The port of entry and border inspection facilities on the United States side will have dedicated exit lanes to connect with Interstate 75, while the Canadian port of entry’s border inspection facilities and toll collection booths will directly connect to Ontario Highway 401.

Artist's rendering of Gordie Howe Bridge lit up at night.

Arguments in favor of the DRIC bridge were:

·       It would improve global trade between the two countries.

·       It would create an estimated 10,000 constructions jobs and 3,350 permanent jobs.

·       It would ease the daily traffic jams and border delays on both sides of the Detroit River.

·       It would save fuel, reduce air pollution, and minimize time lost, especially on the Canadian side where semi-trucks could avoid the gauntlet of city traffic lights leading to the Ambassador Bridge.


Major opposition to the DRIC bridge proposal came from the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who made his fortune in the trucking industry and from collecting tolls on both ends of the bridge, including owning the Duty-Free shops.

The Ambassador Bridge is one of the few international, privately owned toll bridges in North America. While the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel downtown allowed passenger cars and buses through its crossing, the Ambassador Bridge became the only way commercial truck traffic could cross the Detroit River for almost 100 years, except for slow, obsolete ferry service. Matty Moroun purchased the Ambassador Bridge from the Joseph A. Bower family in 1979 and enjoyed its monopolistic status for over thirty years. Now, the DRIC threatened it.

Ambassador Bridge art deco plaque installed midspan.

Moroun used every legal delay his lawyers could devise and argued in the courts that his bridge had “exclusivity rights” granted to him by the previous owners. The courts summarily shut down that argument. In desperation, Moroun offered to build a six-lane twin span and use the old Ambassador Bridge for foot traffic and special events saying that his proposed project would be less expensive to build. The Canadians argued successfully that Mouron’s project would not solve the underlying traffic problems in the Windsor metropolitan area.

Moroun switched from the court battles to the political arena after losing a lawsuit brought by the MDOT in 2009 for his failure to construct new ramps to connect the Ambassador Bridge directly to Interstate 75 in violation of a previously negotiated contact. Michigan Republicans began voicing their support for Mouron and opposition to the DRIC bridge project.

Manuel "Matty" Moroun

In 2010, Moroun’s opposition to the new bridge prompted the Canadian government to offer to pay Michigan’s portion for the new span in exchange for collecting all tolls from the bridge for the next fifty years to reimburse Canada. Michigan Senator Alan Cropsey, Republican from DeWitt County, remained opposed to the Canadian offer. “The new bridge is unnecessary, and it would put an American businessman (Moroun) out of business. Is this some kind of foreign aid?”

Dan Stampler, president of Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Company, warned that jobs created for the DRIC would go to Canadians casting doubt on Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm’s loyalty as a Canadian born United States citizen for supporting the Canadian funding proposal. “She has offered to sell the Michigan border to Canada,” Stampler said.

Governor Granholm quickly refuted the broadside charge as “Totally absurd! When it comes to jobs and expansion on both sides of the border, this is the only game in town.” The political battle raged on.

In 2011, the Michigan Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed the state to accept a $550 million cash advance to fund the United States portion of the bridge construction. United States special interest politics interfered with the bill’s passage. The new Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder threw his support behind the DRIC bridge bill in his State of the State address telling his party that economic growth was his top priority. “It is time to solve problems,” he said.

In a last-ditch effort to enforce his will, Moroun promoted a proposal for an amendment to the Michigan Constitution requiring approval for the new bridge construction by not only Detroit voters, but also Michigan voters at large in statewide elections. The ballot proposal was defeated by a wide 60% to 40% margin. Mouron’s aggressive lobbying and litigating had worn thin with Michigan voters paving the way for the project to proceed.


On May 14, 2015 in a ceremony along the Detroit River on the Canadian side, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Gordie Howe’s son Murray Howe jointly announced that the publicly owned DRIC bridge would be renamed the Gordie Howe International Bridge, after a native Canadian who played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings leading them to four Stanley Cup victories. Because of his prowess on the ice, Howe earned the nickname “Mr. Hockey.” In his remarks at the naming ceremony, Prime Minister Harper said, “Gordie Howe was a proud Canadian who built extraordinary goodwill between the two countries.”

On October 26, 2014, Howe had a stroke while at his daughter’s home. At the time of the naming ceremony announcement, Gordie Howe suffered from dementia and could not attend. His son told him about the honor bestowed upon him. Howe said, “That sounds pretty good to me.” Thirteen months later on June 19, 2016, he died at his son’s home in Sylvania, Ohio of undisclosed causes at the age of eighty-eight, two years before groundbreaking on the bridge began.

Howe’s casket was brought to the Joe Louis Arena for public visitation. The following day, his funeral was held at Detroit’s Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Acting as pallbearers were hockey great Wayne Gretsky, winningest NHL coach Scotty Bowman, and Detroit Tiger legend Al Kaline. Howe’s remains were returned to Canada and interred in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Mr. Hockey--Gordie Howe


Construction officially began on the Gordie Howe International Bridge in 2018, but the completion and opening have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The long-awaited bridge opening is now scheduled for the fall of 2025 once the bridge plazas, signage, and traffic lights are installed. People on both sides of the Detroit River look forward with anticipation to the ribbon cutting ceremony marking the end of a twenty year odyssey.

Ambassador Bridge Opening Day Ceremony 


  1. Not only is this bridge a fabulous idea but it is named in honor of a fabulous human being not to mention and amazing hockey player

  2. Both countries did well to make this happen for CANADA πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ & USA πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ