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Detroit pier demolition begins after court rules

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Work got underway almost immediately after a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling upheld the right of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to complete the so-called $230 million Gateway Project for vehicles entering and exiting the United States at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit. Crews from Detroit-based Dan’s Excavating were on site the next day for 24 hours.

WINDSOR, ONT.

Work got underway almost immediately after a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling upheld the right of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to complete the so-called $230 million Gateway Project for vehicles entering and exiting the United States at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit.

The court on April 13, upheld a lower court March ruling, and crews from Detroit-based Dan’s Excavating were on site the next day for 24 hours, staging equipment to begin the most controversial part of the work — demolishing a pier of a newly-built four-lane ramp.

The ramp had been built by the Ambassador Bridge to lead to a proposed new bridge to replace its current span opened in 1929. The company built ramps on both the Detroit and Windsor sides but they end abruptly. The company is still awaiting regulatory approval to construct the six-lane cable stayed bridge to which the ramps would connect.

But MDOT lawyers had argued that Pier 19 — the last pier holding up the ramp on the Detroit side — was constructed directly over a planned truck route that is part of Gateway, a mostly completed decade-long project that has reconfigured the Detroit side of the Ambassador Bridge to create more efficient links to freeways.

A few days after the ruling, crews were “about a third of the way done” with removing the beams between Piers 19 and 18, MDOT project manager Tia Klein said. A concrete pecker was used to demolish the deck and beams. The four, 60-foot pier columns and cap were then to be removed by crane.

Dan’s Excavating beat out Walter Toebe Construction, also of Detroit, for the job. Toebe had obtained the contract from the bridge company in a separate project to re-deck the bridge over the past year.

The court ordered owners of the privately-operated Ambassador Bridge to deposit $16 million in an account to pay for the work, with $9.4 million going to the design-build contractor and the rest for engineering, inspection and other fees.

Demolishing the pier is the first priority for MDOT because it desperately wants to open the long-delayed two-lane truck road by May 15 and improve the flow of commerce between the two countries. Currently trucks from Canada clearing U.S. Customs have to drive a convoluted route through city streets before they can enter freeways.

The demolished pier will allow trucks to seamlessly leave the Customs plaza and travel a third of a mile along bridge company property to a mostly finished ramp leading to Interstates 75 and 96. The road will be separated from passenger vehicles by concrete barriers.

Meanwhile work continues on the connecting truck ramp to fill in a 500-foot gap between two finished sections. One part is open air and the other merely piers and beams without decking for what’s known as Structure 32. Work on S-32 didn’t begin until the bridge company turned over to MDOT land upon which the structure is being built. This occurred after separate litigation in the years-long legal battles between the company and MDOT over completing Gateway. The company maintained it was living up to its share of construction work and blamed MDOT for making last-minute changes, delaying the project. The Michigan courts disagreed.

Klein said pier demolition should only take a week.

But completing the final few aspects of Gateway will take longer.

This includes a ramp leading from I-75 and I-96 to the Ambassador Bridge — and to Canada — for both cars and trucks. Currently drivers have to use service roads and city streets to enter the bridge.

“We’ll have everything inside the plaza completed and reopened to traffic by Sept. 30,” she said.

by Ron Stang

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