Tim Horner was ready for a celebration. The Grand Rapids attorney at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP has spent more than a decade as the U.S. counsel for Canada and the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) as it has gone through the procurement process to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor. With work underway on the $4.4 billion (about $5.7 billion Canadian) international bridge crossing, Horner and other stakeholders now have something to celebrate. Horner spoke with MiBiz about what went into getting the project underway.
What would you say the recent groundbreaking ceremony represented?
(It) was a celebration of the closing of the procurement process. Under this project, which is a public-private partnership project, the WDBA — the Canadian bridge authority — is retaining a concessionary that will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the project on both sides of the border for 30 years. That project, the procurement, just concluded and was celebrated a couple of weeks ago. We are now in the process of kicking off construction on both sides of the border. Really, that represented the combination of all the work of all the stakeholders of the past decade-plus to get us to this point.
Having worked on a number of infrastructure projects, how would you say the international bridge project compares?
This is by far the largest. This is really one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America and it’s a very complicated project from a legal perspective because it’s an international project with U.S. law applying on the U.S. side and Canadian applying on the Canadian side.
What else has added complexity?
All the various components of the projects, which is not just the bridge across the river, but it’s also the United States port of entry, which includes all the customs and border facilities, the Canadian point of entry, which is the Canadian customs and border facilities, and the link-ups to the highways both in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a very large project with a lot of complications just due to the size of the project, but also due to the international aspect of it. It’s both U.S. and Canadian. Its binational, which adds all sorts of complications and interesting legal complications that the lawyers, like me, love to work on.
What were some of the complications that came up?
One of the most significant things was at the outset, needing to come to an agreement between Canada and Michigan on the construction of the bridge. That was in 2012, when the crossing agreement — which is a 100-year agreement — was signed between the state of Michigan and Canada and the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority to really govern this project the next 100 years. The project couldn’t really move forward until we had finalized that agreement.
Then there is the procurement process to hiring of the concessionary. That’s been a long process that’s been finalized, and now we’ve concluded that. We’re ready to move forward with the construction.
What does your role look like now that construction is underway?
We’ve accomplished an awful lot in all of these agreements and permitting and land acquisitions … but there’s still a tremendous amount to be done. There’s still U.S. land acquisition that needs to be finalized. We’re very close on that, and as the construction process moves forward, there will continue to be legal issues on both the Canadian side and the U.S. side. … We will be working on all of them. There’s still litigation that’s ongoing that we will be involved in and representing Canada and the WDBA in the ongoing litigation as well.
The litigation has been an interesting piece to this given all the challenges from the Moroun family, which owns the competing Ambassador Bridge. What’s been your reaction as that has played out?
Litigation has been legendary, but some of those cases have been on appeal and litigation does continue. The Gordie Howe project has prevailed on every legal challenge over a decade of litigation. We expect to continue to prevail as we proceed.
What do you see as the benefit to the West Michigan economy?
The statistic I’ve heard is that one in seven jobs in West Michigan is tied to trade. This will benefit a whole host of businesses and industries in West Michigan including auto, furniture, and agricultural industries.
Given the size and scope of this project, are there lessons to take away as policymakers continue to focus on novel ways to fix Michigan’s aging infrastructure?
I think the lesson learned here is that where there’s truly a need — and there is truly a need here — and we have parties that are truly focused on accomplishing a project, it can be done. It has taken a tremendous amount of work by multiple stakeholders on this project to get it to where it is today. It’s taken diligence, it’s taken work, and we’ve achieved it and we’re now moving forward with construction.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the price in Canadian dollars for the Gordie Howe International Bridge.