WINDSOR, ONT. -- After years of foundation and preparatory work on the Gordie Howe International Bridge, the most visible aspect of the project will soon jut from the ground in Windsor and Detroit.

“It was ‘build down’ before you ‘build up’,” says Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority spokesperson, Mark Butler, who points out foundation work on the Canadian side is completed and similar work on the U.S. side is just about done. “And now, we're going to be starting building the pylons.”

Those ‘pylons’ are the main tower structures that will anchor the road surface and cable-stays on the $5.7 billion bridge between Canada and the United States.

The towers will stand 220 metres tall, or approximately the height of the tallest tower of Detroit’s Renaissance Centre a few kilometres upriver. It will also mark the most labour intensive and visible aspect of the job to date, says Butler.

“It's going to take some time. It's a huge amount of concrete and a huge amount of girder work and it has to be done in stages,” says Butler. “You'll certainly see from both sides of the border the bridge towers starting to take place over the next couple of months.”

With that comes thousands of promised construction jobs, says Butler.

“Towards the middle of the year, end of the year, you're going to see a huge amount of activity on both sides of the border,” Butler says, adding it will be the busiest the site has been since ground was officially broken at the Canadian port of entry back in 2015.

COVID-19 caused some minor impacts on construction in 2020 due to what Butler calls “supply chain disruptions.” But he says the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and private-sector partner Bridging North America were quick off the mark when the pandemic started, instituting safety protocols that allowed much of the work to proceed on both ports of entry, the Michigan interchanges and the bridge itself.

“We maintained our progress, we maintained all the construction activities on all four components of the project,” says Butler.

It’s also a busy time of year for the host communities, where not-for-profit groups and organizations stand to collect up to $100,000 in grants during the next round of the Community Organization Investment Initiative.

That’s positive news for the Windsor Essex Community Benefits Coalition.

“At any point, seeing investment in the west end is fantastic,” says Brady Holek, the new coordinator of the grassroots group.

Last year, six local not-for-profits collected grants totalling $50,000, with three from the South-west Detroit area collecting the remainder of allocated funds.

“They've taken a lot of time out for all kinds of different grassroots initiatives and organizations and they've been really receptive to community input in general,” Holek says. “If you take a look at the community investment plan, it's phenomenal work.”

A virtual information session for the next round of applicants goes live on Jan. 13 at 10 a.m. – with an application deadline of noon Jan. 27, 2021.

Holek suggests applicants call the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority in advance to discuss their ideas. He also recommends applicants do research to make their applications as strong as possible.

“I'm really looking forward to what we can accomplish in 2021,” he says.

Butler says the bridge project, slated to open for use by the end of 2024, is on time, and on budget.