International Bridge Faces Financial Challenges

Staff | September 28, 2010

The Joint International Bridge Authority (JIBA) board of directors received a very good report on the structural condition of the concrete bridge deck of the International Bridge that connects Michigan's Upper Peninsula with Canada at its August 20 meeting held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The consulting firm of Hardesty and Hanover presented the findings of a detailed inspection and structural evaluation of the bridge deck. It was anticipated that the 45-year-old deck would have to be totally removed and replaced within the next 10 to 15 years at an estimated cost of $80 million. However, the study found the deck to be in exceptionally good condition for its age.

The report recommends that the asphalt overlay portion on the Canadian arch span should be replaced with a concrete overlay in 2009, costing approximately $2 million. It also recommends a concrete deck overlay of the entire bridge in 2023, costing approximately $24 million. The report suggests the deck replacement could be delayed until the mid 2040s.

"The bridge deck is in excellent condition due to the diligent preventive maintenance program in place at the International Bridge Administration (IBA)," said Phil Becker, IBA general manager. "Our IBA maintenance staff is to be commended for the great job they do to get the full service life out of the bridge deck."

Becker cautions, however, that despite good news, there remain significant financial challenges associated with the consultant recommendations for the deck overlays, when they are considered with other expected major bridge projects. Other major capital projects in the next 15 years include:

  • 2011 — An $11.7-million toll plaza redevelopment project to reduce traffic congestion between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) border station and the toll booths
  • 2014 — A $4.7-million repainting of the Canadian arch span
  • 2018 — A $9-million repainting of the U.S. arch spans
  • 2023 — An $11.5-million repainting of the north approach spans and center girder spans

"When we consider all of the combined costs for scheduled projects to keep the aging bridge and support facilities structurally sound and safe, we are looking at expending over $60 million in the next 15 years," Becker said. "Given that nearly $4.5 million of the $6-million annual toll revenue goes into the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the bridge, we have little opportunity to put funds in reserve to meet these future needs."

Becker also noted that the $60-million capital project program does not take into account the $40-million cost to replace the Canada Border Services Agency plaza, for which federal funding is being pursued.

The IBA is totally self-funded, based primarily on toll revenue, and receives no operational funds support from state, provincial or federal government sources. Bridge traffic has dropped from 3.6 million annual crossings in 1994 to about 1.9 million crossings in 2007.