How Gordie Howe Bridge Project Will Negatively Impact The Southwest Detroit Community

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The globalization of market goods and travel by industrialized nations has led to one of the largest public health issues that Wayne County has ever seen. Southwest Detroit, for years, has acted as a “Freight Gateway” to the majority of trade between Canada and the United States. Allowing over 8,000 trucks per day and over 151 billion dollars (Pianin 1) of cargo to be transported through its communities, residential areas, and neighborhoods to eventually make its way to the American consumer. To help with the influx of transportation the State of Michigan and Canada decided to build the new Gordie Howe Bridge for commercial and residential use. However, in the past several decades, Southwest Detroit has been used simply as a stop along the way for freight transportation, allowing them to release air and noise pollution in residential areas.

All these factors and more have led Southwest Detroit to be named the most polluted zip code in the State of Michigan (Kubota 1) and lead to the creation of organizations like SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition to help combat these issues. The New Gordie Howe Bridge promises to help boost trade and job opportunities for citizens of Southwest Detroit through further residential and freight transportation entry. However, the SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition believes the new Gordie Howe Bridge will only add to Southwest Detroit’s pollution issue in an already struggling area.

The Gordie Howe International Bridge was a highly controversial deal made between the State of Michigan and Canada to help boost trade and increase the number of shipping lanes available for goods to travel upon (Gordie Howe International Bridge 1). This need to further boost trade has forced the environmental needs of Southwest Detroit’s 84,000 residents (CAPHE PHAP-RM 1) to be forgotten. The SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition began its campaign in 2008 against the bridge construction and was created to assure the community that they would not be forgotten through the bridge’s construction (Mondry 1).

Southwest Detroit itself is a community that has a diverse background and rich cultural history. However, the community already sees more traffic than any other part of the city (Searcy 2), and the suburb itself is nowhere near large enough to support both residents and commercial trade. The residents themselves are mostly lower-class Americans, many of whom are immigrants and blue-collar workers (Southwest Detroit Neighborhoods Profile 1). In fact, the suburb is home to a mostly Hispanic community making up about 57% of the area’s population, while whites only make up 17% of the overall population (Southwest Detroit Neighborhoods Profile 1). Along with the ethnicities that make up this area, they are also extremely uneducated, having almost half of all adults in the suburbs not receiving a high school diploma (Southwest Detroit Neighborhoods Profile 1). This mixture of lower-class background, large ethnic base, and low educational attainment has made it easy for companies and freight transportation to easily pollute their community with little resistance.

The pollution issue in Southwest Detroit has been a continued problem that has been plaguing the community for decades and is something the SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition has strongly outlined in its fight to end the construction of the bridge. The mixture of corporations releasing harmful air pollution and the traffic from the already existing Ambassador Bridge has made this community the heaviest polluted in the city of Detroit (Martenies 1), which has had harmful effects on the residents of this area. The major pollutants that affect the residents on a daily base range from smog and toxic aerosols to sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which have all been linked to human illness and in extreme cases fatality. The main fear of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge is that it will increase the amount of diesel pollution that has already entered this community. The inhalation of diesel pollution alone can lead to a host of pollution-related illnesses including cancer, heart disease, asthma, stroke, weakening of the immune system, and etc (Diesel Pollution 1).

The problem becomes a larger issue when we begin to remember that the area is home to 10 schools and an estimated 15,000 children (Southwest Detroit 1) who are more likely to be affected. When the air quality of Metro areas around the United States was tested for diesel pollution, the zip codes of 48217 and 48209 both were ranked among the 96th percentile for pollution (Diesel Pollution 1). Both of these zip codes belong to the Southwest Detroit area and the community itself has felt the effect of this pollution first hand. In Wayne County alone there is an estimated 64 deaths and 173 serious illness per year due to these emissions, especially stemming from Southwest Detroit (Mack 1).

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On the other hand, Gordie Howe Bridge is a way to help improve the trade and relations between Michigan and Canada, help expedite traffic, and help supply more job opportunities to the residents of both Detroit and Ontario. Along with these expected economic improvements, the construction project announced multiple benefits specifically for Southwest Detroit residents including a 14.9 million dollar initiative to help neighborhood infrastructure (Koziarz 1), helping Southwest Detroit citizens improve on public needs like better roads and public facilities that were long overdue for repairs. Along with the increased flow of traffic, the bridge is supposed to help reduce the pollution issue plaguing Southwest Detroit by allowing freight trucks to pass through the area at a higher rate of speed and spend less time idling on roads near residential or commercial areas. The main cause of diesel pollution is the idling or slow running of a car while it is stuck in traffic.

However, with the new bridge, the speed at which trade and trucks move will increase, only reducing the time trucks idle in areas surrounding homes or businesses (Koziarz 1). Along with the reduction in pollution, the construction of the bridge came with 80 new job initiatives that would help bolster job growth and development around the areas most affected by the construction of the bridge (WXYZ 1). The Gordie Howe Bridge and the large organizations in charge of its creation have made a strong effort to not hurt the Southwest Detroit area, and have provided all the funds necessary to the citizens while the multi-year construction takes shape. The organizations in charge of the creation of the bridge even have started their own health impact report to help calm the public’s nerves over the bridge’s future effects on the community.

However, the initiatives and economic growth that the bridge, Canada, and the State of Michigan promised may not be as in-depth as originally promised. Firstly, the economic growth promised may not be for Southwest Detroit, the focus on economic growth was mainly in the technologies and would benefit more corporations and job growth in larger and more industrialized cities in Michigan. The pollution reduction promised by the Gordie Howe Bridge has been controversial due to its inability to prove that the bridge will decrease idling because even with more room on the road, the bridge will also increase the amount of trade occurring. Essentially canceling out the added space due to the added influx of traffic. Along with that, many of the initiatives and grants provided by the corporations were only supplied after the initial public outrage over the construction of the bridge.

Throughout the bridge’s construction, the SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition has worked to help Southwest Detroit citizens to gain reparation over the bridges and its partners. The first being the Home-Swap program that allows Southwest Detroit citizens to swap their homes in the bridge path with new homes in other areas of the city (Mondry 1), allowing Southwest Detroiters to not be forced into group homes or onto the street. Along with that the SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition has secured 10 million to job training and placement for citizens of the affected communities and has begun work with the University of Michigan to create a health impact study of the new bridges affect on the surrounding community. In an interview with Dr. Natalie Sampson, one of the researchers in this study and a member of the SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, she explained that the cumulative impact of the bridge will not reduce the air pollution in Southwest Detroit neighborhoods, especially those that are near Delray and the Plaza (areas near the path of the bridge).

Over the last decade, Dr.Sampson has been researching Southwest Detroit and more importantly has been focusing on the Delray neighborhood directly in the path of the bridge’s construction. She explained that the neighborhood has been hit the hardest due to it forcing its residents to leave to make room for construction. Moving families who have lived in the area for generations to new homes or offering them no assistance and leaving them to deal with the bridges coming impact. Leaving thousands of people to be forced to deal with increased emission and pollution in an already affected community.

Southwest Detroit is home to a vibrant community that is not only diverse in culture, but in the people that call it home. Over the last few decades, this refuge for Hispanic immigrants and the lower class have been fighting a battle for clean air, with the freight trucks that drive over their streets.

The SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition believes that this new bridge will only add to Southwest Detroit’s pollution issue in an already struggling area. The Gordie Howe Bridge will be completed as early as 2024, and the effects it will have on this community may continue to pollute this area for years to come. However, The SW Detroit Community Benefits Coalition has not given up and will continue to fight against the environmental injustices found in Southwest Detroit for years to come.

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