OTTAWA -- The bidding process for the construction of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., opened Monday.

Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt announced Monday the launch of the request for qualifications process, which is the first stage to selecting a private sector company to participate in the project.

The bridge is named after Canadian Hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who spent much of his professional career with the Detroit Red Wings.

Raitt says the announcement is the most important milestone to date, while Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says the bridge project will strengthen his state's economy and create thousands of jobs.

Howe, 87, continues to recover from a stroke, but his son called the naming of the bridge in May a "truly incredible" honour.

The project, which is designed to alleviate congestion along the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, is expected to cost well over $2 billion.