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Detroit-Windsor Tunnel

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The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is a tunnel connecting Detroit, Michigan with Windsor, Ontario. At 1,560 feet (475.5 m) long, the underwater vehicular tunnel has a long history associated with it. Similar projects have been proposed in the past but the tunnel as it is today was completed in 1930. It cost $25 million to build and took 26 months to complete, 10 months sooner than expected. The tunnel consists of a two-lane roadway partially submerged 75 feet (23 m) underwater. Jointly owned by Canada and the U.S., it is one of the busiest border crossings connecting the two countries. An average of 20,000 vehicles cross the tunnel per day.


[edit] Construction History

[edit] Prior to construction

The demand for a tunnel crossing the border between Canada and the U.S. has long been in demand. Since the 19th century, both cities have been searching for a more viable crossing solution but proposals for a bridge were disputed in the marine shipping industry. The city’s politicians were divided between whether the construction of a bridge or tunnel would be more advantageous. Those with businesses in the shipping industry worried that a bridge might interfere with the masts of ships. The railroads argued for a bridge to be constructed.

A rail tunnel was attempted in 1871 but at 135 feet (41 m) below the river, workers came into contact with deadly sulfurous gas and the project was halted. Another tunnel was proposed less than a decade later between Gross Ile and Canada. Excavation of the site uncovered masses of limestone that would raise the construction cost considerably. This project was also abandoned.[1]

When the Grand Trunk Tunnel, running from Port Huron, was successfully completed, citizens worried that Detroit would lose revenue from businessmen preferring to ship items across the border from there. The result was the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel, completed in 1910. After World War I, the city’s growing population and economy demanded a second tunnel and the concept of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel arise once again.[2]

To make the tunnel more personal, the then-mayors, James Couzens of Detroit and Edward Blake Winter of Windsor suggested that an underwater automobile tunnel be commemorated for those who lost their lives in the war. Before the tunnel was built, passengers crossed the Detroit River by ferries.

The concept of the tunnel was almost rejected once again by officials who wanted to construct the Ambassador Bridge. Experts also advised against the idea, saying that to build a tunnel would result in deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning. A Windsor Salvation Army Captain, Fred W. Martin, persuaded Parsons, Klapp, Brinckerhoff and Douglas, the same architectural firm responsible for the Holland Tunnel, to invest privately in the project so it could begin without further dispute between politicians.

The project received funding from bankers in Detroit, New York, and Chicago. Russell Armstrong Sr. from Windsor also came on board as the consulting engineer. His duty to complete surveys of the land and obtain land permits was not easy. He commented that the construction of the Ambassador Bridge created a competitive tension between the two projects to get it completed first. He said: “The Bridge won, but I still like the tunnel better.”[3]

The tunnel project was finally given the go-ahead. Construction was undertaken the Parklap Construction Co., the Porter Brothers, with Burnside A. Value as the executive engineer, Ole Singstad as the consulting engineer, and Soren A. Thoresen as the design engineer.

[edit] Construction Begins

The construction of the international tunnel, the first of its kind, began in May 1928. In addition to the tunnel, a total of about 25 customs and immigration offices had to be constructed on both sides. 

Three tunneling methods were employed during the course of the construction. Workers on both sides used steam shovels to remove layers of the earth’s crust, excavating a trench 2,545 feet (776 m) from one side to the next. 70,000 tons of earth were removed by shovels from the bottom of the river. Steel tubes with a diameter of 31 feet (9.4 m) provided a concrete shield in the trenches. The shield advanced approximately eight to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 m) per day through a bell-shaped conclave as sandhogs vigorously removed prior-dumped clay with knives and disposed of the materials. The shield, reaching 32 feet (9.8 m), was pushed with the help of about 30 hydraulic jacks. Clamshell buckets lowered sand onto the trench floor.[4]

A “trench and tube” method was devised to construct the underwater tunnel. The method involved descending steel tubes into the underwater trench. Both steel and concrete were used as material for the tubes. Built in nine sections, the tubes weighed 8,000-tons each and were 250 feet (76.2 m) long. Workers bolted the sections together once they were in their respective positions within the trench. Exhaust from the tunnel was removed by ventilation tunnels and replaced with fresh air.

The tunnel was completed in 1930 with dedication ceremonies taking place on November 1. The Windsor mayor said that it “was almost incredible that we will be able to pass from the one great country to the other in the short space of three minutes."[5]

The tunnel opened to the public on November 3, 1930.

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Refurbishment/Recent Projects/Renovations

A $50 million renovation project was launched in 1993 to install a new roadway surface, new tiling for the walls, and light installation.[6]

[edit] Unique Facts

  • A construction worker by the name of Joseph Zuccatto was the first to drive through the tunnel.
  • An average of 20,000 vehicles pass through the one-mile (1.6-m) long tunnel per day.
  • In 1990, ownership of the Canadian half of the tunnel was given to the City of Windsor. The American section of the tunnel remains privately owned.
  • The tunnel roadway is 22 feet (6.7 m) wide and consists of two lanes of traffic for each direction.
  • Two million granite blocks were removed when asphalt was chosen as the more suitable roadway material in 1977.
  • The tunnel receives half a cubic foot (0.01 m3) of air every minute, completely renewing the air in the tunnel every 90 seconds.
  • The walls were lined with approximately 250,000 tiles.[7]
  • In total, 525,000 cubic yards (401,391 m3) of material were excavated, including 275,000 cubic yards (210,253 m3) of river material.

[edit] References

  1. Bjork, Kenneth. Saga in Steel and Concrete: Norwegian Engineers in America. Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1947. (accessed: 2008-09-25)
  2. Detroit-Windsor Tunnel: History, 2008-09-25.
  3. Detroit and Canada Tunnel Company 1929., 2008-09-25.
  4. Bjork, Kenneth. Saga in Steel and Concrete: Norwegian Engineers in America. Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1947. (accessed: 2008-09-25)
  5. Detroit and Canada Tunnel Company 1929., 2008-09-25.
  6. Detroit-Windsor Tunnel: History, 2008-09-25.
  7. Detroit and Canada Tunnel Company 1929., 2008-09-25.