While attention is mostly focussed on a new border highway and bridge between Windsor and Detroit work quietly began last fall on a major redevelopment of the vehicle plaza on the Canadian side of the Windsor–Detroit tunnel.
The project had been almost a decade in the planning and is one of more than a dozen projects — all now entirely funded and most completed — to provide incremental improvements to traffic flow at key infrastructure points across the city, and designed to enhance trade between Windsor and Detroit.
The federal-provincial Let’s Get Windsor-Essex Moving strategy set aside $300 million following the 9/11 U. S. terrorist attacks, a consequence of which were numerous back-ups at the tunnel and bridge in the wake of a major security clampdown. This exposed the weakness of the city’s major trade thoroughfares.
The plaza expansion and reconstruction, at a cost of $30 million, will be completed in the fall of 2014.
The tunnel, which opened in 1930, is the second busiest Canada-U.S. crossing after the Ambassador Bridge, also linking Windsor and Detroit. Almost 13,000 vehicles use the tunnel each day. It’s owned by the cities of Windsor and Detroit.
The reconfiguration and reconstruction is taking place while tunnel operations continue as usual.
“(The project) is in downtown Windsor so we have to maintain traffic and maintain clear access to the tunnel,” said Nasser Shahatto, who oversees contracts for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Windsor Border Initiatives Implementation Group. “So far we’ve been able to maintain that.”
Traffic continues to enter the tunnel from north-south Goyeau Street, which will eventually be closed for one block with traffic entering this secure area from the Goyeau-Wyandotte streets intersection on the south and City Hall Square street on the north but with access there restricted to Nexus pass holders.
The plaza’s footprint will be expanded three times from its current west side of Goyeau location to encompass Goyeau’s east side, where several businesses had to be demolished.
When the new plaza opens, vehicles will enter and, depending on traffic volume, use an elongated two-lane loop that will wrap around the plaza eventually directing vehicles to existing toll booths. Should there be less traffic, gates will cut off the loop and vehicles will be sent directly to the toll booths. Overhead ITS signs will advise motorists before entering the plaza.
“In low volume hours they will be able to take a short cut and access the toll booth in a similar fashion as they do now,” Shahatto said.
The other big changes will be a new Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) two storey building at the southwest corner and a new maintenance garage for official tunnel vehicles at the southeast corner.
Windsor’s Coco Paving Inc. was awarded the contract which included installation of new sewer and water mains. Rosati Construction of LaSalle is erecting the buildings.
Besides the new traffic queuing loop and dedicated Nexus lane the privately owned duty free store will see a slight expansion in parking space and reconfiguration to improve traffic flow in the tight compound directly before the tunnel entrance.
As well, three new inspection bays for trucks will be built in front of the CBSA building. Buses will also be inspected there rather than having to share lanes with motorists.
The plaza is in the heart of downtown Windsor, one block east of busy Ouellette Ave. and sandwiched between high rise apartment buildings. A five metre high barrier wall will line the plaza’s east side.
Flume modelling analyzed vehicle exhaust diversion and the barrier, along with extensive landscaping, is expected to provide “significant benefit” to residents, according to a MTO report. Landscaping includes mature coniferous and deciduous trees.
Alternative lines of tall grasses and flowering trees, representative of southwestern Ontario’s unique Carolinian forest, will line the loop’s interior.
There will be two 3.6 metre clock towers at the north and south entrances. Decorative masonry walls will line the entrance sides.
Shahatto said the Detroit & Canada Tunnel Corp. and the City of Windsor are partners and participate in ongoing construction meetings though the project is exclusively a federal-provincial initiative.
As of late December, crews had begun work on the maintenance building and were excavating to subgrade before building the concrete road, likely to begin in spring.