History of the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel

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From the late 1860s until the late 1920s the idea of a tunnel constructed between Windsor and Detroit caused a lively debate.



The construction of the Detroit-Canada Tunnel is still regarded as one of the great engineering wonders of the world.



From its opening day to the present day, the tunnel has gone through many changes.

Post Construction

To this day, the Windsor/Detroit tunnel remains the World's only international underwater automotive border crossing. It is the second busiest crossing between Canada and the United States, next to the Ambassador Bridge, which is also located in Windsor.

Construction took about 26 months to finish and was completed almost one year ahead of schedule. The total cost was $23 million.

The opening ceremonies were held on Saturday, November 1, 1930. Rejoicing took place on both sides of the river. Detroit Mayor Frank Murphy and Windsor Mayor Cecil Jackson exchanged greetings at the international border under the river and gave their speeches. At 11:40 a.m., U.S. President Herbert Hoover turned a "golden key" in Washington D.C., which set off bells in both Windsor and Detroit to mark the opening of the tunnel.

At the same time, two young girls, 13 year-old Fern Martin, daughter of Fred Martin, the main promoter of the tunnel project, and 12 year-old Virginia Bradway, daughter of Judson Bradway, the first President of the Detroit Canada Tunnel Company (DCTC), untied a red, white and blue ribbon at the international boundary line in the centre of the tunnel. Then a convoy of cars filled with dignitaries from both sides of the border paraded through the tunnel.

On Monday, November 3, 1930, just after midnight, the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel was open for vehicular traffic. Throughout the 1930s, the tunnel experienced a decline in cross-border traffic because of the Great Depression and its effects on industrial areas such as Windsor and Detroit. It was not until the Detroit River ferry service closed in the mid-1940s that tunnel traffic began to increase.

In 1976, the granite block and sand base of the roadbed was removed and a new road was laid. This renovation increased clearance in the tunnel by about 15 centimetres (6 inches) and allowed use by taller commercial trucks that had previously been turned away.

Beginning in the mid-80s, the City of Windsor began looking into the legal aspects of taking over the Canadian side of the tunnel, as was agreed when it was originally built. The Detroit/Canada Tunnel Corporation had promised, in exchange for building rights, that ownership of each side of the tunnel would revert to its respective city, at no cost, after 60 years of operation. Detroit had agreed to wait an additional 30 years as part of the Renaissance Downtown Development project.

As the City of Windsor weighed the pros and cons, the DCTC argued that the original agreement was invalid, as neither party involved had the power to strike such a deal. The company also argued that the tunnel was better run by one organization, rather than two owners, each owning half. At this time, massive renovations took place on the American side including a revamped plaza, new tiles and improved lighting. While the future of the Canadian side was debated, many people pointed out that, by contrast to the American side, it looked neglected and shabby.

The City of Windsor decided that City ownership would benefit the people of the community and, throughout the late 80s, fought a court battle for possession. Finally, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the City of Windsor. In 1993, its future clarified, the Canadian side of the Windsor/Detroit tunnel, its plaza and duty-free store were renovated. It was the tunnel's 65th anniversary and it was as busy a border crossing, and as important a landmark as it had ever been.