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Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge board gets year-end updates

Fast facts:

  • The International Bridge recently underwent a routine detailed inspection of the entire span. Ongoing maintenance is keeping the bridge in good to fair condition.
  • The Sault Ste. Marie Bridge Authority (SSMBA) board of directors welcomed a new board member and named Thomas Buckingham Sr. as chair and Natalie Kinloch as vice chair for 2024.
  • In the final phase-in of a new tolling system, the International Bridge will cease accepting the former Prox commuter cards after Dec. 31.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. and Ontario - The Sault Ste. Marie Bridge Authority (SSMBA) board of directors, the bi-national body that supervises operations of the International Bridge, heard reports on a recent bridge inspection at the board's regular meeting Thursday, Nov. 16.

The SSMBA board reviewed and officially accepted the results of the routine detailed inspection of the bridge. A team of bridge engineering experts from the lead firm of Hardesty & Hanover (H&H) of Okemos, Mich., along with their Canadian partner firm, WSP Canada Group Ltd. of Mississauga, Ontario, conducted the inspection of the bridge in August and presented their findings at Thursday's meeting.

"The bridge's ongoing maintenance is outstanding, keeping all major elements of the structure in good to fair condition," said H&H engineer Mark Helinski. "Our inspection found no significant new issues or significant changes from previous years."

H&H noted some items, such as expansion joint seals, cleaning and coating of steel components, and rail painting to be addressed. The International Bridge Administration (IBA) staff has included this work in future scheduled maintenance.

Optional infrared deck scans, included with inspections of the International Bridge since 2008, give early indications of areas that may need preventive maintenance. The results have been very encouraging. Out of more than 260,000 square feet of top deck surface, 0.4 percent (less than 1,000 square feet), have shown "delamination," or surface chipping of concrete.

IBA bridge engineer Karl Hansen attributed the good condition of the deck to recent epoxy sealing work, the use of sand instead of road salt, and on the deep concrete deck overlay work performed in the 1990s.

"These results show the International Bridge's efforts at preventive maintenance are working," Hansen said. "Our dedicated staff is diligently protecting the public investment in the bridge. We've been able to prioritize and address any concerns found in these inspections in a timely way, either through monitoring, contracted repairs, or in-house repairs."

The International Bridge is inspected every year, with the routine inspection alternating with a fracture critical inspection. The routine inspection looks at the entire bridge every other year. Additionally, the bridge's required five-year underwater inspection of 15 submerged piers in the St. Marys River is scheduled for spring 2024. Requests for proposals will be issued before the end of the calendar year and a best qualified consultant will be presented to the board in February 2024 for approval.

In other business, the board welcomed one new member and elected board officers. The SSMBA board consists of up to eight members: four Michigan members appointed by the governor and four Canadian members appointed by The Federal Bridge Corporation Limited (FBCL), a crown corporation located in Ottawa, Ontario.

Thomas Buckingham Sr. of Newberry, Michigan, was elected chair for 2024. The other U.S. representatives are Nicholas White, Scott Shackleton, and Linda Hoath.

Board member Natalie Kinloch of Apple Hill, Ontario, was elected as the 2024 vice chair of the SSMBA board of directors.

The board also welcomed a new Canadian member, Karen Richards, FBCL chief operating officer, to a three-year appointment, effective Nov. 7. The other Canadian members are Thye Lee and Rémi Paquette.

The board also received an update on the bridge’s new toll system. In the final phase-in of the system, the International Bridge will cease accepting the former Prox commuter cards after Dec. 31.

The International Bridge (connecting Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, with Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) and both U.S. and Canadian sides of the Blue Water Bridge (connecting Port Huron, Michigan, to Point Edward, Ontario) have modernized their toll systems. As of Jan. 1, 2024, all three operators will have discontinued the current card-based systems and transitioned to radio frequency identification (RFID) windshield tags that are automatically read by the toll system when customers pull into a lane. RFID tags purchased from any of the three agencies will work at any of the partner crossings, although customers will have to maintain accounts with each agency.

"Frequent customers need to remember the deadline for card expiration is rapidly approaching," IBA Chief Financial Officer Emily Jacques said. "We encourage them to take advantage of our commuter discount program with the convenient new RFID tag system. Our new system offers an improved customer experience and a new web portal so customers can manage their accounts online more effectively."

The board set its 2024 meeting dates for Feb. 22, May 16, Aug. 15 and Nov. 21.

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