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Blue Water Bridge History

Construction of the Blue Water Bridge original span. Photo circa 1938.
Department of Transportation

Blue Water Bridge History

The Blue Water Bridge is a major international crossing over the St. Clair river at the southern end of Lake Huron. Located between Port Huron, Michigan and Point Edward, Ontario connecting both Interstate 94 and Interstate 69 with Highway 402 it is one of the fastest links between the Midwest and Ontario as well as the Northeast United States.

The Blue Water Bridge crossing is a large complex consisting of toll and inspection plazas on each side of the border where you pay for your crossing and interact with the inspection agencies such as Immigration or Customs.

Our crossing consists of two unique spans, the original Blue Water Bridge, opened in 1938 and renovated in 1999, is a three-lane westbound bridge. The second Blue Water Bridge, which carries three lanes of eastbound traffic, is an impressive modern bridge opened in 1997. State-of-the-art facilities make the Blue Water Bridge crossing one of the smoothest and most modern crossings in the world.

1930's: Financing and building the original span
In 1935, the Michigan Legislature passed a law (Act 147, Public Acts of 1935 ) creating a State Bridge Commission to finance the design and erection of the main bridge structure of the Blue Water Bridge.  The commission was approved by the United States Congress in August of 1935 (Public Law 411 of 1935).  The law permitted the commission to sell bonds that would be repaid by the revenue from the tolls collected within 30 years.  This legislation assumed that Michigan and Ontario would each build their own approaches to the bridge,  and customs, immigration and toll facilities.

The design of the structure by the consultant firms began in August 1936.  The ground breaking ceremony was held on June 23, 1937 in the City of Port Huron and the Blue Water Bridge opened to traffic on October 10, 1938.

1960s: End of the Bridge Commission
Both the United States and Canadian governments had agreed to operate the bridge toll-free once bonds were paid off.  The U.S. side of the Bridge became toll-free in February 1962.  In August 1962, the Blue Water Bridge Authority (BWBA), which operates the Canadian side of the bridge, began collecting tolls of $0.25 for the eastbound traffic while continuing to collect tolls for the westbound traffic.  In June 1963, the State appropriated funds for the operation of its part of the bridge.  With the passage of the Executive Reorganization Act of 1965, the State Bridge Commission was abolished and its functions were transferred to the Michigan Department of Transportation, then called the Department of State Highways.

1970s: Tolls again
In 1970, the United States Congress passed a law permitting Michigan to again collect tolls on the Blue Water Bridge.  To comply with the law, the Department had to repay the Federal Government $348,000.00 for the grant it received in 1938, which funded the approach road.  That grant was repaid to the Federal Government and in September 1971 Michigan started collecting tolls again.

1980s: Tolls to finance plaza improvements
In 1985, United States Congress allowed Michigan to increase the toll to create a state matching funds for proposed improvements to the bridge plaza.  As requirement for this authority, after the bonds for repayment of construction costs are retired, the toll must revert to levels sufficient to operate and maintain the structure and associated facilities.

1990s: Plaza improvements and a new span
In July of 1991, the Federal Highway Administration signed a "129A Agreement" with the Michigan Department of Transportation regarding the disposition of toll receipts.  This agreement allowed the Department to fund both the annual operating costs for the Blue Water Bridge and the State's matching share of the Blue Water Bridge Plaza Improvement Project.  The $55 Million Plaza improvement project was completed in November 1996.

The Second Blue Water Bridge was constructed between June 1995 and July 1997 at a cost of $41.3 million (for the Michigan half).  When this project was completed, both eastbound and westbound traffic were placed on the new structure while the original Blue Water Bridge was renovated at an estimated cost of $21.3 million (for the Michigan half). Both structures were in full operation in November 1999.  The Second Blue Water Bridge now carries three lanes of eastbound traffic and the original Blue Water bridge carries three lanes of westbound traffic.

The construction of the Second Blue Water Bridge has garnered many prestigious awards. The awards listed below are a result of the teamwork that went into the project:

1997 American Society of Civil Engineers; Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement
1997 Public Relations Society of America;  Central Michigan Chapter - Special Events and Observances Award and Audio/Visual Award
1997 Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists - Outstanding Technical Achievement Award
1998 Ontario Institute of Steel Construction; Outstanding Steel Project
1998 Federal Highway Administration;  Excellence in Highway Design - Merit Award for Major Structures over $10 million
1998 National Steel Bridge Alliance/American Institute of Steel Construction; Prize Bridge Competition - Merit Award in Long Span Category
1999 Michigan Quality Initiative - Achievement Award