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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 (BWB) 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, and connecting both I-94 and I-69 with Canada's Highway 402, it is one of the fastest links between the Midwest and Ontario, as well as the Northeast United States.

The BWB crossing is a large complex consisting of toll and inspection plazas on each side of the border where drivers pay a toll to cross and interact with inspection agencies such as immigration or customs.

The crossing consists of two unique spans:

  • The original BWB, opened in 1938 and renovated in 1999, is a three-lane westbound bridge.
  • The second impressive BWB, opened in 1997, is a three-lane eastbound bridge.

State-of-the-art facilities make the BWB crossing one of the smoothest and most modern crossings in the world.

1930s: Financing and building the original span
In 1935, the Michigan Legislature passed a law (Public Act 147 of 1935) creating a State Bridge Commission to finance the design and building of the main bridge structure of the BWB. The commission was approved by the U.S. Congress in August 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, customs, immigration, and toll facilities.

The design of the structure by the consultant firms began in August 1936. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on June 23, 1937, in Port Huron, and the BWB opened to traffic on Oct. 10, 1938.

1960s: End of the State Bridge Commission
Both the U.S. 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 BWB Authority (BWBA) that operates the Canadian side of the bridge began collecting tolls of $0.25 from eastbound traffic while continuing to collect tolls from westbound traffic. In June 1963, the State of Michigan 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 (MDOT), then called the Department of State Highways.

1970s: Tolls again
In 1970, the U.S. Congress passed a law permitting Michigan to again collect tolls on the BWB. To comply with the law, the department had to repay the federal government $348,000 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, the U.S. Congress allowed Michigan to increase the toll to create a state matching fund for proposed improvements to the bridge plaza. As requirement for this authority, after the bonds for repayment of construction costs were retired, the tolls had to be reverted to levels sufficient to operate and maintain the structure and associated facilities.

1990s: Plaza improvements and a new span
In July 1991, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) signed a "129A Agreement" with MDOT regarding the disposition of toll receipts. This agreement allowed the department to fund both the annual operating costs of the BWB and the state's matching share of the BWB Plaza Improvement Project. The $55 million plaza improvement project was completed in November 1996.

The second BWB was built 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 BWB 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 BWB now carries three lanes of eastbound traffic and the original BWB carries three lanes of westbound traffic.

Awards
The construction of the second BWB has garnered many prestigious awards:

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