Detroit-Windsor Tunnel

This month in Michigan history: Detroit-Windsor Tunnel opens

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For Michiganders, our neighbor to the north feels like a distant cousin, sharing important sites like Sault Ste. Marie, a distinct love for hockey, and even accents and slang words. The friendship was naturally borne out of sharing 721 miles of borders, and mutual reliance on the Great Lakes to start and grow our economies.

To that end, one key moment in our shared history is the opening of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, on November 3, 1930. President Herbert Hoover himself turned a “golden key” in D.C. to dedicate the passageway, officially making it the only underwater international tunnel for vehicles in the world.

As early as 1870, Detroiters knew the immense benefits that could come from opening up channels with Canada. The debate between a bridge and a tunnel lasted for several years. The maritime and shipping business was starting to thrive at that point; no one wanted to cut off ship routes and undercut profits. Hence, engineers voted to start work on the underwater tunnel, adding that bridges frequently close in extreme weather events, and are more invasive in the landscape.

The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel was hailed as “a new appreciation of our desire to preserve peace, friendship and the brotherhood of man.” Both countries recognized the project as honoring their fallen World War I soldiers. Today, approximately 12,000 vehicles use the tunnel each day, taking the mile-long route most often for the daily work/school commute. Residents also frequently cross the border for shopping, and sporting and cultural events.

The Tunnel’s construction had been delayed for years because of noxious gases like carbon monoxide. Thanks to this, it has one of the most elaborate ventilation systems worldwide. 100-foot tours sit at each end, pumping 1.5 million cubic feet of fresh air through the passage every minute. The air inside is actually cleaner than that at street level!

You’ve most likely heard that this Detroit-Windsor connection will be under construction well into 2018. It’s the first time in the Tunnel’s history that the ceiling will be replaced, and other safety improvements are part of the plans. This joint effort will only further bring the two cities closer together in the years to come.

Step back in time with more stories of Michigan’s history at Empowering Michigan