Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Windsor-Essex Parkway

January 1, 2011
By Bronwen Parsons

Any busy road through a community makes it difficult for pedestrians and bicycles to move around freely, but a major highway usually makes an almost insurmountable barrier to cross.

Any busy road through a community makes it difficult for pedestrians and bicycles to move around freely, but a major highway usually makes an almost insurmountable barrier to cross.

Not so with the new Windsor-Essex Parkway due to start construction this summer. Built to replace an arterial road, the new 6-lane freeway and adjacent 4-lane service road will travel north from Highway 401 in southwest Ontario, through the city of Windsor to a planned new Canadian inspection plaza and international crossing over the Detroit River into Michigan.

The 11 kilometre freeway has been described as unique within Ontario in terms of the scale of its community enhancement features.

For example, most of the highway runs five metres below grade, so that even trucks passing along it will not be visible from the surrounding communities. There will also be earth berms and 5-metre high noise barriers strategically placed to shield the adjacent communities from traffic noise.

The road will also have long tunnels covered with expanses of land to allow pedestrians, local traffic and wildlife to pass freely over the highway. There are 11 of these strategically placed covered tunnels, which range from 120 metres to 240 metres long and provide a total of 1.8 kilometres of unobstructed area for crossing over. According to Murray Thompson, P.Eng, vice president of URS Canada, the company which led the environmental studies, “standing on these long covered sections, you will not be aware that there is a roadway underneath you.”

Buffer zones beside the highway add up to more than 300 acres of green space, which is a net gain in terms of the quality and quantity of natural habitat compared to the situation now. There will also be 20 kilometres of recreational trails. Thompson says people will be able to travel continuously from end to end beside the new highway on foot or bicycle without having to cross a road at grade.

Diesel emissions from trucks and other cross-border traffic should also be reduced thanks to the new freeway. Currently trucks bound for the border have to use Huron Church Road, which also carries local traffic and has 17 stop lights, causing the trucks frequently to have to slow down and stop.

Over 300 public consultations were held to consider the Windsor-Essex Parkway’s conceptual design. Asked what were the major challenges, Thompson explains: “It’s an urban freeway, so the alignment and profile, and the traffic requirements, are constrained by the adjacent urban area.”

The route threads through a variety of environments, from the relatively dense residential areas, through vacant and commercial strips, to natural areas such as the Ojibway Nature Centre.

Part of the Windsor-Detroit Gateway

The Windsor-Essex Parkway design was conceived and planned for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Transport Canada as a key part of a larger project known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), which includes the plans for a new bridge and customs facilities. The massive project, sponsored by the U.S., Canada, Ontario and Michigan governments, is intended to ease the flow of goods and traffic over the border. The Windsor-Detroit corridor currently handles about 35% of Canada’s road goods trade, and about 12 million vehicles every year.

URS Canada led the Canadian portion of the DRIC Study, which looked at all the different new crossing components and took four years to complete. Provincial as well as federal environmental assessment approvals were obtained for the project in 2009.

Selected consortium to go forward

In December, the Ontario government announced that agreement had been reachd with the Windsor-Essex Mobility Group to design, build, finance and maintain the parkway. The consortium has a 30-year contract at a fixed price of $1.4 billion in today’s dollars.

The Windsor-Essex Mobility Group includes ACS Infrastructure Canada, Acciona Concessions Canada and Fluor Canada. Hatch Mott MacDonald is the consortium’s lead design firm. Other consulting engineering firms involved include Dillon Consulting, LEA Consulting, Black & McDonald and AMEC.

In that December announcement, Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure, Bob Chiarelli, said the project is “the most significant, single highway investment in Ontario’s history.”

Progress has already been made on acquiring properties, demolitions, moving utilities and other components. It is anticipated that the parkway will be opened by fall 2014. cce


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