February 26, 2010
FEATURE | Roadbuilding
Grade separation will release traffic knots in Windsor, Ontario
When it comes to traffic and railways, Windsor is just a little different from other Canadian cities. And when it comes to building a road underneath one of those train lines things are different again.
Mark Winterton, City of Windsor Manager of Contracts, points to a large map on the wall of the public works department’s boardroom, showing different coloured lines of major railways crisscrossing the city. These are Canadian National, Via Rail, the short line Essex Terminal Railway, Canadian Southern and Canadian Pacific.
Windsor notoriously has been divided by its rail lines, with car and truck traffic on numerous arteries all too frequently coming to a halt while trains pass.
For decades there was only one north-south grade separation in the central part of the city. Then in 2008 a second underpass opened. And by this November a third will debut.
“A lot of cities (on railways) are a pass through. We’re a terminal point with the border.” says Winterton. “Trains converge to the narrowest point of the river and then they cross the river.”
The busiest rail line is Canadian Pacific, connected by tunnel under the Detroit River to the United States where some 24 trains a day run to and from Toronto.
The $24 million grade separation at Howard Ave. started last July and will be completed in late November with landscaping finished in spring 2011.
Funding comes from the 2005 federal-provincial Let’s Get Windsor — Essex Moving Strategy, which sought to speed up shipments of auto parts to and from the city.
The Howard Avenue project follows the 2008 Walker Rd. grade separation, about a kilometre to the east. and is across the street from Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant.
The border also plays a unique role in these projects because, post—9/11, under U.S. Homeland Security department regulations, trains entering the U.S. must be examined by a high-tech gamma ray machine known as VACIS (Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System).
As well, the 7.5 km distance from VACIS to the tunnel portal must be secured through the use of high tech surveillance technology, lighting and fencing.
“That security is part of this project as well,” the ministry’s senior project engineer Rakesh Shreewastav says.
When the Howard project was planned, provincial transportation officials held “extensive” consultations with the CPR to ensure that a 0.5 km rail detour around the project would conform to those measures, he said.
Getting the permanent line up and operating is a priority. It will be the first completed portion of the site. “The trains will be back on the bridge by July 30th,” says Bruce Wilson, project manager with Dillon Consulting.
Another major feature of the project is the just over half kilometre four-lane vehicle detour.
No detour was built around the Walker Rd. site because it was hemmed-in by utility substations.
That wasn’t a problem here. And Howard Ave. carries a lot of traffic – 30,000 vehicles daily - north into downtown Windsor and south to the city’s major shopping centre, Devonshire Mall, as well as to other big box retailers.
Some 10 properties, mainly businesses, were acquired to make way for the site. The project is also in the middle of a busy and often congested retail strip.
“We worked very closely with the property owners to minimize the impact and to allow access to their businesses,” says Shreewastav.
The project also features a storm water retention system, including a pumping station with two cells to accommodate excessive water. Besides regular weather conditions Windsor is known for its violent summer storms and flash flooding.
A January thaw had turned the site to mud. But until then the temperatures had been just right – not too cold but not warm enough to make things messy.
“The contract’s on schedule. Things are progressing along well,” Wilson said.
When finished Howard will resemble Walker in more ways than one. An inclined T-intersection on the north side of the underpass will feature traffic signals and the intersecting east-bound municipal road, Memorial Dr., will have been upgraded.
The same occurred for eastbound Grand Marais Rd. on the north side of the Walker underpass.
Windsor’s Coco Paving Inc. won both contracts.
And the finished design should be identical, with a geometric pattern on the retainment walls, and signature light standards, designed with input from the city’s Urban Design Division and Dillon under prime consultant McCormick Rankin Corp. (MRC) of Mississauga.
That should result in a bit of wow factor and put some smiles on the faces of what had been rather beleaguered motorists.
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