On November 3, 1930, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel officially opened to the public at 12:05 A.M. The first car that passed through the tunnel that connects the United States and Canada was a 1929 Studebaker. Two days before, a dedication ceremony was held where Windsor Mayor Frederick Jackson only had high praises for the structure. The mayor told how he was proud that this was the only known underwater tunnel in the globe that connected two countries, allowing its citizens to get from one city to the other in three minutes.
As for the leader in the other city, Detroit Mayor Frank Murphy was also in high spirits – he cheered behind the scenes as the tunnel would signify the two countries’ resolve to conserve peace, friendship, and brotherhood.
Construction began in 1928, where designers made sure that this project would be filled with innovation and technology. It was a tedious process. The workers (known as “sandhogs”) blasted air driver knives under the river so that they could get rid of the gray dirt. They then followed through with the use hydraulic jacks which allowed them to push a huge shield through the mud. Other workers worked behind the shield and lined steel plates that partly made up the tunnel. After which, they went to work on its underwater part using an ingenious process called the “trench-and-tube”. Once the sandhogs were done with their job of lining the underwater trench with steel plate, nine 250-foot-long steel concrete tubes that weighed 8,000 tons each were sank at the bottom of the river. Divers then went underwater and pieced these together through welding.
The tunnel boasts a sophisticated ventilation system which was considered futuristic at the time that it was built. Hundred-foot-tall ventilation towers were positioned in each end of the tunnel; each of these was made up of 12 large fans, six of which were dedicated for pumping in fresh air while the others were designed for exhaust. An engineer likened the 3,000 glass openings of each of the tower to that of a gill. The blowers made it possible for the tunnel to have 1.5 cubic million feet of air every minute, changing all the air that’s in it every 90 seconds. The ventilation system removed the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. In fact, the air in the tunnel was actually cleaner compared to that of the air on the streets of Detroit.
The ventilation system of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is still in top working condition until this day, similar to how it was when it was built in 1930. People can breathe in here freely as evidenced in the Free Press Marathon, the only known international underwater mile in road racing where the tunnel is part of the course.
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