Construction of a $1.6-billion, 12-kilometer access road linking Ontario's Highway 401 to a planned new international bridge over the Detroit River at the Detroit-Windsor border crossing is expected to start next year. The Ontario and Canadian governments announced this month that they will finance the capital cost on an equal basis.

While the six-lane, below-grade highway will go through Windsor and adjacent communities, the below-grade construction will minimize noise and keep the trucks out of sight. "There won't be any traffic lights," says Transport Canada spokesperson Mark Butler. With 11 tunnel sections totaling 1.8 kilometers and 240 acres of parkland that will be created on adjacent property, the Windsor Essex Parkway will be five times more expensive per kilometer than any highway previously built in Ontario.

The Detroit/Windsor gateway is North America's busiest commercial border crossing with an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 daily truck trips. Those trucks are forced to travel along Windsor's streets and local county roads, as Highway 401 dead ends about 12 km short of the border.

An environmental assessment being carried out by URS Canada Inc., Markham, Ontario, will be submitted to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Canada Environmental Assessment Agency later this year. No decision on the construction delivery method has been made and property acquisition has not started, says Butler.

"We've been down for a long time as the decline of manufacturing in our area has hurt the construction industry," says Jim Lyons, executive director of the Heavy Construction Association of Windsor.

An estimated 12,000 construction jobs, two-thirds of them in Windsor, will be created by the five-year construction project, says the Detroit River International Crossing Group, a special bi-national committee working to improve transportation links between Canada and the United States. It recently announced the preferred route.

Transportation planners in both counries are working out ideas for the second bridge to be located downriver from the Ambassador Bridge. Several site options are being considered and final selection is expected in a few months, says Transport Canada's Butler.