Bridging the Blue Water Gap for Michigan DOT

Bridging the Blue Water Gap for Michigan DOT
Michigan Department of Transportation Port Huron, Michigan
The United States and Canada are collaborating with new technologies and an updated vision for a more efficient border crossing experience at the Blue Water Bridge (BWB) Plaza.

Tourists and truck drivers headed to or coming from Canada often find them­selves crossing the border at the BWB Plaza in Port Huron, Michigan. The BWB Plaza is the second most traveled U.S.-Canadian com­mer­cial truck crossing—helping maintain the world’s largest bi­lat­eral trade re­la­tion­ship between the United States and Canada—and reg­u­larly sees high volumes of com­mer­cial and pas­sen­ger vehicles. The Michigan De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion (MDOT) com­pleted major freeway im­prove­ments in 2012, and wants to upgrade the plaza to take ad­van­tage of these upgrades, as well as correct inbound traffic issues, ac­com­mo­date growing traffic and upgraded border security fa­cil­i­ties, and relocate the Duty Free store. CDM Smith, having more than a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence working with both coun­tries on the plaza complex, was con­sulted to help the two sides un­der­stand the plaza’s needs and maximize avail­able space in the most recent bi-national master planning process.

busiest U.S.-Canadian commercial truck crossing
acre expansion of the plaza

Building a Brighter Future
CDM Smith has helped MDOT meet federal in­spec­tion program re­quire­ments while co­or­di­nat­ing the in­ter­ests of both coun­tries. Our team also fa­cil­i­tated fea­si­bil­ity planning, en­gi­neer­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal impact studies, and border pro­tec­tion co­or­di­na­tion efforts. CDM Smith assisted in the es­tab­lish­ment of a bi­na­tional study team, en­cour­ag­ing each party to consider the other’s goals.

Upon com­ple­tion, the BWB Plaza will expand its size from 17 acres up to as much as 55 acres. The ex­pan­sion will help improve op­er­a­tions by re­lo­cat­ing truck in­spec­tions to the right side of the plaza to al­le­vi­ate the need for trucks to weave across the Blue Water Bridge, which will also see an expansion of its 13 existing primary in­spec­tion booths.  Im­prove­ments will allow room for tech­nol­ogy upgrades such as ad­di­tional non-in­tru­sive in­spec­tion fa­cil­i­ties, upgraded truck docking stations to allow full cargo un­load­ing, and ad­di­tional parking capacity, which will also help the plaza meet truck in­spec­tion needs. The upgrades will separate toll ­booths from outbound customs in­spec­tions, which cur­rently require officers to inspect vehicles in traffic, re­sult­ing in long outbound traffic delays.

The mod­ern­iza­tion of this vital in­ter­na­tional border crossing will ensure the plaza is well equipped to handle im­pend­ing traffic demands and evolving security prac­tices. The regular con­ges­tion along Michigan Interstates 94 and 69 due to outbound customs in­spec­tions, as well as traffic build-up on Canada’s Highway 402 caused by the current U.S. truck in­spec­tions and subsequent weaving, will be al­le­vi­ated by the BWB Plaza enhance­ments.  Local city streets and en­trances to the plaza will be improved to allow for clear egress onto the plaza, and a new Duty Free store will be con­structed and located in the outbound di­rec­tion with easy on and off ramps.

Tech­no­log­i­cal Trail­blaz­ers
CDM Smith recently com­pleted a research and de­vel­op­ment project, which used the BWB Plaza as a test case for virtual design and con­struc­tion methods in trans­porta­tion projects by leveraging mixed and virtual reality tools and tech­nolo­gies, such as the Microsoft HoloLens. CDM Smith engaged MDOT and BWB stake­hold­ers in the effort, defining a col­lab­o­ra­tive and ef­fi­cient process of re­view­ing project designs in a highly visual and immersive platform that allowed users to walk through a full-scale plaza layout long before con­struc­tion.

These in­no­v­a­tive tech­nolo­gies are en­cour­ag­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion and con­sis­tency between project members. Applying them makes it easy to identify po­ten­tial chal­lenges or changes at each stage of design, reducing rework efforts and the potential for errors to appear during con­struc­tion. Adding these abilities to a project ul­ti­mately re­sults in a better, more cost-ef­fec­tive product. Pin­point­ing problems before they occur will help teams manage risk, optimize schedule and make better-informed de­ci­sions for a fluid tran­si­tion between engineering and construction, and finally to op­er­a­tions.

Mixed Reality

Innovation and disruptive technologies leader Scott Aldridge discusses how mixed reality technologies help to streamline communications and bring teams together to achieve common goals.

Leveraging Virtual Design and Construction

Backed by its Research and Development program, CDM Smith created a full-scale virtual model of the plaza, which allowed MDOT stake­hold­ers to walk through the project site and identify design changes long before construc­tion.

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