Bridging the Blue Water Gap for Michigan DOT
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.
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.
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 construciton, and finally to operations.
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.