9/11 terror attacks act as catalyst for legacy infrastructure projects in Windsor

As the world remembers the terror and hysteria in the aftermath of 9/11, it’s impossible to ignore the changes that occurred in society as a result — especially in border cities like Windsor.

On Sept. 11, 2001, former Windsor mayor Mike Hurst declared a state of emergency.

“I certainly do not believe that the City of Windsor is a target but I must be very candid and suggest that it could very well be the possibility that the City of Detroit is,” Hurst said at the time.

The border was immediately closed, with trucks backed up along Huron Church Road for dozens of kilometres. Port-a-potties were even brought in for stranded truckers and commuters.

The Windsor-Detroit border re-opened the next day, but political leaders of the day agree it was never the same again.

“I don’t think we fully appreciated it at the time, what a profound change in our lives there would be,” said Dwight Duncan, who was then a member of provincial parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh.

That change ratcheted up security measures at international borders, eventually including the need to carry a passport for cross-border land travel.

“The tightening of the border, the slowing of the border, that impacted a whole range of industries,” said Duncan.

Looking back after 20 years, many believe it also fast-tracked a second bridge at the busiest border crossing in North America.

“The danger of not having the crossing available, not being able to cross at all, is I think one of the things that endangers the whole manufacturing sector, and the economy, more generally, in Ontario,” says Bill Anderson of UWindsor’s Cross Border Institute.

Supply chains integrated between Canada and the United States rely on a fluid border,” says Anderson. “You just need one event, one big event, and that’s going to be right at the top of everybody’s agenda.”

Gridlock on Huron Church Road was already a problem for local politicians prior to 9/11. But the horrific event put the issue squarely on the radar of federal leaders.

“On 9/11, the vulnerability of that production line was underscored and demonstrated because the border shut,” said Eddie Francis, who at the time was a city councillor.

He says the proposed solution from the feds was $300 million to create a connection from Lauzon Parkway to EC Row, pushing all transport traffic onto Windsor’s cross-town freeway.

In 2003, fighting that plan became Eddie Francis’ key mayoral platform plank.

“Elect me, and we will find a better solution,” Francis said.

After years of battles with upper levels of government, the city lobbied hard for what we know today as the Herb Gray Parkway.

“9/11 magnified the significance and importance of this corridor to global trade,” Francis said. “The fight was worth it.”

The Parkway was envisioned as a new highway-to-highway gateway to America, even before the federal government committed funds for a new bridge.

“Regardless of what anyone felt, when you invest a billion dollars in a road, it’s going to go somewhere,” said Francis.

The federal government ultimately committed to the Gordie Howe International Bridge — connecting Sandwich Town and Delray, Mich. downriver from the existing Ambassador Bridge.

The $5.7 billion bridge would allow traffic an alternative option to the Ambassador Bridge, but also serve as a redundancy measure should anything happen to the important trucking route.

“Now that people can see the towers, they believe it’s happening,” said Dwight Duncan, who added he’s excited for the day people can drive, cycle and walk across the new, state-of-the-art crossing.

Eddie Francis, who has retired from politics but remains heavily involved in the construction of the new bridge.

“If not for 9/11, this would never have been built,” Francis said.