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Ambassador Bridge is turning 75

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Ambassador Bridge is turning 75

Its contribution to commerce is celebrated

September 13, 2004

BY MARSHA LOW

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

High above the gently lapping Detroit River, at the boundary line between the United States and Canada, a plaque dangles from the pale blue steel hand railing of the Ambassador Bridge.

It reads simply: 75th anniversary.

Before a small group of dignitaries, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis unveiled the quiet display Sunday to mark the bridge's birthday, which is officially Nov. 15. The span first opened to traffic on that day in 1929.

On a warm and brilliantly sunny late summer day, hundreds later gathered for a celebratory brunch at the Cleary International Centre in downtown Windsor.

"It was a great day to have a birthday party," said Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co. The company is held by Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge. "We're the busiest border crossing in North America. What we're really celebrating is 75 years of keeping traffic and commercial business flowing between our two countries."

In the first year the bridge opened, 1.6 million vehicles traveled across it. Today, 3.2 million trucks cross, carrying more than $100 billion worth of goods.

Like all good birthdays, a bit of reminiscing is in order: It took 21,000 tons of steel to build the bridge, which stands 152 feet tall at its apex and is 7,490 feet long. When it opened, the toll was about 15 cents, Stamper said, a bit less expensive for animals. Now it costs $3.25 to drive from the United States to Windsor, and animals are allowed for free.

In the years after the bridge opened, many people used it as a stage for stunts. Planes flew under the bridge, a man parachuted off it, another walked across it backward and a girl toe danced over it. Couples got married on the bridge at the international border, and many jumped off it hoping for death, sometimes succeeding.

For decades, the bridge remained its original black, because a study in the late 1950s found that soot from Downriver factories dirtied the structure. But in the mid-1990s, bridge owners were ready for change and invited area seventh-graders to submit essays about what the new color should be. It turned out to be a dusty shade of sky blue.

In coming years, construction of a new 4-lane bridge is expected to rise adjacent to the existing structure, or possibly near Zug Island. The Ambassador's owners hope to unveil the new span in 2012.

Perhaps that occasion will also be marked with a plaque. It might read simply: now open.

Contact MARSHA LOW at 248-351-3299 or [email protected]

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If they are going to open an additional span (not replacing) I sure as hell hope that they aren't going to build it right next to the existing bridge. I wonder if the same kids that wanted the bridge painted blue came up with that idea!

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