One of Windsor’s worst street bottlenecks and longstanding complaints from the cycling community is finally being remedied with construction of a bike-pedestrian tunnel under a CN Rail overpass.
The area is in the heart of the city’s major north-south thoroughfare on Dougall Avenue — a four-lane artery that feeds traffic from Windsor’s southern suburbs into Ouellette Avenue and the city’s downtown, and vice versa.
While there are paths and sidewalks north and south of the overpass, there are only a couple of dirt “goat paths” used precariously by cyclists and the occasional pedestrian located immediately beside the busy commuter route.
In fact, the bottleneck has been dubbed the “Dougall Death Trap,” mainly a cautionary description because no actual cycling or pedestrian deaths have occurred there in recent memory.
However, after years of lobbying by the cycling community and others, city council approved the project and a related one immediately north that will create a signalized intersection at a merging corner that in fact has been the city’s top non-signalized intersection for motor vehicle accidents.
The underpass, with local Amico the contractor, comes in at $6.2 million, and the intersection, with nearby LaSalle’s Sterling Ridge undertaking the work, is $1.3 million. The two sites are located within what city planners officially describe as Windsor’s “Central Box.”
But it took many months of negotiations with CN Rail before work could begin. That’s because the roughly 30-metre long tunnel had to be cut at an angle under the busy CN track which sees back and forth shunting to the nearby Van de Water rail yard.
But instead of boring through the embankment engineers on the design-build project thought it more efficient to excavate from the top down to the ground.
To do this they had to temporarily remove over 30 meters of rail track. To impede train movements as little as possible this work had to be done in a marathon 48-hour weekend blitz. This occurred in late November when the rail line was shut down at noon on a Friday and re-opened Sunday night.
Crews used two-352 excavators and, for safety reasons, dug in a trapezoidal fashion from 33 metres wide at the top to a depth of eight metres and six metres wide at base.
“Roughly at 12:15 p.m. we started excavating the material and hauling it to our dumping site and that roughly took about 6.5 hours,” Amico’s project manager Dan Krueger said. Some contaminated soil, expected after decades of railway use, was found and disposed of.
This was followed by the laying of a granular base which took about three hours. Then Amico installed the precast box culvert sections, which took about 20 hours.
The 14 sections — 4.1 metres tall and six metres wide (with inside dimensions three metres tall by five metres wide) and manufactured by Anchor Concrete of Kingston, ON. — were lifted into place by a 200-tonne crane.
“We just rigged it up with some little hooks on the top and just move into place,” Krueger said.
The final step was waterproofing with a rubberized membrane along with the installation of protection and drainage boards to prevent water intrusion. The water will drain along the sides to sub drains and then into roadside catch basins on Dougall Ave.
Meanwhile crews had already completed work building the 300-metre retaining wall along the CN embankment, separating the hill from the new multi-use bike and pedestrian trail which will flow from the tunnel.
The trail itself will be 3.5 metres wide bordered from the street by a one-metre wide stamped concrete buffer and separated from the retaining wall by a 0.75-metre concrete buffer. And the retaining wall varies in height between 1.5 metres and 2.5 metres with a 1.2-metre high railing on top.
“We will have a one-metre stamped concrete buffer strip so it just provides a little delineation between the edge of the trail and the curb,” City of Windsor project manager Paul Mourad said.
Much of the underpass and trail work will be finished this fall with at least a granular trail laid, with final paving work and an official site opening next spring.
And, a project discussed for decades likely will be well received by pedestrians and especially the cycling community. “They heavily promote active transportation so they’ll be happy when this is done,” Mourad said.