Ambassador Bridge

Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge: A Lasting Connection


Ambassador BridgeThe Ambassador International Bridge, commonly known as the Ambassador Bridge, links the U.S. to what has long been our largest trading partner. Spanning the Detroit River between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, this 7,500-foot suspension bridge is the busiest border crossing in the continent. Over a quarter of the merchandise passing between the two nations travels across the bridge in some of the more than 14,000 cars and trucks that drive across it each day.

Discussed since the second half of the 19th century, the bridge faced numerous controversies and engineering challenges that prevented work from beginning for years. By 1919 serious planning was underway for a bridge marking the end of WW1 that would celebrate the contributions of the young Canadians and Americans who served in what was still referred to at that point as the Great War.

Steel cantilever trusses support the approaches to the main span, which is supported by suspension cables. The roadway itself arches gently underneath, rising 152 feet above the water. When it opened in 1929 the Ambassador Bridge boasted the longest suspended central span in the world, but its status was short-lived: the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson River claimed that title in 1931.

In the decades since construction was completed, the Ambassador Bridge has been an important trade and transportation link between two of the world’s most prosperous nations. While both the U.S. and Canada maintain powerful trade and historical ties, there are new players as well. Despite Canada’s geographical proximity, recently China has become the largest trade partner for the U.S., both in imports and by overall trade volume.

China’s rapid rise to leading trade partner status reflects a host of global changes, not least of which is the role of technology. As cell phones and the internet make instant connectivity a possibility with anyone, anywhere, anytime, doing business with partners thousands of miles away becomes as easy as conducting transactions with others in the same town. We often hear that the world is getting smaller, and this is a vivid illustration of exactly what that looks like in practice.

With increased international trade ties, cultures that seemed ‘foreign’ must become familiar – at least to the point of understanding enough cultural traditions and language to interact with poise. Today’s bridges extend far beyond the limits imposed by civil engineering.

A new bridge across the Detroit River is being debated now, and whether or not it is built the U.S. and Canada will remain close friends, ‘next-door’ neighbors and strong trading partners. Even so, the bridges represented by new ties and stronger connections that come from a globally interconnected world will continue to rise in importance, as physically remote countries like the U.S. and China find they have much bringing them together that overcomes the distance of mere miles on the map.

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Gail Rockburne
Gail Rockburne
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