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Visiting the Blue Water Bridge, Port Huron, Michigan: Work of Polish-American Civil Engineer Ralph Modjeski (1861-1940)

Updated on April 23, 2019
State flag of Michigan
State flag of Michigan | Source
Blue Water Bridge from United States
Blue Water Bridge from United States | Source

"America's greatest bridge builder" replacing ferries from Port Huron U.S. Port of Entry (est. 1836) to the (former Upper) Canadian shore

At Port Huron, Michigan, the Blue Water Bridge, linking with the Sarnia district (1), Ontario, Canada over the St. Clair River (2), is an impressive feat of engineering. It is a twin span road bridge in steel, the first of which dates from 1938 and the second from 1997 (3). The 1938 span is a cantilever bridge (length of main span: 265 metres / 871 feet), while the 1997 span is an arch bridge (length of main span: 281 metres / 922 feet).

The first span of 1938 was the responsibility of Modjeski and Masters, whose lead engineer was Ralph Modjeski (spelling at birth: Rudolf Modrzejewski, 1861-1940). Interestingly, the same engineering firm also shared responsibility for the 1997 span, together with Buckland & Taylor Ltd on the Canadian side.

The 1938 span of the Blue Water Bridge was one of the last projects with which civil engineer Ralph Modjeski, sometimes referred to as "America's greatest bridge builder" was involved (4).

On the American side, the Bridge is operated and administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation and on the Canadian side by the Federal Bridge Corporation Ltd.

Historically, the Blue Water Bridge replaced ferry services which originally ran between Port Huron, Michigan and what was then known as Port Sarnia in Upper Canada (later, Canada West and subsequently Ontario) as far back as 1836, when Port Huron was established as a U. S. Port of Entry. In the 19th century, a variety of steam- and even pony-powered vessels plied between the two shores, with an automobile carrying ferry service being introduced in 1921.

Today, the Blue Water Bridge is the second-busiest commercial crossing on the United States - Canada border (behind the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario). Annually the Blue Water Bridge carries in excess of 4 million travellers.

April 23, 2019


(1) The municipality in which the Canadian side of the Blue Water Bridge is built, is Point Edward, Ontario; hence the reference to 'the Sarnia district'. Popularly, however, the crossing is often simply referred to as between between Port Huron and Sarnia.

(2) If one follows the American Geological Society's definition of a river: 'a stream of water bearing the waste of the land from higher to lower ground, and as a rule to the sea', then the St. Clair is not truly a river but a strait. (For further discussion of this, see also: M.J.Fenn, )

(3) See also: ;

(4) Polish-born Engineer Modjeski, naturalized American since 1883, was chief engineer as far back as 1896 for Government Bridge over the Mississippi, and subsequently in that capacity or as consulting engineer over many major bridge projects, mainly in the United States but also in Canada or linking the United States with Canada; these bridge projects include: the Thebes Bridge (1905) over the Mississippi; the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (1926) over the Delaware (in its time, the longest single span suspension bridge in the world); wholly in Canada, he also worked on the Quebec Bridge (1919).

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Ralph Modjeski (Rudolf Modrzejewski) in 1931
Ralph Modjeski (Rudolf Modrzejewski) in 1931 | Source
Huron Lightship - Blue Water Bridge (Port Huron, Michigan)
Huron Lightship - Blue Water Bridge (Port Huron, Michigan) | Source

Also worth seeing

In Port Huron itself, close to the Port Huron end of the Blue Water Bridge is a statue of Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931). Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, dating from 1829 and rebuilt in 1933, was Michigan's first lighthouse; its sought after marinas are based on the Black River.


How to get there: Airlines serving Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, include United Airlines, which flies from New York Newark and Chicago O'Hare, and Air Canada, which flies from Toronto Pearson. Car rental is available at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Port Huron is connected by the Blue River Bridge to Sarnia district, Ontario to U.S. Interstate 94 and U.S. Interstate 69 and with Canada Highway 402. For current border traffic conditions, see: Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Wikivoyage map of Michigan regions
Wikivoyage map of Michigan regions | Source

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