Bridging divides

Over the last 60 years, multiple plans have been developed to move traffic quickly from both the east and west to the international bridge connecting Fort Frances and International Falls. Traffic movements were studied. With the mill in full operation, much of the traffic arriving in Fort Frances terminated on Portage Ave. near the mill property.
Forty years ago the state of Minnesota was looking to terminate Highway 53 to the west of Fort Frances. International Falls citizens and councillors petitioned both the state and federal governments to locate a new bridge just east of the city, bringing the truck route north to the river. It was determined that the optimum site for a new bridge would be close to the current US boat launch on the on the US side of Rainy River connecting with Williams Avenue.
The building of this new bridge would have closed the current International Bridge owned by Boise Cascade. John Reid, the Member of Parliament, moved the legislation through the House of Commons to fund the bridge into Canada and build a customs facilities and inspection area where Williams Ave. is today. That land was vacant, and funding was put in place.
The new bridge was not to be. The paper company successfully lobbied and then built the new bridge on the east side of the railway bridge and the cantilevered car bridge. The funding and legislation for the new bridge was rescinded. The Town of Fort Frances then sold off the lots on Williams Ave. The idea for a new toll-free bridge to come into Canada was lost. The entrance to Canada continues to be through an unsightly industrial complex.
Since then, the state of Minnesota has continued to upgrade highway 53 north to International Falls to both four lanes and multiple passing lanes handling increased traffic flow. Fort Frances has two lanes heading east, connecting Thunder Bay and Dryden and two lanes heading west connecting Kenora and Winnipeg.
Residents and visitors are expected to pay a toll to cross from International Falls to Fort Frances. Yet not more than 100 km to the west of Fort Frances, a new bridge joining Rainy River and Baudette will be completed this year. Both the province of Ontario and the State of Minnesota are funding this new toll-free bridge. The current bridge at Rainy River is reaching the end of its life cycle at 60 years.
The toll bridge to Fort Frances will also be reaching the end of its life cycle. The cantilevered vehicle section is no longer used and has been abandoned. With the closing of the mill, trains that used to cross to the Fort Frances mill no longer are using the bridge. Only heavy transport trucks continue to use the railway part of the bridge.
The US has studied the idea of moving the customs facilities to a new location. They are looking to locate new facilities to the east of International Falls.
As plans are being developed to the Shevlin Wood Yard, no one has given any thought to the potential of the customs and bridge facility being located on the property. A better entrance to Canada at the Shevlin Yard would be much more attractive. A Toll-Free bridge would be a welcome incentive to cross over to Canada. Many of the ideas already incorporated into the plans could remain. This remains the last location that a new bridge could be built, tying the two communities together. It was a visionary idea 40 years ago. It remains a good vision today, keeping international traffic in Fort Frances.