It’s Michigan Labor Day tradition for tens of thousands of people to walk the five-mile span of the Mackinac Bridge linking the state’s upper and lower peninsulas.
It’s a four-lane bridge. Usually officials shut down two lanes for the walk and keep the other two open for traffic. That’s not this case this year.
Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation Kirk Steudle says the decision to completely shut-down the Mackinac Bridge during the walk this year was in direct response to safety concerns.
“The activity that has happened across the globe of instances of people using vehicles as a weapon, it was really a very strong concern to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, to Homeland Security, and the Michigan State Police,” Steudle said.
Closing the bridge “could potentially cause a [traffic] backup,” but Steudle says it would be nothing compared to the delay that would come if there was some sort of incident or emergency and the bridge had to be closed unexpectedly.
He says traffic volume is about the same on Labor Day and the Sunday before, so changing the day of the bridge walk wouldn’t have mattered. Usually around half the vehicles that cross the bridge on Labor Day are people shuttling walkers, according to Steudle.
There’s always some traffic delays during the bridge walk, and Steudle says he’s preparing for them to be a little bit longer this year. Extra patrols, additional mechanics, and restroom facilities will be on hand to try and minimize any waits and keep everyone safe.
Steudle says drivers on I-75 will be diverted into Mackinac City and St. Ignace, towns just south and north of the bridge, respectively. He says state troopers will be on the highways to maintain safety and direct traffic, as well as lighted signs warning of the bridge closure “miles in each direction.”
Restaurants in the area are also preparing for a Labor Day where they’re unable to cross the bridge for supplies. Many are filling up their freezers beforehand, just one way that special precautions for this year’s bridge walk are adding to the cost. Steudle says even the state police presence will be “significantly increased” from years past, and that’s true for the overall cost of the bridge walk this year too.
As far as the other roads and highways in Michigan, the state Legislature approved a road-funding plan that’s being phased in as local, county and state officials try to keep up with the pace at which Michigan’s roads are deteriorating.
Steudle said two-thirds of the money from a recent increase in registration fees and gas taxes is sent to city and county governments. State road funding, which is appropriated in the budget, sees an increase next year.
"We’re still deteriorating and we’re trying to manage the deterioration,” Steudle said. “We are still losing ground.”
Listen to the entire conversation with Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, above.