Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge

I got to spend a week in my home state of Michigan recently (both peninsulas). Though I’ve been living in Minneapolis for the last thirty plus years, I’ve been a Yooper and I’ve been a Troll. For those who don’t speak Michiganian, that means I’ve lived in the Upper Peninsula (Yooper) as well as the Lower (Troll, who lives below “the bridge”). “The Bridge” is the one and only Mackinac Bridge, and it’s a beauty!

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge as seen from St. Ignace

Mackinac Bridge Trivia

The “Mighty Mac” was built more than 50 years ago and was considered an engineering marvel for it’s time. Many thought it couldn’t be done. The bridge connects the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan over the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. It is the largest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere and fifth largest in the world to this day!

The photo simply doesn’t do it justice. Just a few facts and figures from the Mackinac Bridge Authority:

The height of the road deck at the center span is 200 feet above the surface of the water. The deepest part of the channel that runs under the bridge is almost 300 feet. That’s deep water! No wonder many folks thought that building a five mile long bridge couldn’t be done in this particular spot back in the 1950’s!

As amazing a feat as it was, building this bridge was not without consequence. Five men died during construction and a few others have lost their lives working on the bridge since it opened.

Mackinac Bridge Experiences

Being a Michigan native who’s lived in both peninsulas, I’ve made more Mackinac Bridge crossings than I can count. It’s never boring 😉 Two in particular stick in my mind:

There are two things that will shut the bridge down: high wind and poor visibility. Sometimes you get both, especially in winter when a snow squall blows through. After sitting for an hour in a parked traffic jam during one such squall more than 30 years ago, they finally opened the bridge to passenger cars with a bridge escort. High profile vehicles (trucks, campers) and cars pulling trailers still had to wait for better conditions. Those of us in cars would be allowed to cross only with the Mackinac Bridge Authority “pace car” leading the way. We were instructed by the woman at the toll booth to turn our headlights on, don’t lose sight of the car in front of us, don’t try to pass, don’t change lanes, and don’t stop. We were the last car in line and followed the single file caravan behind the pace car doing a blistering 20 mph. It. Took. Forever. When we finally reached the other side, the Mackinac Bridge Authority car did a U turn to lead the next group going the opposite direction and another woman at that end radioed that we had all made it across. They were literally doing a head count. Wowza!

The second white knuckle ride I had was getting behind someone pulling a trailer who apparently was afraid of heights. As I mentioned before, the road on this bridge rises 200 feet above the water and it’s five miles long. All you can see going up is sky and water. Lots and lots of sky and water. Technically, the roadway is part of I-75 with two lanes running each direction. The inside lanes are on metal grates and the outside lanes are asphalt with no shoulder. There is just a 3 foot wide catwalk for workers to walk on, so you are very close to the edge of the bridge on the outer lanes. The metal grates kind of grab your tires a bit and make a humming noise vs being next to the edge on the asphalt. Some people freak. The guy pulling the trailer in front of us did – he had that thing fish-tailing all over the road. Classic “Big Mac Panic Attack”. It happens often enough that the bridge authority has a Timid Driver Program where they will drive your vehicle across for you (for free).  And in case you’re wondering, yes… some people have plunged off the bridge.

Want to see what’s happening on the bridge right now? Check out the bridge cameras to catch a glimpse of the local weather and road conditions. Better yet, hop in your car and see it for yourself. It’s truly a sight to behold! Nothing says “Pure Michigan” like the Mackinac Bridge 🙂