Five miles of panoramic views of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are there to greet you as you cross over the Straits on the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. To us Michiganders it’s known as the "Mighty Mac," and is quite a site to see.
Visible while crossing the bridge (looking east) is the "Grand Hotel" perched high above the isle it calls its home, Mackinaw Island. At the end of the bridge nearing St. Ignace, numerous sandbars can be seen through the translucent waters below. During the summer months it’s neat to see all the catamarans and water spouting ferries race across the waters to transport tourist to Mackinaw Island.
The excitement for me starts about 5 miles south while still on I-75 heading north. Here is where I get my first glimpse of what lies ahead. Though only a peek, it gets your adrenaline flowing. Now is the time to tune into the bridges radio station to get the latest updates on bridge conditions. Once we past the exit sign for Mackinaw City, the last exit located on I-75 before crossing over the straits, speed limits reduced, and within minutes you are on your way heading across the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.
The length of time it takes you to cross over varies. During normal weather conditions (which is my favorite time to cross) speed limits for passenger vehicles are 45mps, and large trucks or trailers maximum speeds limits of 25mph. Cars have there choice of driving in either of the two lanes, while larger trailer/trucks are only allowed to drive on the outside lane. Once in the middle of the bridge the inside lane is constructed out of a steel grate that you can actually see the water below through… besides being very noisy, I find it a little scary as well. On windy days you can actually feel the rushing of the air forcing your car to move slightly when driving across it. I know its an engineered necessity to have these exposed areas exist, to allow the swaying action that is required on windy days (at least that’s what my father who’s a structural engineer always told us), but it's still a little frightening for me.
If you don’t like the wind kicking up your car a bit, or the noise, then drive on the outside lane. Here is where, if you aren’t uncomfortable with heights, it will give you the best bridge crossing experience. The protective railing isn’t that high, which allows excellent viewing, and some have questioned how safe it actually is. As far as I know only one very light weight vehicle (Yugo) has been blown off the bridge while driving excessively fast in extremely high winds. That might be why speed limit signs as well as speed recording devises monitor your speed as you enter and again as you cross. On extremely windy days (I believe over 30mphs) speed limits drop to a maximum of 25mph, or in rare cases, a police escort is needed for you to cross, or the bridge is totally closed until conditions improve. My husband once, in college, recalls being the last vehicle allowed to cross one night during a blizzard… he said he was never happier than to finally make it across into the Lower Peninsula that night. But don’t worry, days like this are few and far between.
There is a toll to cross so the bridge can be maintained. Passenger vehicles are $1.25 per axle, $2.00 per axle for motor homes, and commercial rigs $3.00 per axle. Fares are collected on the Upper Peninsula side.
Some facts regarding the bridge are quite impressive. Total length is 26,372 feet (roughly 5 miles), with main towers soaring 552 feet, maximum clearance at mid-span for the many passing ships is 155ft, and the deepest water depths are 295 feet. The bridge took 3 years to build and was open for traffic on Nov. 1, 1957. Before the bridge, ferry boats were used to get over to the other side. During some years, the straits below the bridge freeze solid enough for snowmobiles to drive across and rows of Christmas trees are laid, marking the path to follow. Snowmobiles are not allowed to cross over the bridge.
Every Labor Day, the bridge allows people to cross on foot. This is the only day pedestrians are allowed to cross and is known as the annual "Bridge Walk." This annual walk started back in 1958 when 65 walkers participated, and now estimates of 50,000 to 65,000 eager people make the march every Labor Day. Our state's Governor always starts the walk off, with the rest following closely behind. The walk takes on average of 2 hours, and starts early around 7am. No additional walkers are allowed past 11am. Animals (except Seeing Eye dogs) are not allowed on the walk, and port-a-potties are only found at both ends. I have yet to build up enough nerve to part-take in this walk…maybe someday. Here is a "Bridge Cam" to check out.
If you get an opportunity… take a drive across, it will be well worth the trip.