Amid security concerns, officials mull bridge walk changes - WNEM TV 5

Amid security concerns, officials mull bridge walk changes

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Source: MDOT Source: MDOT

Michigan officials are looking for ways to continue the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk while making it less of a security threat.

The walk across the 5-mile-long bridge is a Labor Day tradition. Up to 60,000 people have taken part, starting in St. Ignace and ending in Mackinaw City.

With terrorists increasingly using cars and trucks as weapons, the bridge was closed to most vehicular traffic during this year's walk.

Only about 25,000 people took part. Many were turned away because they couldn't get in position before the walk ended.

The Mackinac Bridge Authority has scheduled a public meeting for Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Mackinaw City to discuss future options. The authority's board meets Thursday.

Those options include: 

Option 1 – Annual Bridge Walk starting from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City

In this option, walkers would begin from both the St. Ignace and Mackinaw City ends of the bridge in one outside lane to the halfway point, then crossing the center lanes of the bridge and heading back to their starting point in the other outside lane. Those who wish to, and begin the walk early enough, would have the option to continue across the entire bridge. Those who do will need to walk back across the bridge – for a 10-mile hike round trip – or make their own transportation arrangements back to the side they started from after the bridge reopens to public traffic. In this option, no buses will transport participants across the bridge; the center two lanes will remain open to emergency vehicles.

This option would eliminate the need for busing participants, as they could start from either end and return to their homes or vehicles directly. This also eliminates the estimated $200,000 in busing expenses borne by the MBA, including the staff and volunteer time setting up and staffing the bus loading areas. Additionally, as the turnaround point would move toward either end of the bridge beginning at 10:45 a.m., no participant would be turned away up until the walk ends (though participants starting 15 minutes before the walk ends might not make it very far before needing to turn back). The Michigan State Police would no longer need to vet bus drivers, and participants would not need to pay for shuttle bus transportation.

Option 2 – Annual Bridge Walk starting in Mackinaw City and ending in St. Ignace

The annual bridge walk alternated directions every other year until 1965, when it was permanently changed to start in St. Ignace and end in Mackinaw City. Under this option, the direction would flip, starting in Mackinaw City and ending in St. Ignace. As approximately 80 percent of walk participants arrive from the south side, more participants could begin the walk immediately after their arrival in Mackinaw City. As long as people boarded a bus by 9:30 a.m., or arrived at the starting line by 10 a.m., they should be able to walk the bridge.

The walk in this option would start on Jamet Street on the west side of the bridge, with participants walking north along the west lanes to Bridge View Park. This option still would require buses to transport most participants to Mackinaw City, either to start the walk or return after completing the walk. The MBA estimates needing a total of 175 buses for this options – 50 more than in 2017 – at an additional cost of $125,000 over this year’s busing costs. Because the majority of participants would be returning to Mackinaw City after the walk, rather than St. Ignace, the MBA estimates it would take several hours (perhaps to 6 p.m. or later) to transport all participants back to Mackinaw City. Once the bridge reopens, participants would have the option to arrange for private transportation.

Option 3 – Annual Bridge Walk starting in St. Ignace, with a new bus loading area

In this option, the bridge walk would start in St. Ignace and end in Mackinaw City as in the past, but with a different bus loading area in Mackinaw City to maximize bus transportation efficiency. At the current bus loading area, the State Dock, only eight buses can be loaded at a time. A new loading area, such as the Mackinaw City School parking lot, would provide room to load 12 buses at a time. With 175 buses (50 more than in 2017) and no breakdowns or delays in traffic, this system could transport about 24,000 participants to the starting line in time to complete the walk. As with Option 2, busing would cost the MBA $125,000 more than in 2017. If people arrive late, or more people show up than the buses can accommodate, they would be turned away.

The MBA board will also consider several alternate dates to have the walk. 

  • Keeping the walk on Labor Day – Despite the lack of backups in 2017, this remains a traditionally busy travel day
  • The Saturday or Sunday before Labor Day – Still associated with the traditional bridge walk weekend, but typically not considered critical crossing days for holiday weekend travel
  • The weekend after Labor Day – Likely lower participation, and conflicts with annual tractor parade
  • Memorial Day weekend – Conflicts with Fort Michilimackinac activities and school
  • The first weekend in June – Lower traffic volumes, but likely lower participation, conflicts with school activities
  • The first weekend in May – Would coincide with anniversary of the start of bridge construction
  • A Saturday in late Spring – Lower traffic volumes, but likely lower participation

People who want to comment on the options or offer additional suggestions can submit their comments through the MBA’s website. 

>>More details here<<

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