The Mackinac Bridge Walk may never be the same.
The Mackinac Bridge Authority is still dealing with fallout from completely closing the bridge from 6:30 a.m. to noon on Labor Day 2017 in an effort to beef up security during the traditional walk across the 5-mile span.
As a result of that change, hundreds, perhaps even more than 1,000 people weren't able to participate in the bridge walk this year, said Bob Sweeney, spokesman for the Mackinac Bridge Authority. The lines were so long to get on shuttle buses in Mackinaw City to get to the start of the walk in St. Ignace that many people weren't able to get there before a state-imposed deadline.
To accommodate all the people who want to participate, the bridge authority staff will recommend a number of options for next year's walk, including: scheduling the annual walk on a different date; having walkers start on both sides of the bridge, walk halfway across the bridge and return to their starting point; start the walk in Mackinaw City instead of St. Ignace.
"We know there were a lot of people who weren’t able to walk and we want to make sure the walk is enjoyable for everybody," Sweeney said. "If you travel up here and can’t participate, we know you’re pretty disappointed."
At two public meetings this week -- at 5 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday -- the Bridge Authority will discuss several options for future bridge walks. All of the options assume that the bridge will be closed to all traffic – except emergency vehicles and shuttle buses – from 6:30 a.m. to noon.
- Starting the walk on both sides of the bridge would alleviate the need for the state to provide bus transportation from one side of the bridge to the other. But it also would mean that unless walkers figured out their own transportation, they would either not be able to walk the full span of the bridge, or start early enough so they finish walking the 5-mile span twice. This is the option preferred by the bridge authority staff, Sweeney said, and would save the state $200,000 in busing expenses.
- Starting the walk in Mackinaw City, with the state providing shuttle bus service from St. Ignace back to Mackinaw City at the end of the walk. This option would allow more people from the Lower Peninsula to start the walk by the 10 a.m. cutoff time.
- Start the walk in St. Ignace, but put a new shuttle bus boarding spot in place in Mackinaw City, allowing the state to load 12 buses at a time, instead of the current eight buses at a time, to get walkers across the bridge to the starting spot in St. Ignace.
- Start the walk on a different day: the Saturday or Sunday of Labor Day weekend; Memorial Day; the weekend after Labor Day; the first weekend in June; the first weekend in May. This option could result in a lower turnout for the event, which annually has drawn between 30,000 and 60,000 people.
The crowd on Labor Day was down to about 25,000 participants, in part due to the change in logistics as walkers feared getting stuck at the bridge during the four-hour closure.
After vehicles became one of the weapons of choice for terrorists across the world, the Michigan State Police and U.S. Department of Homeland Security decided that the annual bridge walk presented too much of a potential target. In the past, participants have walked from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City on the northbound lanes of the bridge and the southbound lanes were left open for vehicle traffic.
This year, the walkers used the northbound lanes, but the southbound lanes of the bridge were only open to the shuttle buses that transport walkers from one side of the bridge to the other and emergency vehicles.
One bit of good news was that the feared hours-long traffic jam on both sides of the bridge never really materialized. Most people stayed put and didn't get to the bridge until close to the noon reopening time. Sweeney said traffic was moving smoothly again by 1 p.m.
The two public meetings will be live-streamed at: https://livestream.com/MDOT/2018BridgeWalkPublicMeeting and https://livestream.com/MDOT/MBAMeeting102617.
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