Tradition will continue unabated as the annual walk across the Mackinac Bridge will stay on Labor Day.
After the Mackinac Bridge Authority decided to close the bridge to most vehicular traffic during the 5-mile walk across the Bridge because of safety concerns, there was talk of moving the annual amble to a different day and reconfigure how the walk takes place.
But on Monday, the authority voted unanimously to keep the walk on Labor Day as a boon for tourism in the Upper Peninsula and northern lower Peninsula and a continuing tribute to the working men and women of the state.
“I don’t think it’s our role as the authority to be promoting tourism, but it’s also not our role to thwart it,” said authority member R. Dan Musser III, president of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. “If we changed the date, it would be devastating to Mackinaw City, losing a big night at the end of the season and I know from personal experience, it would be devastating to Mackinac Island.”
Patrick (Shorty) Gleason, authority member and legislative director for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, added “the sole purpose of Labor Day is to recognize the hard working people of this state. And this is right in line with the motion,” to keep the walk on Labor Day.
The decision to close the bridge to most traffic during the walk came as terrorists began using vehicles as weapons of death and destruction in crowded places. The latest such attack occurred in Manhatten on Halloween, when a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant named Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov drove a rented truck down a bike path in the city, killing eight people and injuring a dozen more.
The authority postponed any decision on how the bridge walk will take place. Currently, MDOT buses people from Mackinaw City early on Labor Day morning to St. Ignace to start the walk on the north side of the bridge and end up back in Mackinaw City.
Closing the bridge to everything but the shuttle buses and emergency vehicles, however, did cause some delays on either side of the bridge from 6:30 a.m. to noon, and left hundreds of people unable to participate because the shuttle stopped at roughly 10 a.m. The walk ended up costing the state much more to operate – roughly double the $250,000 usual cost of the walk - and as a result, the authority looked at other options that could be less costly and would help accommodate more walkers.
The authority wants the primary communities affected by the walk – Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island and St. Ignace – to come up with a plan to help share in the cost of the bridge walk and present those ideas to the authority at its February meeting.
“What we saw this last year was a significant increase in cost and we’ve got to deal with that as an authority,” said MDOT director Kirk Steudle. “We tried to get some sponsorship, but the issue is the cost to the toll payer who goes across the bridge. They’re basically subsidizing a very strong local tourism event.”
The Bridge walk started on Labor Day in 1958 and annually attracts between 30,000 and 60,000 people, including the sitting Governor of Michigan. This year, partially because of the closure of the bridge, only about 25,000 people walked across the suspension bridge.
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michpoligal
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