On Sunday, July 18, around 2 PM, the Mackinac Bridge Authority shut down the Mackinac Bridge, the five-mile stretch across the Straits of Mackinac connecting Michigan’s lower peninsula to the upper. It happened after someone called in a bomb threat, telling them he’d placed a bomb at the south end of the bridge and was watching everything from a car nearby.
So for three hours on a high-travel day, until the all-clear at 5:10 PM, the Coast Guard kept boats away and plied the water below the bridge while crews scoured the bridge deck, looking for what they were probably pretty sure was a hoax but couldn’t take any chances.
Planes were forbidden from flying over the bridge and the bridge-cam went dark. As the rumors flew, Facebook went crazy and I was right there for it all, of course. It was pretty exciting for those of us who weren’t affected!
But it was Sunday afternoon and our neighbors next door weren’t the only ones trying to get back home after a weekend up north. Just as they were getting ready to leave the island and head to their home south of the bridge, one of them got a text that the bridge was closed. It saved them a ferry ride to the mainland and a 50 mile drive to the bridge, only to be stranded on this side for several hours.
We heard later that traffic was backed up for more than three miles on both sides. I haven’t heard how long it took to clear it all up, but it had to be past dark before they were back to normal. All because some jerk decided to play a prank.
When the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001 and it looked like the entire country was in danger, my first thought as a Yooper was about the vulnerability of the Mackinac bridge. It’s huge, it’s five miles long, and it makes an easy target. One look at a Michigan map would tell an enemy everything they needed to know about the devastating damage the loss of that bridge would cause.
In May of this year, the Bridge Authority reported bridge crossings of 361,000 vehicles. Last year in August, our busiest tourist month and pre-COVID, 605,000 vehicles crossed the bridge. Anyone traveling by land from the lower peninsula to the Upper Peninsula has to cross the Mackinac Bridge. That includes trucks carrying everything from our groceries to logs.
Yep, logs. Like carrying coals to Newcastle, I know, and I wish I could explain it, but it happens. Huge double-tandem logging trucks start at the Southern end of the bridge and head up into the north woods, which, in case they hadn’t noticed, has a surplus of trees having the potential to become, you know, logs.
But let me get personal here: If I should happen to want or need to go into the Lower Peninsula from my home at the far Eastern point of the Upper Peninsula, I have to cross that bridge. Now imagine what would happen if the bridge wasn’t there:
In order to get down to the suburbs of Detroit, where almost everyone I love lives, I would have to drive a couple of hundred miles west on US 2 into Wisconsin, then another few hundred miles south along Lake Michigan into the dread Chicago/Gary area, and around the south end of Lake Michigan into Western Michigan, where the dread Trumpers live (sorry), and then another couple of hundred miles to my destination, which, if I could have crossed the bridge, would have been no more than 300 miles.
So I want that bridge to stay safe, not just for me but for everyone who takes it for granted when they’re traveling across the most beautiful five-mile stretch across the most beautiful body of water…
Well, see for yourself: