Did you know that plans to build a bridge across a famous strait in Michigan already circulated in the 1880s?
It took many more decades before construction actually started though, but this amazing bridge did end up being built halfway through the 20th century.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Mackinac Bridge, an amazing feat of engineering in the United States which is nicknamed the “Big Mac” or “Mighty Mac!“
1. It connects the two peninsulas of Michigan
The Mackinac Bridge is one of the most fascinating bridges in the United States. It connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of the U.S. State of Michigan as it crosses the Straits of Mackinac, famous waterways that connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, 2 of the 5 Great Lakes of North America.
The bridge also connects the city of St. Ignace on the northern side with the village of Mackinaw City on the southern side. It’s part of Interstate 75 (I-75), one of the main interstates in the United States which runs all the way from Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the north, to Miami, Florida, in the south.
2. The bridge held a fascinating record upon completion
The bridge officially opened on November 1, 1957, which means that it couldn’t be dubbed as the “longest suspension bridge in the world” because the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is longer.
That doesn’t mean that this remarkable structure didn’t hold any records, though, because it was dubbed as the “world’s longest suspension bridge between anchorages.”
It’s still one of the longest bridges in the world with a total length of 26,372 feet (8,038 meters), even though multiple bridges, mostly in China, have surpassed this length. The longest span is 3,800 feet (1,158 meters) which makes it the 25th-longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of writing this article (March 2021).
3. The Mackinac Bridge is higher than the average skyscraper
The towers of the bridge are much taller than the requirements to be qualified as a skyscraper as they stand about 552 feet (168 meters) tall. The road deck reaches a maximum height of 200 feet (61 meters) with the average clearance below being 155 feet (47 meters).
The bridge also carries 4 lanes and has a total width of 68.6 feet (20.9 meters) while the road itself has a width of 54 feet (16 meters).
4. Multiple proposals were suggested before action was taken
Building the bridge wasn’t straightforward, that’s for sure. The original proposals for a bridge were published in a local newspaper shortly after the Brooklyn Bridge in New York was completed in the year 1883.
Many other proposals were submitted in the following years and decades, ranging from a bridge similar to the one crossing the Firth of Forth in Scotland to a floating tunnel across the Straits.
Nothing official came out of all the submitted proposals, even though traffic continued to grow in the first decades of the 20th century.
5. There was an expensive ferry industry before the bridge’s construction
Growing traffic meant there was continuous pressure to find a solution, something that culminated in legislation being passed that forced the State Highway Department to set up a ferry service across the straits.
Just 5 years of losing a lot of money due to the extreme popularity of this ferry service, the option to build a bridge were examined once more. This eventually leads up to the creation of the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority in 1934, the first official step towards a final plan.
6. The Bridge Authority was abolished at one point in the 1940s
One of the most remarkable Mackinac Bridge facts is that shortly after World War II, things looked extremely bleak. A lack of funding even ended up in the abolishing of the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority in 1947.
A new and more effective entity was created just 3 years later in 1950 called the “Mackinac Bridge Authority,” an independent state agency that still maintains the bridge until today.
7. Bonds were sold to fund the construction in the early 1950s
The first thing this newly created entity did was to hire the most renowned engineers available to make a solid report on what kind of bridge could be built. After all, the ferry service was completely overloaded by then so there was no time to lose.
A year later they filed their report and the state finally authorized legislation that allowed the Mackinac Bridge Authority to issue bonds worth USD 85 million, an enormous amount at the time the equivalent of well over USD 670 million today.
The bridge was eventually paid for in a period of 20 years by tolls collected from vehicles crossing it.
8. The engineer of the bridge designed multiple other bridges as well
In January of the year 1953, engineer David Barnard Steinman (1886-1960) was appointed as the lead engineer of the bridge. He was one of the most renowned engineers at the time and a man who literally grew up under Brooklyn Bridge. He continuously dreamt of designing similar structures, which he ended up doing all across the world.
His passion resulted in bridges being built in the United States, Thailand, England, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Canada, Korea, Iraq, and Pakistan, quite a resume!
The Mackinac Bridge would ultimately become his most famous work.
9. The bridge was constructed in just 3.5 years
Construction of the bridge officially started on May 7, 1954, and would eventually open for traffic on November 1, 1957. This was right on schedule in a period of just 3.5 years.
What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that construction only happened during the summer period, not during the winter months. It was officially inaugurated on June 25, 1958, as well.
So what about the ferry service? This redundant business was discontinued the day the bridge opened for traffic!
10. Painting the bridge literally takes forever
One of the most amazing Mackinac Bridge facts is that it takes a total of 7 years to paint the entire thing. That’s literally double as long as it took to actually build the bridge.
What’s even more astounding is that the moment the painting job is completed, they can start all over again! This simply means that painting this colossal bridge is a never-ending job.
11. Some people suffer from a strange phobia when crossing the bridge
Most people who live in the area are extremely happy with the bridge. It means that waiting for hours on end for the next ferry isn’t needed anymore! One can simply pay the fee and cross from one peninsula to the other in minutes.
This doesn’t apply to people suffering from gephyrophobia, though! This specific phobia makes people panic the moment they see a bridge or tunnel as it fills them with a sense of anxiety that only they can understand.
Apparently, there are a lot of people suffering from this because the Mackinac Bridge Authority has a drivers assistance program and over 1,000 people use it to cross the bridge every year!
12. The bridge can be crossed by foot once a year
There’s an event once a year for people who don’t suffer from gephyrophobia called the “Mackinac Bridge Walk.” This event has been held once a year every Labor Day since 1958, the year that the bridge was inaugurated.
Between 40,000 and 65,000 people participate in this yearly event and walk 5 miles across this amazing bridge!
13. It has reached some amazing milestones over the decades
On average, about 11,600 vehicles cross the Mackinac Bridge every day. It took exactly 40 years before the 100 millionth vehicle crossed the bridge, a milestone that was reached in 1998.
Just 11 years later, the bridge was able to celebrate its 150 millionth vehicle crossing, something that happened on September 6, 2009.
14. It has been recognized as an amazing feat of engineering
Apart from the fact that it’s far from the longest suspension bridge today, the bridge crossing the Mackinac Straits is considered to be a masterpiece of engineering.
That’s why it has been designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 2010.
15. The bridge itself has become a popular tourist attraction
The bridge is part of both a scenic trail referred to as the “North Country Trail,” and a scenic road system connecting all the 5 Great Lakes called the “Great Lakes Circle Tour.”
The Mackinac Island itself is already a popular tourist destination in the summer months, and the bridge itself is attracting tourists as well. The most popular ways to discover the bridge are via boat trips or sailing excursions, both of which give you a perfect close-up view of the bridge’s features!
And what an amazing sight this magnificent bridge is, don’t you think?