Concerned that travelers will be concerned about bridge safety in Michigan following the August 1 collapse of a steel arch bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Department of Transportation engineers inspected the similarly-designed Cut River Bridge in Mackinac County Friday, August 3, and declared it safe. The suspension-style Mackinac Bridge, inspected earlier by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), was rated 55 out of 55 points for structural adequacy.
The Cut River Bridge on US-2 passed inspection three months ago, but Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said he had it inspected again this month to alleviate public concerns, as interest in bridge safety increased following the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota. The latest inspection confirmed the 641-foot-long span is in "good condition and safe for all traffic," he said. Passage on the structure was reduced to one lane for approximately 2.5 hours during the inspection.
The I-35 bridge was opened in 1967 with a 458-foot-long span across the river.
Similar to the Minnesota structure, the Cut River span is a continuous deck truss bridge with a concrete deck, a steel truss, and reinforced piers. Two other similarly designed Michigan bridges were declared safe following reinspection last week, the M-55 Pine River Bridge in Manistee County and the US-23 Ocqueoc River Bridge in Presque Isle County. Inspection of the M-26 Eagle River Bridge in Keweenaw County, a pedestrian-only structure, was scheduled for Monday, August 6.
"Motorists in Michigan can be confident that all of our bridges are safe," said Mr. Steudle in a released statement."
Approximately 4,200 vehicles cross the Cut River Bridge daily, said MDOT spokesman James Lake. It was built in 1947 and is scheduled for a $1 million redecking project in 2008.
Redecking of the Mackinac Bridge is years away, but the bridge is slated for resurfacting next spring in a project that is expected to be completed before the annual St. Ignace Antique Care Show the end of June, said Bob Sweeney, the Mackinac Bridge Authority's executive secretary.
Some travelers are afraid to drive across bridges, and the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) has provided drivers, if needed, since the bridge opened in 1957. The assistance is free, but Mr. Sweeney said there has been no noticeable increase in requests since the bridge collapse in Minnesota.
Two drivers seeking assistance the day after the Minnesota bridge collapse say their fear of heights prompted their requests for help, not the Minnesota bridge failure.
Just after 2 p.m. Thursday, 67- year-old Ellen Weatherbee of Pinckney pulled up to the customer service booth on the south side of the bridge with her German shepherd. She was heading north to her properties on Drummond Island and Cockburn Island. This is the 20th time she has sought assistance, she said, and
Dean O'Brien, a five-year seasonal maintenance employee at the bridge, recognizes her as he pulls up behind her car.
"I used to drive over, and it got so I was dreading coming north because of the bridge," she said. "I get a dizzy feeling when I'm driving over the bridge. It doesn't bother me when they are driving."
MBA maintenance department employees will drive nervous travelers across the five-mile span. The common method is to drive the person across in his own car, motor home, or truck, although some people prefer to ride in an MBA vehicle.
About once a year, Mr. Sweeney said, a crew member will drive a traveler's vehicle over the bridge, while the traveler uses ferry boat service between the mainland and Mackinac Island to avoid crossing the bridge completely. Ferry boats can be taken across the Straits by using Mackinac Island as a stopover point.
Thursday, August 2, was considered a busy day at the bridge, and Mr. Sweeney estimated 20,000 vehicles would cross the structure. Past statistics show that of those, about 10 drivers will seek assistance.
The Minnesota situation "didn't even bother me," said Norman Reyburn, 71, of Grand Rapids. Mr. Reyburn and his wife, Marge, were on their way home that day after vacationing in the Upper Peninsula when he stopped at the toll booth plaza asking for crossing assistance.
He is greeted by Mr. O'Brien, who had driven the couple across several days earlier.
"I used to drive it all the time," said Mr. Reyburn, "and now I can't do it. I feel like I'm being pulled off, and there is nothing I can do about it."
As Mr. O'Brien drives the couple across, Mr. Reyburn, looking ahead and chatting, said he has taken advantage of the assistance program four times now.
About $180 million will be invested in state bridges each year over the next five years, said Mr. Steudle.
"It is important to note that bridge collapses such as the one that happened in Minneapolis are extremely rare," he said. "We are confident we have safe bridges in Michigan and carefully manage them to ensure the safety of the motoring public. If we had concerns about any particular bridge, we would immediately take appropriate action."
National Bridge Inspection Standards require MDOT to inspect bridges every two years. An outside engineering firm inspects the Mackinac Bridge annually, which exceeds federal requirements. Also, maintenance crews continually inspect and perform preventive maintenance work on the structure, said Mr. Sweeney.
For the 2008 fiscal year beginning in October, he said, MBA will spend $18 million, more than 80% of its annual budget, on maintenance work.