2017-03-23 / Front Page

Bridge Tower To Be Painted Soon

Credit Card Plans Still Coming for Mackinc Bridge
By Erich T. Doerr

Mackinac Bridge Authority plans for 2017 include repainting a bridge tower and offering credit card options for paying tolls. The projects were discussed at an MBA meeting in Lansing February 21 and February 22.

The bridge anticipates being able to accept credit card payments beginning this summer, said Executive Secretary Bob Sweeney. It is working with toll software vendor Conduent and will start testing credit card equipment in April so problems can be worked out before traffic picks up in late June.

Credit card payment will be offered in the outermost toll lanes, and only at staffed toll booths. Such payments take longer to process and could lead to longer traffic backups at peak times.

About 100 customers a day tell bridge staff they have no cash with which to pay. When this occurs, northbound traffic is directed to pull over and pay inside the bridge authority office. The southbound lanes have portable credit card machines so drivers will not need to cross the toll plaza to make payments.

The tower painting project will be one of the most noticeable to travelers this year. It will be the first contractual painting of the towers since their construction. Past bridge painting was carried out by MBA crews, but a private contractor was brought in this year because of the work involved to remove existing paint from the north tower right down to the original lead-based red primer. Efforts in 2017 will focus on the north tower. Painting the south tower is scheduled for 2019.

Seaway Painting has been hired to paint the north tower for $6.3 million following its success with a painting project on the truss sections in 2015. The contract is for two years, with all work required to be completed by December 31, 2018, but Mr. Sweeney said most of the work would be done in 2017. The project will require more than 100 employees, with about a third expected to be local hires.

Work on the north tower will begin this month with some interior painting work. Painting will move outside once the weather improves. The painters will start at the top of the bridge and work down. Seaway will set up a containment area to capture all of the paint as it is removed so none will fall into Straits of Mackinac. All of the paint will be taken to shore after its removal, where its lead level can measured before it is disposed of at a landfill that can handle it, probably downstate.

Mr. Sweeney said the work is intended to remove most of the remaining lead paint from the bridge. After the towers are repainted, the only remaining lead paint will be on the cables. The lead paint is not a health hazard, as it sealed underneath both the intermediate and top layers of paint.

In light of the work, Mr. Sweeney recommends that all drivers crossing take their time. Drivers should focus always on the lane ahead, not the painting, even when navigating construction zones. Drivers are also advised to pay attention and adjust for any changes in conditions.

The MBA will expand the cold storage building this year. The additional space will be used to store a crane and additional trucks not used in winter.

Last July, the MBA received its annual fracture critical inspection, which focused on items that could lead to a full closure of the structure if they required repair. Mr. Sweeney said several minor issues were found, but were repaired by the maintenance staff before the inspectors even submitted their report.

The 60th anniversary of the Mackinac Bridge is this year. No major events are planned, although posters celebrating the achievement will be sold at the bridge plaza, beginning in May.

The first Snowmobile the Mighty Mac procession for vintage snowmobiles in December 2016 took place without a hitch, and is slated to become an annual event. The MBA has already approved the event for 2017, 2018, and 2019. The Mighty Mac Swim across the Straits of Mackinac has been cancelled for 2017 but may return in 2018. The event was scheduled to move from Labor Day to August this year, simplifying its organization so it would no longer take place alongside the Mackinac Bridge Walk. If the event returns, there are plans to reverse its direction, possibly crossing the Straits from Mackinaw City to Bridge View Park in St. Ignace.

Traffic at the bridge was up 4.9% in January 2017, compared with January 2016. This continues the current trend for more crossings, as 2016, as a whole, saw increases over 2015. More vehicles are expected at the bridge in 2017. The bridge made $1.9 million more in toll revenue last year and spent $2.2 million less than it expected, thanks in large part to good employee efficiency, allowing it to invest $4.1 million more toward its future work, such as the replacement of the bridge deck in 2024.

Mr. Sweeney attributed the traffic increases to Michigan’s improving economy, reasonable gas prices, and great summer weather all leading to increases in area tourism. About 80% of the traffic at the bridge is tourism related. He noted the Mackinac Bridge has relatively low commuter and commercial traffic compared to most other highway sections in Michigan.

Mr. Sweeney will be part of a 19- member state task force that will develop a policy for aerial drone use following the passage of Michigan Public Act 436 of 2016, which now regulates them. Existing laws regarding unmanned aircraft will remain in place while the task force does its work. Those wishing to use them near the Mackinac Bridge should be aware they need to stay at least 500 feet away from the Lower Peninsula side of the bridge and must not fly over the bridge or its traffic. Drones cannot be flown at the northern end of the bridge because the Federal Aviation Administration requires them to stay at least five miles away from all airports. The north end is within the radius surrounding both the Mackinac County Airport at St. Ignace and Mackinac Island Airport.

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