2017-08-31 / Front Page

Mackinac Bridge Walk Is Monday

Traffic Changes Outlined as Span Will Close During Walk; Text Updates Offered
By Erich T. Doerr

There will be a major change this year at the 60th annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk: The span will be closed to all vehicle traffic from 6:30 a.m. to noon, except for emergency vehicles and buses for walkers.

In the past, the Mackinac Bridge Authority has kept the two lanes on the west side of the bridge open to vehicle traffic while walkers headed south in the two lanes on the east side. The change this year is a security measure recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Michigan State Police. The walk will be shortened by about two hours owing to the full bridge closure.

Governor Rick Snyder and his procession, as usual, will lead as the walk sets off from St. Ignace at 7 a.m. Monday, September 4. The walk will follow its traditional route from the Mackinac Bridge Authority plaza in St. Ignace to Mackinaw City.

Walkers will cross in the two eastern lanes normally used by northbound vehicle traffic. Both lanes will remain open to walkers throughout the walk, allowing them to use the inner lane’s metal grating, compared to years past when the walk was reduced to a single lane during its later hours. The western lanes will be restricted to bridge walk-related vehicle traffic: certified buses hauling walkers from Mackinaw City, emergency vehicles, and Bridge Authority vehicles.

“I’m happy with how it is shaping up,” Bridge Authority Executive Secretary Bob Sweeney said. “We’re getting great support from the Michigan State Police, Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Transportation, and all of the agencies in getting the word out” about the bridge closure.

Participation in the walk is free, but there is a $5 per person charge to ride buses running from Mackinaw City to the starting point in St. Ignace. Mr. Sweeney said the Bridge Authority expects people to start arriving for Monday’s walk about 4 a.m. on the St. Ignace side; the first Mackinaw City buses will depart for the starting point on the north side of the Bridge at 4:30 a.m.

Parking for the walk will be available in St. Ignace at Little Bear East Arena and west of the bridge toll plaza in Bridge View Park. The park likely will fill up quickly and the parking area will close no later than 9:30 a.m. Those who park at Little Bear East Arena can board a free shuttle to the bridge.

Those coming to the event from Mackinaw City can park anywhere in the village, then walk to the State Dock and Conkling Heritage Park on South Huron Avenue to board Upper Peninsula-bound buses. The buses will continue running from Mackinaw City until 2:30 p.m. to bring those who started the day in St. Ignace back to the Bridge Authority plaza, where they can catch the shuttle back to the parking lot.

The Bridge Authority advises that all participants make sure they are physically and medically fit for the 4.5-mile trek before walking the bridge. No restrooms are available on the bridge, but portable toilets will be available at the start and finish.

Baby strollers and wheelchairs are allowed during the walk. Running, racing, smoking, playing tag, signs, banners, umbrellas, bicycles, roller skates, skateboards, and wagons or other similar devices, are prohibited. No animals are permitted, except service animals. Walkers will receive certificates in Mackinaw City as they complete their journey.

Mr. Sweeney said those taking part in the walk should note that it will end and the Bridge Authority will reopen all four traffic lanes to motor vehicles at noon. The last walkers will be allowed to leave no later than 10:30 a.m. because it takes about 90 minutes for the average person to reach the other side. The last buses bringing passengers across to start the walk will depart Mackinaw City just before that at 10 a.m. Buses will be sent out to pick up walkers who are unable to complete the trip before the reopening at noon.

The State Police and Homeland Security recommended a complete Bridge closing for the walk last April and the Bridge Authority approved the change in mid-May. There have been no threats regarding the Bridge walk, but the decision was based in terrorist attacks in which vehicles plowed into crowds of pedestrians in London and cities in Europe.

After deciding to close the Bridge to vehicle traffic during the walk, the Bridge Authority embarked on a broad campaign to get the word out. Media outlets have received press releases about it throughout the summer. Presentations about the closure have been made in St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and on Mackinac Island. The Bridge Authority, MDOT, and MDOT’s Mi Drive program have posted information about the closure on their websites.

MDOT’s online information campaign includes several popular social media websites. A message about the closure was printed on Bridge walk 60th anniversary posters, which have been displayed at every state park and campground, in every Secretary of State office, and at all of MDOT’s Michigan Welcome Centers and rest areas.

All of MDOT’s dynamic traffic message signs along major roads in Michigan have been programmed to display messages about the Labor Day Bridge closure. The department’s North and Superior regions set out additional portable signs to display the message in more locations. There’s also a message on the Bridge Authority’s radio broadcasts. The Pure Michigan campaign, Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association, tourist association offices in other Midwest states and the Canadian province of Ontario, and the Great Lakes Regional Transportation Operations Coalition also worked to get the message out.

Toll takers in the booths at the Bridge toll plaza began handing out 200,000 flyers about the Bridge walk closure during the week leading up to the event. Mr. Sweeney said he is pleased with the efforts by MDOT and the State Police to provide extra resources and help for the Bridge walk this year.

The State Police will have a major role in security for the walk. First Lieutenant Natalie King of the St. Ignace Post said the State Police would be part of a unified Labor Day command that will also include the St. Ignace Police Department, Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office and other local, state, and federal organizations.

During the walk, the State Police will be in charge of safety and traffic control, the St. Ignace Police will handle law enforcement in the city and the Mackinac sheriff’s office will handle law enforcement in the the rest of Mackinac County. National Guard personnel and military reservists, as usual, will be stationed along the Bridge walk route. Extra State Police troopers from throughout Michigan will be assigned to the Bridge walk this year. Troopers will monitor the crowd for security concerns and suspicious behavior.

“We just want to stay ahead of the game,” Lt. King said. “We’re trying to find that balance to make it safe and fun for everyone.”

The State Police will set up barricades to close the bridge at 6:30 a.m. and take them down at noon. Lt. King said the State Police have established routes for detouring traffic during the Bridge closure:

—In the St. Ignace area, I-75 will be closed just north of its intersection with US-2; I-75 traffic will be rerouted to US-2. No traffic will be allowed near the bridge’s tollbooths during the walk.

—In the Lower Peninsula, those not coming for the Bridge walk are being advised to avoid the Straits area. U.P.-bound motorists are encouraged to take a break in the Gaylord or Indian River areas during the walk because traffic will be congested in the Mackinaw City area.

Mr. Sweeney expects the biggest challenge to be the traffic delays. Despite the massive public information campaign, it’s inevitable that some motorists won’t have heard of the Bridge closure or won’t prepare for it.

The planners are ready for them. For those who just want to wait, the Bridge Authority is setting up aid stations where travelers will have access to water, juice, light snacks, and restrooms: one on Trail’s End Road near the KOA Campground in Mackinaw City; another at the I-75 rest area near St. Ignace; and two at US-2 roadside parks west of the city. The Bridge Authority will have mechanics at the aid stations for minor mechanical problems, such as overheating, running out of fuel, or flat tires.

Traffic backups, common during Bridge walks, are expected to be worse this year, even after the Bridge reopens. Those who need to cross Monday and aren’t talking part in the walk are advised to stay longer at their weekend vacation places. Mr. Sweeney suggested that motorists who have flexible Labor Day travel plans leave early enough to cross the Bridge before it closes at 6:30 a.m. or stay an extra day and leave for home Tuesday.

Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry will boost its Labor Day morning schedule to handle bridge walk-related passengers and Upper Peninsula bound commuters who need to get to work while the bridge is closed. Ferries will make special runs from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace at 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. - the only two direct runs all year between mainland docks - and one additional Mackinac Island-to-St. Ignace trip at 6 a.m. Tickets for the Labor Day Bridge Walk Express Cruises will be $20 for adults and $10 for children, slightly lower than normal rates.

“With the change to the bridge being closed this year, we’re happy to offer a service that could help local workers and visitors,” Star Line CEO Jerry Fetty said. “We do this as a courtesy to the community.”

Mr. Fetty said Star Line started offering runs directly to St. Ignace on the day of the Bridge walk because an “Island hopping” trend developed – passengers riding a ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island, then riding another ferry to St. Ignace. He expects most Labor Day passengers to be Bridge walkers but also more work-related commuters, including some of Star Line’s own Lower Peninsula-based employees.

Star Line has begun selling tickets for the special trips on its website, mackinacferry.com. Those wishing to ride are advised to buy their tickets in advance, since the extra runs have sold out in past years. Walkers who take the boat will be advised to walk from Star Line’s St. Ignace dock to the nearby Little Bear East Arena and board the Bridge walk shuttle.

The 5-1/2-hour closure of the Mackinac Bridge for this year’s walk will be the longest ever for a preplanned special event. The only prior full closure of the Bridge in relation to the walk was for two hours in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush visited the Straits area as part of his reelection campaign and led the procession with then- Gov. John Engler. Mr. Sweeney said the closure was made at the request of the US Secret Service.

While there were a few closures for small events in the early years, the only full non-weather Bridge closures in recent years were for a few minutes for a ribbon-cutting ceremony during the 50th anniversary celebration in November 2007 and briefly in May 2013, when Rochester Hills NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski drove his race car between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas as part of a Pure Michigan event.

Plans in Place for Traffic Backups

The Mackinac Bridge Authority is setting up aid stations where travelers will have access to water, juice, light snacks, and restrooms: one on Trail’s End Road near the KOA Campground in Mackinaw City; another at the I-75 rest area near St. Ignace; and two at US-2 roadside parks west of the city. The Bridge Authority will have mechanics at the aid stations for minor mechanical problems, such as overheating, running out of fuel, or flat tires.

Traffic backups, common during Bridge walks, are expected to be worse this year, even after the Bridge reopens. Motorists who have flexible Labor Day travel plans are advised to leave early enough to cross the Bridge before it closes at 6:30 a.m. or stay an extra day and leave for home Tuesday.

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