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Crossing the Straits of Mackinac

The impact of the Mackinac Bridge connecting Upper and Lower Michigan
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 10:20 AM EDT
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ST. IGNACE, Mich. (WLUC) - When the Mackinac Bridge closed recently because of falling ice, many travelers were stranded for hours on both sides of the bridge.

It’s a good reminder that motorists didn’t always enjoy the convenience of the Mighty Mac.

When Michigan became a state in 1837, if you traveled to St. Ignace and wanted to visit the lower part of the state, you needed to find a boat to cross 5 miles of water. And that’s how it stayed for 120 years.

Eventually, the state started providing the boat but crossing those 5 miles of water was not easy and not very efficient, especially once we started traveling by car. The ships got larger over the years. In the 1920s, the state-operated ferries could carry 20 or 30 cars, but they got progressively bigger until 1952 when the “Vacationland” went into service carrying nearly 150 cars and trucks. For just over $3 you and your car could cross the straits.

Over the years there were many bridge studies, but none proved feasible until 1950 when legislation was enacted that led to a plan to construct the bridge, which opened on Nov. 1, 1957. Finally, there was an easy way to travel between the two peninsulas.

So, when the bridge is closed like recently, do people have an option other than waiting for the bridge to open? They do, but it’s not likely anyone would want to use it. If you’re in Mackinaw City, it would involve traveling back to the southwest corner of lower Michigan, heading west through Indiana and Illinois, turning north into Wisconsin and driving through Milwaukee and Green Bay, then reaching Upper Michigan and heading for your destination. In all, you would have to travel about a thousand miles. You could also take an eastern route through Canada, but the distance is just as long.

So, when the Bridge closes, your only real choice is to wait for it to open again because there is only one road connecting Michigan’s two peninsulas and that’s the road that crosses the Mackinac Bridge. We can be thankful the Mighty Mac rarely closes.

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