The MacArthur Bridge, which connects Jefferson Avenue to Detroit's Belle Isle, is undergoing extensive construction until fall 2018. A large group of working unrecognizable persons, along with construction barrels, and moving vehicles line the bridge. Photo via Getty
The MacArthur Bridge, which connects Jefferson Avenue to Detroit's Belle Isle, is undergoing extensive construction until fall 2018. A large group of working unrecognizable persons, along with construction barrels, and moving vehicles line the bridge.

Michigan’s bridges are icons of the state’s civil engineering triumphs, but more than 1,000 are in dire need of repair or replacement.

ST. IGNACE, Mich.—At just under five miles long, the Mackinac Bridge is one of the longest in the world, and is unmatched among suspension bridges in the Americas. “Mighty Mac,” as it’s known, is the key point of connection between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas. 

Gracing Michigan license plates and a postage stamp, the enormous span has become near-synonymous with Michigan itself, and that has on occasion even translated to a place in popular culture. The Mighty Mac featured in the 2004 film I, Robot and on an episode of the Discovery series Dirty Jobs in 2007, which explored the work that goes into the bridge’s maintenance. 

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That maintenance is key to the survival of any bridge. Nearing its 64th birthday, the Mackinac Bridge remains in solid condition thanks to both its impressive design and its fastidious maintenance. Any infrastructure left without routine upkeep crumbles, as the state of Michigan roads can attest, so the fact that Mighty Mac still looks good and stands tall is a testament to those who keep it standing. 

But most of Michigan’s bridges aren’t iconic triumphs of civil engineering and architectural ambition. They’re just bridges. And they aren’t faring so well.

A Bridge Too Far

Speaking at the construction site of the Lowell Road Bridge over Ik-69 in Clinton County, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer acknowledged the situation facing the roads and bridges in the state and addressed her plan to continue forward, addressing the problem.

“Rebuilding Michigan’s infrastructure has been a priority for my administration since day one, making our roads safer and economy stronger for small businesses,” said Gov. Whitmer. “The Rebuilding Michigan plan allows us to fix the damn roads this construction season, without an increase at the gas pump. We need to keep moving forward by investing in our state’s infrastructure and generating good-paying jobs.” 

Her plan synergizes with President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, which plans to support America’s most economically significant bridges, like the Blue Water and Mackinac, but also has targeted 10,000 smaller bridges nationwide for repair. 

And some of Michigan’s smaller bridges are in dire need of repair. The Michigan Department of Transportation has an interactive map showing the condition of the bridges in Michigan, and it features a lot of critical places for maintenance. 

Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits Lowell Road Bridge in Clinton County.

Bridges of Bay County

In Bay County, Avalon Road crosses a small channel over a bridge that is in serious need for repair. It’s not very heavily trafficked, but its deferred maintenance has left it in a position assessors deemed “intolerable.”

Though the supports are structurally sound, the Avalon bridge has a few problems that would require it to be fully replaced at this point. Its capacity to withstand heavy load is too low and the tunnel underneath, through which the channel flows, is in serious disrepair. 

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That is more indicative of Michigan bridges than the Blue Water or Mighty Mac, according to a report issued by the White House. That report, which gave Michigan’s overall infrastructure a D+ rating, found 1,219 Michigan bridges in major need of repairs. 

As is the case with roads in general, it can be a lot easier to do quick, temporary fixes than the kind of massive undertaking that restored the Blue Water Bridge. But also as with roads in general, that only delays the crisis the bridge will face, it doesn’t avert it entirely. It’s a bandage, and the bridges need stitches.