An auction will sell off pieces of the Mackinac Bridge, and it’s a much larger story of masterful civil engineering and what routine infrastructure maintenance could do for Michigan.
ST. IGNACE, Mich.—One of the most enduring symbols of Michigan’s spirit of engineering is the Mackinac Bridge. Connecting the Lower and Upper Peninsulae. The Mighty Mac clocks in at just under five miles long, making it one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, and unmatched in the United States.
“From a civil engineering perspective, it is the crown jewel of our state, without question,” said Ronald Brenke, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Michigan Chapter to the Detroit Free Press. “It’s an icon in the state; something that we’re all very proud of.”
Going on 64 years old, the Mighty Mac has been part of Michiganders’ lives longer than many of us have been alive. And now, history lovers can own a piece of that iconic span.
Barrels of around 140 pieces of grating from the original Mackinac Bridge, weighing in at an average of 170 pounds, can be bid on right now at auction. They’ll be available until Tuesday, May 18, when the auction closes. The price is already up to over $600 a barrel, with some barrels nearing $800.
Those pieces of history were, unfortunately, coated in lead-based paint like many constructions of it’s era. The auction website says most of the paint has been stripped away, but requires bidders to sign a hold-harmless agreement to own Mackinac steel.
A similar auction in April sold off 12 pieces of steel weighing 200 pounds each. The auctions will continue at random times throughout the year, said Mackinac Bridge Authority CEO Kim Nowack.
“We auction our surplus materials, vehicles, equipment, traffic devices, small tools whenever we have a need to dispose of something,” Nowack told The ‘Gander. “When we work on the grating replacement project it generates the old grating pieces which we have no need for and need to dispose of. We used to simply scrap the grating, but realized that people are interested in it so we offer it for auction.”
Keeping the Mackinac Bridge Iconic for 64 Years
While the Mighty Mac is still mighty today, the independent state agency overseeing the bridge, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, is gearing up for the most dramatic overhaul the bridge has seen since it’s construction, officials told the Free Press.
Thanks in part to its iconic status, the Mackinac Bridge has avoided many of the infrastructure woes born of decades of neglect that smaller bridges throughout Michigan have seen. Those bridges will get the kind of repairs they need, and that the Mighty Mac has avoided needing thanks to its 50-person dedicated maintenance team.
The two towers that hold the bridge up, it’s piers, are in near-mint condition, fairing almost as well as they did 64 years ago. Despite the legendarily rough waters around the Straits of Mackinac, the base of those towers holds strong as well.
A dedicated maintenance team the bridge authority employs has also kept the bridge’s deck, the part people drive on, in extraordinary condition, making it last far longer than most bridge decks do.
This long-term and successful maintenance operation both until today and over the next few decades is possible despite Michigan’s larger plight of decaying infrastructure thanks to its status as a toll bridge, able to in large part finance its own dedicated staff and repair projects.
But no human construction, not even Mighty Mac, lasts forever without serious renovation.
The deck is the first such renovation project.
From the grating to the cross-beam supports spaced along the bridge’s length, to the five “stringer” beams of steel that run the full span of the Mackinac Bridge, the entire deck is intended to be replaced.
Starting in 2031, the Mackinac Bridge Authority plans to perform a similar overhaul on the approach spans that lead up to the suspended bridge. The total project will run about $240 million over the next 15 years, and during every phase of maintenance traffic will continue with lane closures.
Nowack told The ‘Gander those estimates might change as a new study into the renovations is underway to get more precise details.
The Bridge Your Bridge Could Look Like
In order to have the same longevity, Michigan’s other bridges need investments from state, local, and federal governments, like those found in the American Jobs Plan and Rebuilding Michigan Plan. Thankfully, President Joe Biden and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are committed to sweeping infrastructure improvements in Michigan.
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, 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.