There is a major change to the annual Mackinac Bridge walk this year.
Instead of everyone starting from one end and walking the entire 5-mile bridge on Labor Day 2018, walkers this year will be starting from both ends of the bridge -- St. Ignace or Mackinaw City. They will walk to the midpoint of the bridge before turning back.
The Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) voted Friday (4-2) for the change. They are calling it the "best way to keep the tradition alive" and ensure safety and convenience. The MBA is looking to save $200,000 with this change. According to the authority, they expect the selected option for the walk will cost them $360,000 in 2018, primarily in staff time. The second option, walking north to south, would cost an estimated $560,000, while the option of switching the walk direction would cost an estimated $840,000, according to the authority.
"We take very seriously the safety of all walkers and the busing issues during last year's walk that prevented many people from participating as they'd planned," said MBA Board Chairman William Gnodtke in a news released. "It's not a given that this event will continue forever, and while this is a big change, the Authority felt it is the best way to address those concerns and keep this 60-year tradition going."
The Bridge Authority said walkers will be able to start anytime between 7 a.m. and noon and walk as much of the bridge as they're able before the bridge reopens to traffic.
Bridge walkers will begin from both the St. Ignace and Mackinaw City ends of the bridge in one outside lane to the halfway point, then cross the center lanes of the bridge and head back to their starting point in the other outside lane. Those who wish to, and if they begin the walk early enough, will have the option to continue across the entire bridge.
However, those who do walk the full length of the bridge will need to walk back across the bridge -- for a 10-mile hike round trip -- or make their own transportation arrangements to get back to the side they started from after the bridge reopens to public traffic. The center two lanes will remain open to emergency vehicles.
So, you can technically still walk the whole bridge to the other side, but you'd have to do it twice -- there and back, or at least wait around to get a ride back when traffic is moving again. That doesn't sound like the ideal way to spend the entire day.
The MBA said that at a special meeting in November, when they decided to keep the walk on Labor Day for 2018, the authority asked the communities of St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Mackinac Island to develop plans for logistics and financial support of busing if it were to continue.
At Friday's meeting, the MBA said representatives of businesses and tourism agencies in Mackinaw City presented a proposal for continuing busing for the event, but suggested the board raise the price to ride the bus to $10 per person and seek corporate sponsorships to bear the remaining costs. A St. Ignace representative said the community will continue to provide free busing between Little Bear Arena and the north end of the bridge.
Between 25,000 and 60,000 people from several states and countries come to the Mackinac Bridge for the Annual Bridge Walk, which has taken place since 1958, the year after the bridge opened to traffic. The event is still planned to begin at 6:40 a.m. with the start of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness Jog, followed by a greeting from Gov. Rick Snyder at 6:55 a.m. Walkers will begin across the bridge at 7 a.m.
As it was last year, the bridge will remain closed to public traffic during the 2018 walk, at the recommendation of Michigan State Police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.