The Real Big Mac

The Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Bridge is a very special bridge for a lot of reasons so it made sense for me to use it for Jake’s Sunday Post for this week. I talked about how important it is from the perspective of people living in the Upper Peninsulas of Michigan in an earlier post you can find here. It is a beautiful bridge that is situated in a beautiful setting, spanning the Straits of Mackinac that connects the very large fresh-water bodies of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It feels like a jewel sparkling in the rural and sometimes rugged beauty of northern Michigan.

Lake Michigan 025

When it was finished in 1957 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Now the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan (built in 1998) is the longest with a total suspension of 12,826 feet. The Great Belt Bridge in Halsskov-Sprogoe, Denmark (built in 1998) is the second longest with a total suspension of 8,921 feet. The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere, having a suspension of 8,614 feet. The total length of the Mackinac Bridge is 26,372 feet or 5 miles.

A northern Michigan newspaper reported in early 1884 that the experiment to provide all-year service across the Straits by boat had failed, and a bridge or tunnel would be required if there were to be travel between the peninsulas. Ideas were proposed in the ensuing years, including a floating tunnel. In 1923 the Michigan legislature ordered the State Highway Department to establish a ferry service at the Straits. Within five years traffic on this facility became so heavy that the governor ordered a study of bridge feasibility. This was a huge undertaking because of the depth of the water, the strong current, and the harsh winter conditions. It would be expensive. Interest was renewed several times in the ensuring years until work was finally begun in spring of 1954. The bridge was designed by the great engineer Dr. David B. Steinman. It opened to traffic on November 1, 1957 according to schedule, despite the many hazards of marine construction over the turbulent Straits of Mackinac.

Pudding Stone 010

The engineering of this bridge is mind-boggling (not surprising seeing I marvel at all engineering). All suspension bridges are designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight. It is possible that the deck of the Big Mac at center span could move as much as 35 feet (east or west) due to severe wind conditions. The deck does not swing or “sway” but rather moves slowly in one direction based on the force and direction of the wind. After the wind subsides, the weight of the vehicles crossing will slowly move it back into center position. As I said, this is one amazing bridge.

Information for this post came from the Michigan Department of Transportation website, where you can obtain more interesting facts about the bridge and see more pictures.ย

To see more photos of bridges, click on this link:ย


15 thoughts on “The Real Big Mac

  1. Pingback: Bridges | A New Day

    • Wow. I went over this summer on a relatively calm day and had to drive on the center grated part because they were painting (as usual). I felt the wind move the car ever so slightly. I was glad it wasn’t windier.


    • I hope you do, too, Amy. It has a magic to it. I wondered if it is just me, but I’ve asked others and they all say it does for them, too.


  2. And here I have been telling myself that it is just a legend. I love the bridge, but just the thought of it gives me an adrenaline rush. A perfect example of Kant’s sublime: an experience of awe that comes from glimpsing the infinite powers of nature from a position that is mostly safe.


    • I like that, Sharon. I hope I have many, many more sublime experiences. Crossing the Big Mac always does that to me as does viewing Lake Superior. Niagara Falls would do that for me if there weren’t so many tourists. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Nothing in your description conveys how awesomely scary that bridge is. What about the legend of a gust of wind picking up a Ford Festiva and dropping it into Lake Huron? Or the people who will drive your car over for you?


    • The car going over the edge isn’t a legend – it happened. My goal isn’t to scare people, sweetheart, but to make them want to go over it. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • The way the bridge can move is new information to me and shakes me up a bit. The fact that the wind is strong enough to move something that massive and the bridge actually can shift that much is well awesomely scary.


  4. We are doing a summer vacation there next week- I am totally psyched to see it! Have been to Michigan many times as we have friends in Travers City but never this far north. Any suggestions?


    • Mackinaw Island is always a delight – take a ferry either from the LP at Mackinaw City or from St. Ignace in the UP. We really enjoy the UP and an easy drive is to White Fish Point. There is a working lighthouse there and a nice museum. Also Tehquaminon Falls which is along the way to White Fish Point. If you want to do more of the UP, there are the Pictured Rocks and I love Houghton. As long as you are that far, the drive up to Copper Harbor is beautiful. If you really want to experience Lake Superior, you need to do the Circle Drive around the lake, coming back through Sault Ste. Marie. But now we are talking a lot more time. ๐Ÿ™‚ I bet you are sorry you asked – my enthusiasm bubbleth over. This area is just interesting to poke around in to discover your own treasures. I look forward to seeing your posts of the area, Tina. Have fun!


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