Loss of bridge would be 'devastating'
By Kathleen Lavey Lansing State Journal
So what if terrorists actually had damaged the Mackinac Bridge?
Losing the five-mile span that connects Michigan's Lower and Upper peninsulas would be "devastating," said Tom Nemacheck, director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association.
"Tourism in the U.P. is over a $1 billion industry, and 60 to 70 percent of our tourism comes across that bridge," he said. "That's not looking at the timber industry, trade and other economic sectors."
It's a vital link for Michigan," added Robert Sweeney, director of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. "It would certainly create isolation between the two peninsulas."
Three Palestinian-American men from Texas were arrested Friday near a Wal-Mart outlet in Caro after buying 80 cell phones, which authorities say can be used to detonate explosive charges. Police said the men had videos and photos of the Mackinac Bridge and 1,000 more cell phones in their van.
Still, "there was no credible or actionable evidence of a threat to the bridge," Sweeney said. The FBI also said Monday there is no imminent threat to the bridge.
But the people who tend the bridge say they have been ready just in case. A comprehensive protection plan was updated after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sweeney said.
The plan includes the bridge authority, Michigan State Police and the U.S. Coast Guard, which has boosted patrols in the Straits of Mackinac for now.
The disaster plan calls for a return to the ferry system - used before the bridge's opening in 1957 - in the event the structure is unusable. One of the ferry lines that take tourists to Mackinac Island has a craft that can carry a few vehicles, and likely would be used immediately, Sweeney said. Then, officials would negotiate with private ferry companies around the state to carry cars from docks in St. Ignace to Mackinaw City or vice-versa.
Bridge Authority officials and others say harming the bridge would be difficult because of the structure's sheer size.
Mackinac Bridge is the world's third-longest suspension span. It was built to withstand formidable wind, water and weather conditions. Its steel towers rise 552 feet above the surface of the water and are filled with rock and concrete. Its main suspension cables are 24 1/2 inches thick and the entire bridge weighs more than 1 million tons.
"It's not an airplane, it's not fragile," said William Saul, professor emeritus of civil engineering at Michigan State University. "It would take a great deal of explosive or effort of whatever kind to damage that bridge."
Saul, who attended Michigan Technological University in the U.P. city of Houghton, remembers the days before the bridge well.
In winter, the short trip aboard an ice-breaking ferry was enough to make some people sick. During heavy tourism periods, "the lineup would be terrible," he said.
David and Janet Waldron live in East Lansing and have a summer home near Naubinway in the U.P. They make about a dozen round trips across the bridge a year.
"It has crossed my mind," David Waldron said of terrorism on the bridge. "How would you ever stop such an act? But personally, I don't have a lot of concern about it."
The bridge authority asks motorists crossing the bridge to be alert, Sweeney said.
"If they see anything suspicious on the bridge, they should report that at the toll booth or to the Michigan State Police or local police," he said.
Contact Kathleen Lavey at 377-1251 or email@example.com.
ADDITIONAL BRIDGE INFO:
More than 429,000 vehicles crossed the Mackinac Bridge in June. Daily traffic during peak August weekends reaches 35,000.
MAKING THE TRIP BY LAND;
The overland route to the Upper Peninsula would be a tough option if the Mackinac Bridge were out and ferries weren't available:• Lansing to Munising, via the bridge: About 353 miles and 5 1/2 hours of driving time.• Lansing to Munising, around Lake Michigan: About 596 miles and 10 1/2 hours of driving time.• Lansing to Munising, through Canada: Skirting Lake Huron in Ontario would take more than 15 hours and be about 830 miles.
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