Mackinac Bridge crossings up every month in 2015

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

In 2015, traffic across the Mackinac Bridge increased in every month relative to 2014 traffic, the bridge authority said Friday morning.

The authority presented those traffic increases as a sign of an improving Michigan economy.

“The improving economy is likely the largest factor driving this increase in traffic, with low fuel prices, our special events and travel advertising contributing as well,” said Bob Sweeney, executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, in a statement. “While it’s too soon to determine whether this represents a long-term trend for the bridge, it’s very encouraging news moving forward.”

Some 3,914,361 vehicles crossed the bridge to the Upper Peninsula in 2015, up from 3,644,612 in 2014, an increase of 7.4 percent.

September saw the largest single-month increase in bridge trips: 442,402 up from 381,450 in 2014, an increase of 16 percent. August saw the lowest increase, just a 1.1 percent bump relative to 2014.

In 2014, the bridge brought in more than $20 million in tolls. While the bridge’s $21 million in expenditures were roughly equal to what it earned in tolls in 2015, it boosted its fund balance by $4.5 million due to investment income, Sweeney said.

The bridge has a fund balance of about $69 million, Sweeney said, but it has big projects on the horizon. A deck replacement, with an estimated cost of $95 million, is scheduled for 2024, but in 2020 the authority will do a deck study. If all goes well, Sweeney said, the deck replacement could be put off a few years.

Mackinac Bridge opened for business on Nov. 1, 1957, and in 2009, it was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Its sole funding source is from tolls and fees collected at the bridge.

“The Mackinac Bridge Authority has scheduled $180 million in preventive maintenance work over the next decade, and $400 million in the next 20 years,” Sweeney said. “Increased bridge traffic will help ensure that we have the necessary revenue to keep the bridge structurally sound and safe for everyone.”

Sweeney attributed the increase in bridge traffic not only to the economy, but also to the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.

Traffic flows both ways on the bridge, not only in design, but in reality. Northbound and southbound traffic were within a tenth of a point of one another, Sweeney said.

“People who travel across the bridge usually end up going in both directions,” Sweeney said.

jdickson@detroitnews.com