Plan Ahead: Should We Charge Tolls On Michigan’s Famous Zilwaukee Bridge?
Since toll bridges are becoming a thing in the Bay City area it got me thinking about other major bridges within Michigan, we might consider tolling for future maintenance and reconstruction needs.
Is the I-75 Zilwaukee Bridge toll free?
- It is. And it took an awful long time to build -- delays due to accidents and even deaths delayed progress and cost millions to redo.
Why would we want tolls for the I-75 Zilwaukee Bridge?
- The bridge was fully opened in 1988 -- that's almost 40 years of age. A lot for a massive concrete bridge. While maintenance is performed regularly -- we all know inevitable needs arise. For instance, the first-time bearings were supposed to be replaced in 2008 -- the construction company caused damage because changes were made in the field (during original construction) and not noted on the handwritten blueprint.
- In my opinion, if the public demanded tolls be paid into an untouchable account -- when the time came for reconstruction or massive repairs, we wouldn't spend time in miles-long traffic back-ups waiting for City, State and Federal government to allocate money. (I know, that's wishful "utopian" thinking, but worth considering.)
How much is a reasonable toll for Zilwaukee Bridge?
- First, we need to know how many people travel the Zilwaukee Bridge annually. According to estimates, over 21 million vehicles traverse the bridge each year (think deer hunting, up north and holiday traffic). If the toll was just .25 cents each way that's $10.5 million annually.
- But wait -- do we need that much annually? Considering regular maintenance, annual inflation and surprise issues... likely so.
- Or maybe we consider .50 cents each way -- that's $21 million annually. The extra money could help improve other Interstates in our communities.
How old is the Zilwaukee Bridge?
- Construction started in the late 1970s. The northbound bridge opened in late 1987. The southbound bridge opened a few months later in 1988. That's almost 40 years in service.
Is the I-75 Zilwaukee Bridge safe?
- According to website michiganhighways.org, ongoing maintenance for the Zilwaukee Bridge is common. In fact, tens of millions of dollars were invested between 2008 and 2015 to replace 154 of the bridge's bearings. Thus, doubling the bridge's lifespan to a "predicted" 100 years -- through 2087.
How long is the Zilwaukee Bridge?
- The Zilwaukee Bridge carries I-75 and U-23 North and Southbound over two, separate elevated bridges. The overall length of each span is approximately 1.5 miles across.
I'm sure anyone that didn't bother to read this opinion piece is thinking someone wants to charge $20 to cross the bridge -- not at all. Just thinking we should start having the conversations to plan ahead. We will all want to keep this main artery through Mid-Michigan over the Saginaw River, safe & sound.