By Tom Adkinson

ST. IGNACE, Mich. - The narrow ribbon of steel and asphalt known as the Mackinac Bridge turned 60 years old last November (Nov. 1, 2017). It soars over the Straits of Mackinac connecting Michigan's two peninsulas and creating a year-round link for commerce and recreation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a region more than twice the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey and 16 times bigger than Rhode Island.

The bridge is known as the Mighty Mac, and skeptics said it never could be built over the swirling waters where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan blend. A bold engineer and fearless workers spent 41 months proving the skeptics wrong and adding a challenge for gephyrophobics to conquer.

Gephyrophobia - the fear of bridges - existed before the Mighty Mac opened in 1957, but the structure certainly made it possible for millions of travelers to know whether the phobia lurked within them.

When cars and truck began rolling over the bridge, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It's now the fifth longest (the longest is in Japan), but it's still the longest in the western hemisphere.

The Mighty Mac is a dazzling sight, and its dimensions are astounding.

  • Its full length is 26,372 feet. That's five miles.
  • The suspended portion is 8,614 feet (1.63 miles).
  • In the middle of the span, the roadway is 200 feet over the water.
  • Its four-lane swath is 54 feet wide and is part of I-75 that goes south all the way to Florida.
Mackinac Bridge at Sunset

Support Tower
"Whenever I see this great bridge, I think of David Steinman, its architect and chief engineer. He called it the 'Greatest Bridge in the World,'" said Fred Huffman, group tour coordinator for the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association.

"Steinman designed more than 400 bridges on five continents, and he scoffed at critics who said the bedrock was unstable. He guaranteed the bridge would withstand winds of 200 miles an hour and that its steel and concrete foundation would outlast Egypt's pyramids," Huffman said.

The Mackinac Bridge Authority notes that one reason for Steinmann's confidence is that suspension bridges move to accommodate wind, temperature changes and weight. Winter storms can be fierce up here on the Great Lakes.

The authority said the bridge deck at center span can move as much as 35 feet side to side.

"This would only happen under severe wind conditions. The deck would not swing or 'sway' but rather move slowly in one direction based on the force and direction of the wind. After the wind subsides, the weight of the vehicles crossing would slowly move it back into center position," according to bridge authority literature.

A popular long-distance platform to view the Mighty Mac is the expansive front porch of Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, but the best way to sense the scale and strength of the bridge is on one of the special trips offered by the two ferry companies that zip boats through the area.

Both the Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry and Shelpler's Mackinac Island Ferry have excursions that offer dramatic views and make you how the 3,500 bridge builders accomplished their task.

In addition to sparking admiration from many and dread among a few, the Mighty Mac even expanded Michigan's lexicon. Residents of the Upper Peninsula (UP) long ago became known as "Yoopers," but with the opening of the Mighty Mac, Yoopers were free to call those living below the bridge "Trolls."

Grand Hotel Porch View

Star Line
Information to plan a trip to the land of Yoopers and Trolls is at and

Tom Adkinson, a Marco Polo member of the Society of American Travel Writers, calls Nashville, Tenn., home.

Reprinted from's Quarterly Digital Magazine.
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