For the first time in its 60-year history, one of the Mackinac Bridge's iconic ivory-colored towers will be stripped down to bare metal and repainted,
said the Mackinac Bridge Authority.
Contractors for the authority have begun the nearly two-year project to remove the original paint from the bridge's north tower and repaint it. The same contractor that recently repainted the bridge's south approach span was awarded the contract with a low bid of just less than $6.3 million.
The toll bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac that connect Lack Michigan and Lake Huron first opened to traffic on Nov. 1, 1957. The largest ships operating on the Great Lakes pass underneath, while the five-mile suspension bridge carries Interstate 75 surface traffic between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
The authority says its sole source of funding is from tolls and fees collected from bridge traffic, and that it uses all the revenue to maintain, operate and protect the bridge. The authority has its own board, of which
Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle is a member along with six members appointed by the governor.
"Fans of the bridge should be relieved to know that when this project is done, the tower will still be the same classic ivory that everyone recognizes," said MBA Executive Secretary Bob Sweeney. "Apart from brightening the appearance of the bridge, a quality painting project goes a long way toward ensuring the bridge is protected from the elements."
The authority said since the original paint is lead-based, the contractor is required to contain 100 percent of the paint as it is removed, test it and ship it to an appropriate landfill facility. The new paint is zinc- based, and is expected to last at least 35 years with periodic maintenance.
Sweeney said that until the 1970s the bridge authority hired contractors to spot-paint the towers as needed, and since the late 1970s MBA employees have handled that task.
The new project starts with stripping and painting some of the tower's interior "cells," followed by installation of an enclosure on the outside of the tower in late April or early May.
The contract requires completion by Dec. 31, 2018, but Sweeney said officials hope to get most of the painting done this year if weather permits.
The project will affect traffic on the structure, since during painting the contractor will close the outside two lanes near the north tower to stage equipment. Sweeney said closures on the northbound lanes will be lifted on Fridays and on southbound lanes on Sundays during peak traffic weekends, and as needed for other high-volume times such as holidays.
After this project is finished, the MBA plans to have the south tower stripped and painted as well, beginning in 2019. It said the contract for that project will go out for bids in early 2019.