File photo of the Mackinac Bridge.
Mackinac Bridge crossers may need a bit more pocket change to head to destinations on either side of the state's peninsulas next year.
The Mackinac Bridge Authority, the bridge operator, is considering raising tolls to pay for a series of bridge renovations. But before any plans are set, the Michigan Department of Transportation will hold three public forums so that people can comment on the proposed tolls and construction.
According to a proposal on the bridge authority's Web site, costs to renovate the bridge over the next 20 years could total $300 million.
MDOT spokesman Bob Felt said the construction plans include a complete redecking of the bridge, where the asphalt, concrete and steel below the surface of the bridge will be removed and replaced. This project wouldn't be slated to begin until 2017.
Robert Sweeney, executive administrator for the Mackinac Bridge Authority, could not be reached for comment.
So far, the bridge authority is considering two proposals to cover the costs – both of which result in rate increases.
One plan would raise the one-way toll for automobiles, currently $2.50, to $4. Truck tolls would increase from $3 per axle to $5 per axle.
The second plan would levy the same increases, but incrementally, in 2008 and 2013.
The authority estimates a funds shortfall in 2019 under the current rate structure, the report said. It did not specify how big the shortfall is expected to be.
“We're collecting money today for a project 10 years down the road,” Felt said. “We're talking about re-decking, which replaces just about everything except the towers and the cable.”
The report said the bridge authority has spent $53 million on renovation projects over the last 10 years.
“In order to responsibly operate the bridge and continue investing in our long-term preservation program, we simply need more funds,” said MBA Board Chairman William H. Gnodtke in a statement on the bridge authority's Web site.
The board could vote on the proposals as early as next month. The last time the board increased toll rates was in 2003.
Traffic on the bridge through September is down nearly 2% compared with the same time last year, according to a report from the Mackinac Bridge Authority. The toll collected from January through September of this year is down more than $450,000 compared to the same period of 2006.
All operational costs, investments and maintenance of the bridge comes from the money generated at toll booths, Felt said.
Felt said he believed with the redecking project, one side of the bridge containing one lane both directions would be closed. The traffic would flow through one lane in each direction of the bridge as a result.
The first two public forums will be on Dec. 4: at 10 a.m. at the Little Bear Arena in St. Ignace and at 4:30 p.m. at the Hamilton Inn Select in Mackinaw City. The third will be at 1 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Transportation Service Center in Lansing.
“We're looking to get feedback from local communities, tourists, residents, business owners and anyone potentially impacted by such a decision,” Felt said. “…All feedback will be considered.” Felt said that all proposals the board ends up considering will be posted on the Web site.
The bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the state and third largest in the world, according to its Web site.
For more information on the bridge and the tolls, go to: www.mackinacbridge.org.
By Bowdeya Tweh, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer