With a total length of five miles, the Mackinac Bridge remains one of the longest bridges in the world even more than 60 years after it opened. The “Mighty Mac” is an impressive structure that weighs more than 1 million tons and reaches a height of 552 feet above the water as it stretches between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.
Yet, the Mackinac Bridge as we know it today is only one-fifth the length of an alternative connection that was suggested 100 years ago.
Did you know…
…that a 1920s proposal would have routed vehicles along a 25-mile path of bridges and causeways between Cheboygan, Mackinac Island and St. Ignace?
As interest grew in a motorized link over the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s two peninsulas, the state Legislature solicited ideas, according to the Mackinac Bridge Authority. A New York City engineer, C. E. Fowler, proposed a series of bridges and causeways that would take traffic on an island-hopping route from Cheboygan through Bois Blanc, Round and Mackinac Islands and then on to St. Ignace.
In fact, survey markers for the planned road alignment still exist on Bois Blanc Island. This TV report shows a map of the proposed route and talks about how the Cheboygan-to-St. Ignace connector would have changed the nature of the islands and the entire Straits of Mackinac.
Could you imagine the freeway running through Mackinac Island?
More than 4.2 million vehicles crossed the Mackinac Bridge between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City in 2019. In August, the busiest month of the year for the “Mighty Mac,” bridge traffic averaged more than 20,600 vehicles per day. That kind of traffic would completely change the character of Mackinac Island, where motor vehicles have been banned since the beginning of the 1900s!
It’s hard to envision exactly what Mackinac Island might look like today had Michigan acted on Fowler’s plan a century ago. But it’s a good bet that many distinctive features of Mackinac Island would have been lost to history:
Would there be a need to shuttle passengers back and forth from the mainland if people could just drive straight to Mackinac Island? The ferry ride from either St. Ignace or Mackinaw City is one of many things that makes visiting Mackinac Island a truly unique experience.
Horse-drawn carriage tours
Mackinac Island leaders voted to ban the horseless carriage at the start of the 20th century because the newfangled vehicles scared the horses! Undoubtedly, the clip-clop pace of Mackinac Island would have been forever changed had thousands of motor vehicles started arriving daily on a bridge from the mainland.
One of the more popular things to do on Mackinac Island is riding a bike, and many visitors like to pedal all the way around the outer rim of the island on M-185. The 8.2-mile route makes for an enjoyable, leisurely ride precisely because there are no motor vehicles. In fact, M-185 is the only state highway in the country that prohibits automobiles!
Who knows how a bridge might have affected Mackinac Island’s historic attractions and natural wonders? Would Fort Mackinac ever have been restored into the living history museum that it is today? Could Mackinac Island’s stunning geological features such as Arch Rock have been preserved? Would more than 80 percent of Mackinac Island still be a public outdoor recreation paradise?
As it turned out, the state decided against proceeding with Fowler’s plan and three decades later forged ahead with construction of the current Mackinac Bridge, which links Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas without connecting to Mackinac Island. As a result, there’s no road to Mackinac Island and to this day no cars are allowed.
Fortunately, Mackinac Island still feels a lot like it did back in 1920!