Why Painting The Mackinac Bridge Is Taking 20 Years

Posted at 8:31 AM, Aug 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-05 08:34:21-04

ST. IGNACE. Mich. — It will take another six years to finish repainting the Mackinac Bridge. And the project is on time.

That’s because managers of the Mackinac Bridge Authority started the project in 1999, they knew that repainting the Mighty Mac would take 20 years.

Why? Because the bridge is being stripped to the original steel, and because the paint first used on the bridge was lead-based paint, every flake must be captured and placed in landfills approved for hazardous materials, according to Ned McLennan, who is the transportation maintenance supervisor for the Authority. “It’s not going to contaminate the water or the surrounding area.”

That explains the stretches of special tarp draped sections of railing and the nearly constant lane closures.

(Watch the video of FOX 17’s Robb Westaby going to the top of the Mackinac Bridge.)

Since the sandblasting is used to remove the old paint, a special vacuum mounted on a large truck sucks up the sand and paint. “To get rid of it, they haul it into dumpsters,” said McLennan, “and they have to get approvals from different landfills. It’s classified as hazardous waste.”

Most of the work being done is below the traffic deck, but two big challenges loom overhead: before the project is finished in 2019, both towers must be painted. All 552 feet of them. Straight up.

And yes, they will be covered in tarp.

That is going to spoil a lot of pictures of the Mighty Mac.

The $80 million painting project is the first of several major jobs scheduled for the bridge. Before the painting is finished, work begins in 2018 on rehabilitation of the approaches to the suspension span, the part of the bridge that is not attached to the huge cables that give the bridge is graceful curves. And after that, the suspension decks themselves will be replaced beginning in 2024. Both of the jobs will take years to finish.

Traffic passes project vehicle on the Mackinac Bridge.