This is just a musing I want to save for future reference.
It seems to me that the states of Michigan and Wisconsin should get together and investigate the feasibility of build a bridge across Lake Michigan, similar to the newly opened Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in China, or the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana (the latter span handles more than 43,000 vehicles a day).
In order to keep the span over water as short as possible, while still keeping it relatively near major metropolitan areas, my suggestion would be to build it from a point just south of the Silver Lake State Park near Shelby, Michigan and from there build a connector to US-31 a short distance away. Then it’s roughly a 25 minute drive to the intersection of I-96 and US-31 in Muskegon. From there it’s another 45 minutes or so to Grand Rapids.
On the Wisconsin side, the closest terminus would be at a point a few miles south of Sheboygan, specifically just north of the Kohler-Andrae State Park. From there you’d build a connector to Interstate 43, again just a short distance away. From there it is about 50 miles to Milwaukee, and 60 miles to Green Bay. The people of Wisconsin might then also want to think about improving highway 23 between Sheboygan and Fond Du Lac, and eventually all the way over to I90/I94.
There are really only two questions to be asked. One is, is building such a bridge even possible? Well, if China can build something as huge as the Three Gorges Dam, I have to think that not much is really impossible if we set our minds to it and determine that it will get done. If you can build a 20-mile span, you can build a 60 mile span — it might take three times as long, but the benefits would be enormous.
What benefits? Well here are just a few off the top of my head:
- No more traveling through Chicago on a trip between Michigan and Wisconsin, with its traffic jams, pollution, and toll roads.
- A dramatic cut in travel time on a trip by vehicle from Grand Rapids, Muskegon, etc. to Milwaukee, Green Bay, and possibly even points west such as the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
- Truck traffic could use the bridge (at present none of the ferries crossing Lake Michigan can handle large trucks, to the best of my knowledge).
- Crossings would be possible at all times of year, although there may be times it would have to be shut down temporarily during the Winter months, especially during severe storms.
- Crossing would (hopefully) be affordable for the average family. I have no doubt they’d want to put tolls on crossing, but still one would hope they’d be considerably less than what the ferries charge.
- For Michigan in particular, it would end some of the isolation we feel, by allowing interstate traffic (and even traffic between eastern Canada and points west) to pass through Michigan. Any time you have traffic crossing through a state, some percentage of that traffic spends money in the state.
- Dramatically lower shipping costs for some Michigan and Wisconsin companies.
- It’s quite likely that the federal government could be persuaded to kick in at least matching funds for the project, and maybe they would pick up more.
- Everyone talks about harnessing wind energy off of Lake Michigan, but no one want to see a windmill from their shoreline property. But, you could build the bridge supports so that each would support a windmill, all the way across the lake (except, perhaps, the section closest to shore). This would generate a tremendous amount of energy that could be used to help power lighting on the bridge at night (and maybe also ice-removal systems), with the excess sold to utilities on both sides of the lake, and ultimately might help keep tolls down.
- Speaking of power utilities, I would bet they’d be willing to lease space under the bridge to run high voltage circuits. And communications companies would probably want to run a fiber optic cable or two as well.
- Also on those windmill towers you could lease space (under the windmills) to cell phone companies, so that people’s phones will work all the way across (plus it would offer better coverage to boaters in the area).
- Tourism in both states would increase. A bridge like this would attract people from all over the world who would just want to experience driving over it. They need places to stay and eat, and buy essentials and souvenirs.
- In an emergency in one of the states, it could provide a much-needed evacuation route.
- Construction of such an ambitious project could revitalize the economies of both states — and both states could really use an economic boost right about now. It would certainly help lower the unemployment rate for a time.
Any drawbacks? Well, maybe a few:
- The existing lake ferries would probably not survive. That’s never a good reason to not build a bridge, but I suspect that at least one could survive by simply relocating its end points (further north or south). A bridge would handle many times the amount of traffic (including large commercial vehicles) at lower cost, and would be open all year.
- It would have to be protected against Lake Michigan ice. We obviously know how to do this because the Mackinac Bridge hasn’t fallen down yet, but it would have to be designed to be resistant to THICK moving ice, especially near the shorelines. If that’s a real problem, one possible solution would be to make a bridge-tunnel combination, where the sections nearest the shore are submerged tunnels (like the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel) that rise to to the surface on man-made islands five or ten miles out. Remember that the ice is always thinner as you get away from shore, and Lake Michigan rarely freezes over completely.
- Due to the length and the fact that it crosses between states, you might need to construct an “oasis” right on the state line, by widening the bridge at that point and placing a gas station/restaurant/rest area in the center, and also a place for vehicles to make a legal U-turn (people will always have a need to do that for one reason or another, and you really don’t want to force someone to drive 50 or 60 miles before they can turn around, plus you need a legal turnaround for police and service vehicles). In the winter, a tow truck and possibly an ambulance could also be stationed in this area.
- It will be necessary to de-ice the road surface in winter, but that has to be done in such a way that any spillover won’t contaminate the lake. Most of the time, just spreading sand would improve traction, and Lake Michigan is famous for nothing if not for sand!
- There may be days in the winter when road conditions are so bad that the bridge would have to be closed temporarily, particularly in “black ice” conditions, UNLESS an effective de-icing system can be built into the bridge.
I am fully aware that hardly anyone, and perhaps no one will take this suggestion seriously (at least not in what’s left of my lifetime). And I think that’s a bit of a shame because the benefits would be enormous, plus it would prove that the Chinese are not the only people capable of dreaming big and then making their dreams become reality.
Just something to think about on this Independence Day weekend. And I will be as stunned as anyone could be if this bridge is ever actually built!
Note: If you wanted to think REALLY big, you could make a double-decker arrangement with cars on top and high-speed rail underneath. If there’s enough room, you could run two tracks, one for high speed rail and one for regular freight trains. Or something like that.