Grand Haven mayor: Drawbridge ‘has to be reliable’

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Haven drawbridge malfunctions led to traffic delays again Wednesday morning.

Traffic came to a standstill around 11 a.m. while the Michigan Department of Transportation worked to fix a problem with the southbound lanes of the bridge. It reopened around 11:30 a.m. before southbound traffic was stopped again minutes later. By noon, traffic was flowing smoothly in both directions.

It wasn’t the first time a bridge malfunction has caused traffic headaches. U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, was meeting with city officials about the problem when the bridge broke Wednesday morning.

“As we’re sitting here talking about it, the phone call comes in to the public safety chief, and he is like, ‘You are not going to believe this. I think the bridge is stuck right now,'” Huizenga told 24 Hour News 8.

The bridge experienced mechanical issues in May, causing hourslong delays on the Friday before Memorial Day, one of the busiest travel days of the year.

“It’s extremely frustrating when it’s not working,” Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb said.

She said, and the group that met Wednesday agreed, that the problem is “two-pronged:”

“The immediate problem is getting that bridge to function well, finding out what is causing it to hang up like it is. The other issue is more of a long-term thing: Can we have local control over opening and closing?” McCaleb said.

“I think we have to explore the literal federal law that says when the bridge has to go up,” Huizenga said.

The U.S. Coast Guard sets the rules for when the bridge must go up, a conversation last had in the late 1990s.

Under current regulations, the drawbridge will go up upon a signal from pleasure crafts. Between mid-March and mid-December, it rises once an hour on the half hour from 6:30 a.m. through 8:30 p.m. — except at 7:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. That schedule is for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, the bridge does not go up at 4:30 p.m. but does go up at 5:30 p.m.

The mayor sees it as more than just a traffic disruption when the bridge breaks.

“It has to be reliable,” McCaleb said. “I don’t want people to say, ‘We’re going to avoid this because what if the bridge is up; what if we can’t get across it?’ That is a huge economic impact of everybody within miles and miles around.”

MDOT has considered replacing the drawbridge with a taller, standard bridge, but determined it wasn’t feasible due to the estimated price and possible impact on the surrounding communities.

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