Pedestrian and bicycle bridge over I-75 completed
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
On an unseasonably warm day over the weekend, Grayling cyclists cruised across the new pedestrian and bicycle bridge crossing over I-75 near the Hartwick Pines State Park.
The bridge was opened for hikers and cyclists on Nov. 7.
Grayling resident Steve Seager, an avid cyclist, noticed the bridge was open after returning to the community after a trip to Gaylord. He couldn’t resist getting his bicycle to take an inaugural trip across the bridge.
“I rode across it on the opening day, just as they were pulling off the barrels and blowing off the deck,” Seager said.
The pedestrian and bicycle bridge constructed across I-75 was part of an original trail request back in 1999, connecting Grayling to the Hartwick Pines State Park by the way of the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike. All other sections of the project have been completed.
Repurposed federal earmarked transportation funds were identified and approved to partially fund the bridge portion of the Grayling Bicycle Turnpike. The total bridge project is over $1.9 million. The federal earmark funds were $912,859. Additional funds to construct the bridge came from federal and state funds such as $116,930 in toll credits, $407,722 in access to state park funds, $200,252 in transportation alternative program grants, and $260,737 Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) funds.
The bridge is the first of its kind in northern Michigan, crossing over a major expressway.
The bridge is a separate structure from the I-75 overpass and takes non-motorized traffic off the Hartwick Pines overpass traveling to and from the Hartwick Pines State Park.
In the past, northbound non-motorized traffic needed to cross the road and re-cross to ride or walk against traffic on the narrow overpass.
“Everywhere else, you’ve got to ride along the side of the cars, so safety is the key,” said Gary Jurkovich, another Grayling cyclist.
Al Riegel echoed those sentiments, especially for youth and novice cyclists.
“I’m glad that they built it because there are folks that are not very skillful with bicycles riding back and forth,” Riegel said. “Previously, they had to cross the expressway on the shoulder of that surface road. There were times, I’m sure, when vehicles were going by, and it might have been dangerous. This has made it much safer.”
Eventually, the bridge will provide a link from Hartwick Pines State Park to the Iron Belle Trail, which is currently being planned and developed. The Iron Belle Trail connects Belle Isle to Ironwood. This 781-mile trail coming from the south will eventually connect three state parks, which include North Higgins, Hartwick Pines, and Otsego Lake passing through Grayling. These state parks receive over 400,000 visitors per year and the trail is expected to encourage safe, non-motorized travel between them and increase non-motorized visits from one park to another and the communities along the trail.
“I think people at those campgrounds are going to love it,” said Christine Seager, Steve Seager’s wife, who is also an avid cyclist.
Along with bicycle races hosted at Hanson Hills, the bridge will serve as a draw to bring visitors and tourists into the community. The DALMAC Bicycle Tour, which travels from Lansing to the Mackinac Bridge, hosts an overnight stay in Grayling.
“I hope this is the beginning of establishing Grayling as the bicycle mecca of the north,” Jurkovich said.
A bridge crossing, similar to the Mackinac Bridge Walk held on Labor Day, would go a long way toward promoting Grayling as a destination for cyclists.
“When I get to middle of this bridge, I does remind a little bit of the Mackinac Bridge,” Steve Seager said.
Snowmobiles and ORVS are prohibited from using the bridge.
“It’s for walking and biking, so it’s multi-purpose,” Steve Seager said. “I think a lot of people are going to use it.”
A memorial plaque is placed on the bridge, honoring Howard J. Haselschwardt, who completed the design work for the structure. The president and owner of Northwest Design Group, Haselschwardt, which is based in Petoskey, died on Aug. 25, 2014 in Charlevoix. He was 53.