ZILWAUKEE – With the coming of the summer season, some people will recall the old drawbridge over the Saginaw River at Zilwaukee. And are thankful for the “new” span.
Although the current span, completed in 1988, makes travel much smoother, it wasn’t always that way. Especially on holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and Labor Day.
According to MichiganHighways.org, the origin of today’s Zilwaukee Bridge can be traced back to the original two-lane highway bypass on the east side of the City of Saginaw completed in 1953. Prior to that, all through traffic in the Saginaw area was funneled through downtown via US-10 and US-23.
With the coming of the Interstate Highway System in the late-1950s, the earlier two-lane highway of Saginaw was incorporated into the new Interstate highway running from Detroit to the Mackinac Bridge.
In 1960, the first portion of the new route in the Saginaw area was opened to traffic. It consisted of the new four-lane, double-leaf bascule (draw) bridge and a freeway beginning at the northern end of the 1953 bypass (at present-day M-13), crossing the bridge and continuing northerly toward Bay City.
After the opening of the (original) bridge in 1960 it became clear the crossing caused more problems than it solved. While the most obvious problems concerned the massive traffic tie-ups on the freeway each time the bridge opened, it also caused problems for traffic on the Saginaw River as well.
The bridge was only 150 feet wide, and several ships actually hit the bridge, causing damage and additional tie-ups on the freeway as well. Back-ups on the freeway reached 3-4 hours in duration and 30 miles long at times. The worst back-ups, of course, occurred during major holiday weekends and during the fall hunting season.
Some content courtesy of michiganhighways.org