Taking Toll & Appreciating Gatekeepers

Posted: Wednesday, January 6, 2021, 12:00 am

Since 1957, the Mackinac Bridge has been one of the most recognizable figures in Michigan. Standing at 552 feet tall and spanning five miles, this giant engineering feat serves as the gateway to the Upper Peninsula from the south. One of the most important parts of this structure? Its gatekeepers. Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) employees work hard every day to ensure the integrity of the bridge is maintained and traffic can flow across safely. There are total of about 100 workers who perform a variety of tasks from engineering, maintenance, management and toll work.

Mike Buby has been one of these important employees for nearly 21 years. He says his favorite part about working at the MBA is the people. Buby has worked many positions throughout his M.B.A. career, starting as a toll booth attendant and working his way to his current desk supervisor role. Over the years, he has seen a lot of people – from many of the 4.5 million cross the bridge annually to the people he works with daily. His coworkers have not only been an integral part of Buby’s joy for his job, but also for all who cross the bridge.

It takes a lot of work to maintain a 63- year old bridge and toll booth attendants fulfill an important role to collect the revenue that supports maintenance of the bridge’s infrastructure. During peak hours, one attendant may process up to 300 transactions an hour. Attendants must work efficiently to classify the vehicle crossing, collect appropriate toll, make change and ensure safe crossing. In an eight-hour shift, accuracy is key considering the 2,400 total transactions per shift. The average traveler may not consider the importance of toll collection, particularly because of how pleasant interactions are with toll attendants.

It’s easy to see why Buby’s favorite part of the job is the people, yet he has also observed wildlife on the Mackinac Bridge. He reports that deer, coyotes, foxes and a variety of birds have been spotted on the bridge and assisted to safety by MBA employees.

How can travelers assist toll booth attendants when traveling?

“Try to avoid Sunday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. if possible,” Buby guided.

He reports this timing is the absolute peak for bridge traffic in both directions. Being friendly and having your toll ready when approaching the booth is always appreciated. With the global pandemic, wearing a mask and being patient as credit cards are processed also make crossing more pleasant. It also keeps everyone safe considering how toll booth attendants interact with thousands of people daily.

The MBA has scheduled a substantial amount of long-term preservation work for the bridge over the next several years. These major efforts will ensure the bridge continues to remain structurally sound and provide a safe crossing for everyone. The MBA’s sole source of funding is from tolls and fees collected at toll booths. All revenue collected is used to maintain, operate and protect the 63-year-old National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Maintaining this Michigan landmark is important to all MBA employees and each person working towards this goal plays an important role. To appreciate this beautiful bridge means also having a great appreciation for those who work hard daily to keep it safe for all travelers. So, next time you cross the bridge headed to your vacation destination or return home, please mask up, be patient and smile as you interact with part of the team who maintains this outstanding symbol of the Great Lakes state.