Special Report: Five Miles of Memories

Bob Sweeney took the helm of the Mackinac Bridge 17 years ago after working in the Alpena and Cadillac offices of MDOT.

It was a move that would change his life. Now, almost two decades later, he’s leaving the bridge and headed south.

Corey Adkins takes a look back at his career.

“When you start with MDOT, you usually work in Lansing or Detroit, and I just gradually started working my way north. It was a good move,” said Bob.

It was a good move for everyone, even though difficult changes like the toll increase had to be made.

He led the Mackinac Bridge Authority through them with grace. Another hard move was the Bridge Walk. 

“Unfortunately, with the worldwide growth and low technology terrorism, more people are driving vehicles into crowds and stuff like that. We had to adjust the bridge walk too. We had some pains making those adjustments,” explained Bob. “Our busing was a disaster that first year, so our in-house staff, my maintenance foreman, was the one who came up with the U-walk.”

The U-walk is where the bridge walkers either start from the Mackinaw City or St. Ignace side.

Walk the bridge to the halfway point, then turn around and come back. It seemed to work in an unexpected way.

Since no vehicles were allowed on the bridge during the walk, that meant no loud exhaust from the buses.

“It was so quiet and peaceful. You recognize people walking in the opposite direction, how do you say hi to him, and it was a fun event,” said Bob.

Even though Bob is an engineer, a big part of his job is community outreach.

“I do have to say, this job was community outreach on steroids. There’s a lot more involvement here, statewide interest, everything we do out there is statewide or national interest,” explained Bob.

Like in 2007 during the 50 year celebration.

“We had former governors, U.S. senators, and it was a fantastic event and it really went off well. It was a huge, successful event,” remembered Bob.

And what about when “Dirty Jobs” came to town?

“I said, ‘Wow, I watch that show all the time.’ I said this would be fantastic because I know they’re going to highlight all the work we do and the people that do that work in pretty challenging locations,” explained Bob.

Because the “Dirty Jobs” crew needed a helicopter to get some of their shots, Bob wanted to have a press conference so people wouldn’t worry about a helicopter buzzing the bridge, but that caused an interesting situation.

“We had a huge uptick in traffic because they were trying to see Mike Rowe,” said Bob.

And who could forget one of the best April Fools pranks we ever pulled on you? Bob was in on it!

“When we looked into it our engineers informed us it was surprisingly easy to move this a 100 million pound structure from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island.”

Through the years Bob has taken many of us at 9&10 to the top of the bridge; some who didn’t do too well with heights, and some who did.

He’s even been stuck in those tiny elevators with us.

And through it all he’s been a great contact and even better friend, but it’s time for a change.

“Time to move on and try something different. My family is grown and my youngest just graduated and she’s starting her career. It’s a good time for me, personally, to do something different,” explained Bob.

He’s moving to Florida to head the Department of Public Works in Port St. Lucie.

“I certainly had a good time and I have to say things that made my life successful in everything I did is I worked with good quality people and good communities as well. Both with MDOT, and especially the staff here. They take such pride and ownership with everything they do, it’s really been beneficial. I was lucky enough to work with a board that was really supportive and very talented. Those things are really going to make this job easy for the next person that takes over,” said Bob.

From everyone at 9&10 News, we all want to thank you for taking such good care of Michigan’s Might Mack. We will all miss you, but wish you luck in your new adventure.

“The bridge will always be near and dear to my heart, and 9&10 will be near and dear to my heart, and maybe some of you guys will end up in Florida and our paths will cross again,” said Bob.