SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – A toll increase has been approved for the International Bridge, which spans the St. Mary’s River and carries international traffic between Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. The International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie is the only vehicular crossing between Ontario and Michigan within a 300-mile distance.
At its quarterly meeting on Aug. 16, the Sault Ste. Marie Bridge Authority (SSMBA) heard updates on completed repair projects and approved the toll rate increase for the bridge.
The semiannual toll increases, averaging 4.7% per year for commercial vehicles and 2.9% per year for passenger vehicles, are scheduled over the next decade.
The first of the scheduled increases will see the full U.S. currency passenger vehicle fare for users paying with cash or credit go from $4 to $4.10 on Oct. 1. The commercial rate will increase by 25 cents per axle.
The toll increase is the culmination of a review of the bridge’s long-range financial plan by the bridge authority. The SSMBA reviewed detailed operational and capital improvement project needs before considering the toll increase proposal.
“This toll increase will not fully address the projected long-term capital deficit,” International Bridge Administration (IBA) Bridge Manager Peter Petainen explained. “But the increase is a measured approach toward building the reserve fund necessary to pay for planned capital improvement projects in the next 10 years.”
Officials said the revenue generated by the revised toll rates will help the bridge preserve it in the face of higher operational and maintenance costs. At its discretion, the SSMBA board may suspend or delay the approved rate increases.
Petainen also explained improvements that have been made to the bridge.
“The lights are lit again on the Canadian arch after our maintenance staff recently completed repairs on the lighting system,” he said. “This was a major project involving a crew working high on the bridge arch in fair weather to inspect junction boxes and lights, replacing 32 boxes along with more than 1,700 feet of conduit and wiring.”
Additionally, Petainen reported that upgraded bridge traffic cameras were brought back online this summer. The cameras are a popular way for customers to check traffic flow on the bridge. Views from the north and south cameras are now online.
“System security issues had kept the cameras publicly offline since late summer 2021 while updates and improvements were being made,” Petainen said. “The system has been updated and improved upon and now offers streaming images instead of the static images previously available.”
In concert with the toll increases, the SSMBA will make changes to increase the discount available to eligible commuters.
Prepaid commuter program participants making up to four crossings per month will see a 10 percent discount. Commuters making five to eight crossings per month will see a 20 percent discount. Those crossing nine or more times per month will realize a 35 percent discount.
“We encourage our frequent customers to consider taking advantage of our commuter discount program with the convenient prepaid tag system,” IBA Chief Financial Officer Emily Jacques said. “Our new system offers an improved customer experience, with new web portal or iOS and Android mobile apps for customers to manage their accounts online more effectively.”
Jacques reminded customers that the bridge’s old Prox cards now only work in staffed lanes.
“These cards expire and will no longer be accepted after Dec. 31,” Jacques said. “Don’t wait until the last minute to change your card for a tag.”
In other action, the SSMBA board:
- Approved an escort fee for oversized/over-dimension commercial loads on the bridge. Specific types of loads exceeding normal dimensions will be charged a $185 USD fee to offset the costs of escorting them across the span.
- Received preliminary bridge inspection results from Hardesty & Hanover and WSP Canada. The firms conducted the 2023 routine detailed inspection of the bridge in early August. No major issues were discovered. The final inspection report will be presented to the board in November.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.