Work began on Liberty Bridge in December, but Bay City residents won't pay tolls for another 5 years

United Bridge Partners agreed in December 2019 to acquire Independence and Liberty bridges from Bay City for $5 million. The firm formed Bay City Bridge Partners and pledged to deliver fewer bridge breakdowns and closures, add event sponsorships, create educational opportunities, and hire local union contractors for the construction work. In December, one side of the bridge was closed on Liberty Bridge as construction work began. Today, Kevin Bischel, the Project Delivery Director for Bay City Bridge Partners, updates the community on the project.
Route also spoke with the project managers in February 2020. You can read that article here.

Bay City Bridge Partners is considering ways to enhance the bridges, including decorative lights.Question: Two years ago when you signed the acquisition and development agreement for Independence and Liberty bridges, the goal was to repair Liberty Bridge and replace Independence Bridge by the end of 2023. Has the pandemic or the related supply chain issues changed the timeline?

Answer: It’s been a challenge, to say the least, to do these types of projects during the pandemic, but we’ve been managing it. Knowing there would be potential supply chain issues, we started working on long-term procurement items fairly quickly. So, we think we've got things under control. And while there are labor shortages in many places, we haven't encountered that yet.

Work has begun on Liberty Bridge, but the tolling system won't be implemented for at least 5 years.Question: You formed Bay City Bridge Partners early in 2020 with the goal of hiring local people to work in an office and local contractors to do the construction work. Who have you hired so far? What are your plans for future hires?

Answer: Our general contractor is a joint venture between two nationwide bridge firms, Granite and Kraemer North America. They were part of our original proposal to the city. With Granite Kraemer, we held a supplier and contractor outreach event in August 2021 to try to get local firms to come in and express interest in the project and to let them know what bids were coming up.

We’re still early in the construction project, but our biggest subcontractor is the electrical contractor because there are a lot of electrical systems in Liberty Bridge. Granite Kraemer hired Clements Electric. They have a ton of experience working on the bridge, so we couldn't be happier that they got the job. Spicer Group is working on the project.

We’ve also committed to use union labor for the project and we’re working with the local trades.

We’ve been trying to find a local general manager. That person will run the day-to-day operations for everything related to the bridges in Bay City. We posted that in late summer and we’ve had some good candidates, but we haven’t hired anyone yet. That person will know where to look for the best offices. So far, we’ve been working out of the CMURC space. The plan is to put the permanent office downtown somewhere.

From a local sponsorship perspective, we have been an active chamber member and sponsor for a few years now and were really pleased to be able to help out with the Buy BC program during the pandemic. We also sponsored the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA FunFest this summer, Coffee with a Cop this fall, and are sponsoring the Free Wednesdays in the Park Concert Series this year.

Work on Independence Bridge won't start until late summer or early fall.Question: Recently, rumors circulated on social media that Bay City Bridge Partners planned to start charging tolls earlier than the agreed-upon date. Can you address that rumor? 

Answer: There is absolutely no change in our agreement with the city. 
No tolls will be charged to Bay City residents until five years after construction is completed. Then, Bay City residents will pay 50 cents per crossing or can pay a $15 monthly fee for unlimited crossings. Non-residents pay $2 per crossing or can purchase the $15 flat, monthly rate. Residents living below the poverty line do not pay a toll. School buses, city-owned vehicles, and emergency vehicles also do not pay a toll.

The easiest way to pay is by installing a free transponder. Electronic equipment reads the transponder and charges the toll to a prepaid account or credit card. For cars without the transponder, the scanners will register license plates. Bay City Bridge Partners will work with the state to mail an invoice to the owner of the plate.

Question: Two lanes are closed on Liberty Bridge now, but cars can still use the bridge going from the West Side to the East Side. How long is that construction expected to take?

Answer: That work will take about a year to finish. Hopefully, all the lanes will be open sooner and we’ll be working inside the bridge house. There could be a period in the spring where we might have to close all the lanes for a few weeks.

Liberty Bridge will be repaired, but Bay City Bridge Partners plans to replace Independence Bridge.Question: What is the next project people will see?

Answer: For Liberty, we’ve got the lane closures now. The contractor is going to start removing the bridge deck, which is the pavement portion that you ride on. They’re also going to start working on the inside the bridge house, doing work on the bearings and motors and electrical systems. There might be some openings for the bridge to remove the center locks, which are the parts that link the two ends of the bridge together when it’s closed.

For Independence, we’re shooting for a late summer or early fall start. That will start with foundation work. We’ll be drilling into the ground to put in the pilings and supports for the bridge. Our goal is to build that new bridge right next to the old one and keep the current bridge operating, except for maybe a couple weeks when we connect the road to the new bridge.

Question: When should we get transponders and what is the process for getting them?

Answer: We want to get them out there as soon as possible. But first we need to finalize a vendor for the tolling system. When we do – probably this summer – our transponders will most likely be a sticker you’ll place on the inside of your windshield. You will be able to get those in a variety of ways. You could go to our office or you could order one online. Our goal is to start going to public events and festivals where we can set up a table and explain what they are and how they work and allow people to sign up. 

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at