Monday, July 16, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Toil ends, tolls begin: span opens today

Seattle Times transportation reporter

An estimated 60,000 people seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Sunday and walked across the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, soaking up what proved to be an amazing scene along the one-mile crossing.

A parade of joggers and walkers gawked at the graceful concrete towers, posed for pictures before the huge green cables, and gingerly leaned over barriers to ponder the powerful currents of Puget Sound, swirling some 180 feet below.

"We're paying for it, so we should see it," said Dallas Hogan, of Gig Harbor, walking across with his family of five. "You can't do it again."

Cars should take over the roadway sometime between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. today, as the new span opens for the first time to eastbound traffic into Tacoma. The adjacent 1950 bridge will carry westbound traffic to Gig Harbor and beyond.

A $3 round-trip toll will be collected on cars traveling east, or $1.75 for drivers who use prepaid transponders. A new bike/pedestrian lane will open once construction wraps up.

The new Narrows span, at $849 million, is the longest classic suspension bridge built since New York City's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964. No others are planned in the United States, although a new bridge being built across San Francisco Bay includes a suspended section, anchored by a single tower.

Sunday's celebration started with a 5-kilometer fun run, attracting more than 10,000 participants to raise money for Tacoma General Hospital's neonatal intensive-care unit.

The crowds got so thick that Pierce Transit temporarily halted its shuttle buses coming in from Tacoma Community College. It was the transit agency that estimated a total attendance of as many as 60,000.

Many participants stopped to take pictures.

"It was really neat to have an unadulterated view of what you would see driving the bridge," said runner Jacob Snow, of Bremerton.

After the run, visitors were separated into east and westbound lanes, to keep everyone moving.

"We've got exactly the perfect thing — a river of pedestrians walking back and forth," state Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald said. Under the weight of so many people, the bridge vibrated somewhat. The amount wasn't measured, but oscillations were perhaps 1 inch up-and-down, while the central span sagged maybe 1 foot — about the same as it will during normal rush-hour traffic, said senior structural engineer Tim Moore.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, joined by construction workers, led a formal ribbon-cutting at about 2 p.m., near the Tacoma end of the bridge.

Gregoire called it the second amazing engineering feat for Washington state this month, coming after Boeing's rollout of its new Dreamliner passenger jet in Everett.

"These people are the finest work force to be found anywhere in the world," she said.

However, many components came from abroad, including the bridge deck, made in South Korea.

Tacoma Narrows Constructors, a partnership of contractors Bechtel and Kiewit, finished the bridge three months later than scheduled, with no workplace deaths and only four injuries, officials said.

State Patrol Chief John Batiste said the project will prevent head-on collisions by separating traffic. On three occasions, Batiste said, he personally has had to go out and notify families about fatalities on the bridge.

Among those out for the Sunday stroll was a protester carrying an anti-toll sign. So did a person dressed as Darth Vader. A man strummed his guitar, comparing its strings to the taut wires that hold the road deck. A six-man bagpipe band, Peninsula Pipes & Drums, played while walking across.

Foot traffic flowed well except at the 2 p.m. ribbon-cutting, where the combination of peak crowds, the stage and a parked State Patrol car created a bottleneck. Some people yelled at police to keep the crowds moving.

A group called collected signatures to support illuminating the suspension cables at night using solar-powered color lamps. The Legislature authorized $1.5 million for lighting, but that's far short of the money needed, so the question of lighting remains unresolved, the DOT's Moore said.

The state took some criticism for the $260,000 cost of Sunday's party; private contributions covered more than $100,000 of the total. Most went to event consultants, bus service, police and insurance, so there were few decorations or performances.

One bridge fan told MacDonald that the state should have sprung for fireworks.

Elizabeth Rittenhouse, of Tacoma, walking with her daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter, admired the simple approach:

" I like it that it's not commercial. We're just here to observe the bridge, together."

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

Washington's 10 longest bridges

Where they are and the year they were completed:

Bridge Length Location Road Year Type*
Astoria-Megler 24,380 ft. Columbia River, to Astoria, Ore. Highway 101 1966 Steel truss
Albert D. Rosellini 12,404 ft. Lake Washington Highway 520 1963 Floating
Homer M. Hadley# 9,559 ft. Lake Washington (to Mercer Island) Interstate 90 1989 Floating
Lacey V. Murrow= 8,981 ft. Lake Washington (to Mercer Island) Interstate 90 1993 Floating
Glen Jackson 7,434 ft. Columbia River, to Portland Interstate 205 1982 Concrete box
Tacoma Narrows + 5,978 ft. Puget Sound Highway 16 1950 Suspension
Tacoma Narrows + 5,570 ft. Puget Sound Highway 16 2007 Suspension
Lewis and Clark 5,478 ft. Columbia River, at Longview Highway 433 1929 Steel truss
Lake Washington Ship Canal 4,429 ft. Seattle Interstate 5 1962 Steel truss
Hood River Bridge 4,418 ft. Columbia River, to Hood River, Ore. Highway 141 1924 Steel truss
* The dominant type at central span. Other types are typically used at approaches near shore.

# Westbound lanes and express lanes.

= Eastbound lanes. The original 1940 Lacey V. Murrow Bridge sank during a retrofit in 1990 and was rebuilt in 1993.

+ Includes nonsuspended portions.

Source: Based on state Department of Transportation data; excludes viaducts that run primarily above land.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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