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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Tacoma Narrows Bridge - First Crossing

Written in July 2007

So the new bridge has now been open for a week. The impact on traffic has been dramatic. What used to be long backups in the morning and evening have disappeared. For example, in the evening, especially on Fridays, Highway 16 was backed up from its intersection with I-5 all the way to the bridge, a distance of several miles. Similar backups existed the opposite direction in the mornings. Granted, the true test will be when school is in session this fall but it appears so far that the project was worth the time and cost.

I had the opportunity to drive both bridges this past weekend (July 21-22) as I was visiting with one of my friends who lives out in Olalla. We crossed the old bridge heading outbound (West) at about 9 pm Saturday. The bridge will eventually be 4 lanes (2 general purpose, 1 HOV, 1 add/drop), but it is currently running as 3 lanes. Probably the most interesting part was crossing the bridge in the HOV lane – the "wrong direction"! The HOV lane currently uses one of the original Eastbound lanes. Traffic was moving at highway speeds. On the other side 4 of 6 lanes were open at the toll plaza. The backup was about 7-9 cars. I would expect this as most people crossing that late on a weekend probably are not regular users and haven't signed up for the Good to Go automated tolling system.

I came back across on Sunday about 3:30 pm. At that time the toll plaza had 6 of 6 lanes open and the backup was about 5 cars. As I have the Good to Go pass I stayed in the left lane and passed through the automated reader at 60 MPH. The new bridge feels MUCH safer than the old bridge. The lanes are wider, there is an actual crash barrier on both sides and for the first time...you can switch lanes on the bridge! I know it sounds dumb but here we are so used to not being able to switch lanes on the Narrows Bridge due to the gratings added after the collapse of the first bridge.

I am quite impressed. If I thought that even $5 per day would go far to improve my commute between Tacoma/Fife and Redmond from the 1-1.5 hours it is now down to the 45-50 minutes it should take I would gladly pay it. Furthermore, those who are reluctant to add tolls for the replacement of the 520 bridge should take note of the dramatic impact the new bridge has already had on traffic. While there are arguments against tolls, I truly feel that the positive impact on traffic by funding such projects offsets any increased cost to the commute, and may even be less cost when including the price of gas in stop and go traffic and the amount of time lost.