SPOKANE – Holding up miles of cars, a tractor-trailer rig carrying a 100-ton expansion joint for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge slowly made its way toward Tacoma after a three-week delay near Spokane.
The bridge piece received a paradelike send-off, complete with picture-snapping observers, waving transportation employees and cursing drivers unexpectedly caught behind the slow-moving procession.
By 9:10 p.m., the truck carrying the giant expansion joint was approaching Vantage, Kittitas County.
After a stop at Cle Elum on the east slopes of the Cascades, the convoy hoped to cross Snoqualmie Pass to North Bend by early Friday, said Jamie Swift, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
“When they start climbing, it’s going to slow down,” he said.
The truck got moving during the busy noon hour, taking about 60 minutes to travel through downtown Spokane on Interstate 90 from a state transportation department yard in Spokane Valley.
Jessica Hidy and Barbara Conger, on a lunch break walk, caught a peek at the procession from a bridge over I-90 as the truck was trailed by hundreds of cars.
“This is very exciting,” Conger said. “We’re a little part of history.”
With two drivers aboard, the truck from Omega-Morgan Rigging and Industrial Contracting of Tacoma planned to make the trip in stages.
With a transportation department and Washington State Patrol escort forming a rolling roadblock across the westbound lanes of the freeway, traffic crawled along behind the convoy, which averaged 12 mph.
Some drivers honked. Others flashed their lights, while some could be seen making obscene gestures.
Drivers should expect delays, transportation officials warned.
The trailer carrying the expansion joint takes up an entire lane and a portion of the shoulder, occasionally kicking up dust, while a DOT sign truck frequently takes up the passing lane.
“Most of the way, you aren’t going to be able to pass,” Swift said. “That’s why we set up the Web page to warn drivers of delays.”
The Transportation Department has set restrictions on when the truck can move on the Westside, as it approaches Interstate 405 near Bellevue and heads south to Interstate 5.
The truck can proceed only until 3 a.m. Friday, then won’t be able to continue until 12:01 a.m. Saturday, DOT spokeswoman Kelly Stowe said.
The deck expansion joint, and a twin parked in Sioux Falls, S.D., will be installed on each end of the new suspension bridge.
The accordionlike joints each will allow 56 inches of deck expansion and contraction caused by temperature changes, wind, traffic or seismic motion.
D.S. Brown Co. in Minnesota fabricated the joints and hired Big Boat Movers of Vasalla, Texas, to ship them to Tacoma.
The original tractor-trailer hauling the deck expansion joint was halted in mid-March at the Spokane Port of Entry on the Washington-Idaho border east of Spokane after state officials said its weight was not distributed correctly on the trailer’s axles, violating terms of a Transportation Department permit.
Transportation officials worried the trailer would damage bridges, overpasses and other freeway structures.
After hauling the first expansion joint across five states, Big Boat Movers struggled for three weeks to come up with a trailer configuration that would spread the weight and meet Washington standards.
On Monday, D.S. Brown hired Omega-Morgan, a Tacoma heavy-equipment moving company, to haul the load the rest of the way.
Swift said the same procedure will be used for the second expansion joint.
Big Boat movers will haul it from South Dakota to Spokane, where Omega-Morgan will take it the rest of the way. Swift said Big Boat Movers already was on its way to pick up the second joint Wednesday.
“Basically, the same thing is going to happen,” he said. “Except we aren’t going to have that delay.”