First to cross? Nah, just go with the flow

July 15, 2007 

Want to be the first person to drive across the new Tacoma Narrows bridge?

You and a lot of other people, too.

Judging from the number of inquiries to the state bridge office, a rush hour’s worth of people out there are revving their engines and scheming to be first in line.

“I don’t get it,” Jeff Carpenter, the state’s Narrows Bridge project manager, said late last week. “Hundreds of construction vehicles have already driven across that bridge. What’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that, in some small fashion, the first “civilian” driver and vehicle will go down in history. The media are ready to pounce, cameras and microphones poised.

Claudia Cornish, the state’s information manager for the bridge project, said she’s received calls not only from people wanting her to tell them how to position themselves to make sure they’re first in line, but also from many TV stations and newspapers wanting to be told who the first person will be so they can interview him or her.

“A couple of them even wanted us to get out there and pull the first driver over after they get across the bridge,” Cornish said, shaking her head. “We obviously can’t do that.”

According to Cornish, the Transportation Department won’t even be able to divulge the identify of the person. Privacy laws keep the state from releasing the identities of bridge crossers without legal justification, even though license numbers will be captured by cameras used for the Good To Go automatic toll system.

The state wasn’t interested in encouraging a contest to see who can be first across. In fact, officials were doing just about everything they could think of to avoid it.

According to Carpenter, Washington State Patrol officers will be on Highway 16 tonight, preventing drivers from lurking on the shoulder and then sprinting across.

The Transportation Department is refusing to give estimates of when the bridge builder, Tacoma Narrows Constructors, might sever the link to the old bridge and redirect cars across the new one.

The initial rush – toll-free – might occur any time between 7 p.m. today and 5 a.m. Monday, Cornish said.

According to Cornish, many people also were interested in being the first to pay a toll. That’s going to be equally hard to orchestrate, she said.

Once the traffic shifts are complete on both sides of the bridge, the State Patrol will perform an eastbound rolling slowdown, signaling that all six manual toll lanes and the Good To Go express lanes are open to traffic.

It’s impossible to say for sure when that will happen, Cornish said.

The closest she would come to a prediction was “sometime during the early morning hours on Monday.”

“The first person is going to be whoever just happens to be in the right place at the right time,” she said.

HOW TO GET A TRANSPONDER

There are five ways to find out more or to sign up for a Good To Go transponder for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge:

On the Net: www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo

Phone: 1-866-936-8246

Fax: Send an application to 253-853-4235.

Mail: Applications can be mailed to PO Box 5050, Gig Harbor, WA 98335-5050.

In person: Customer service centers are located at 3212 50th St. Court, Suite 200, Gig Harbor, and 2115 S. 56th St., Suite 306, Tacoma. Employees also will scan your transponder there to make sure it works.

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