Legislators want to name new Tacoma Narrows bridge after late Sen. Oke
JOSEPH TURNER; email@example.com
The new Tacoma Narrows bridge could one day bear the name of Bob Oke, the longtime state senator from Port Orchard who championed the bridge’s construction his whole legislative career but died two months before it opened.
State Sens. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, and Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, are collecting signatures on a memorial resolution that asks the Washington Transportation Commission to name the new bridge after Oke.
“If it wasn’t for Bob, I don’t think we would have that bridge yet,” Jacobsen said. “He persevered through everything, through hostile opposition. If I went through the whole set of legislators, there might be only one or two who would have persisted that long.
“It’s a monument to his political courage,” Jacobsen said. “He knew he was in a perilous political position and he didn’t stop.”
Oke started lobbying his colleagues for a second Narrows bridge shortly after he was first elected in 1990. He died last May, and the $735 million bridge opened July 15.
“Bob Oke was the driving force behind the creation of this new bridge, so it is appropriate that we name it after him,” Swecker said.
Jacobsen and Swecker said they hope the full Senate will vote on the resolution this week. Both said they expect it to pass the Senate. It would then go to the House.
In 2006, some House members tried to pass a resolution to name the new bridge after both Oke and the late Rep. Ruth Fisher of Tacoma, but there wasn’t enough support. Fisher was chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee for many years and also pushed for construction of a second bridge.
Longtime bridge toll opponent Randy Boss doesn’t think the bridge should be named for Oke.
“Bob Oke was a really sweet guy and I was very sorry to see him pass, but that does not diminish the fact that he sold his people down the river,” Boss said in a widely distributed e-mail. “Bob Oke deliberately and purposefully defied over 80 percent of those people he represented by allowing – no, fostering – the state to jam an unwanted toll bridge down our throats.
“Bob had originally said that he would respect the will of the people but after the gerrymandered ‘advisory vote’ Bob mysteriously changed his tune and by doing so, threw us, those he represented, to the wolves.”
Boss was referring to the advisory vote on a toll bridge that included parts of five other counties besides Pierce and Kitsap. Although 53 percent of the total vote was in favor of a toll bridge, 80 percent of voters in the 26th Legislative District – the communities closest to the bridge – voted against it.
The basic toll on the bridge is $3 for cash-paying drivers and $1.75 for those with automated accounts. The basic toll is scheduled to increase to $4 in mid-2009, to $5 in mid-2012, and top out at $6 in mid-2015. The bridge is expected to be paid off by 2030.
Former state Rep. Lois McMahan, a Gig Harbor Republican, is part of the campaign for naming the bridge after Oke.
Oke’s son-in-law, Tom Derby, also has created a Web site for the naming campaign: bridgebob.org
The new bridge has no name yet. Like the old bridge, it spans the Tacoma Narrows, the channel of water between Tacoma and the Gig Harbor Peninsula.
Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436