It’s been a long road to renovation of Tacoma’s Hylebos Bridge, which opened to traffic June 1 for the first time in 11 years.
The drawbridge spans the Hylebos waterway on East 11th Street, connecting Marine View Drive with the Blair Peninsula. It’s been closed since 2001, when an emergency stop broke one of its 7-inch drive shafts.
The reopened bridge gives emergency services coming down the hill from Northeast Tacoma a more direct path onto the peninsula, Tacoma fire spokesman Joe Meinecke said last week.
“It’s definitely going to improve their access, especially to the northern portion of that peninsula,” he said.
Crews responded to five calls – none of which turned out to be fires – on Blair Peninsula since the bridge reopened, but Meinecke said it’s too soon to tell how the bridge reopening will affect emergency-response times.
Firefighters aim to reach the Tideflats in 5 minutes and 12 seconds, but in 2011 they responded to most incidents there within 7 minutes and 20 seconds, Meinecke said. That partly has to do with the closure of the Hylebos and Murray Morgan bridges, he said, adding they’ll have a better idea how the bridges affect response times when both are open next year.
“We’ll be able to compare year over year, and that will give us a good sense of how that’s impacting things,” he said.
In addition to helping firefighters get to the Tideflats, reopening the Hylebos provides a potential evacuation route for both sides of the waterway.
Meinecke gave the example of a fire in a commercial building on the east side of the bridge March 28. The blaze leveled a building at 4111 E. 11th St. used by a chemical-recycling company. No one was hurt in the fire, which was started when sodium chlorite being repackaged into smaller containers burst into flame.
The emergency response blocked Marine View Drive, and the bridge could have been used to evacuate the area, he said.
The Hylebos renovations cost the state, city and port a combined $23 million. That included fixing the mechanical and electrical systems, among other repairs. Vandalism and a fire in 2004 increased costs.
Balancing the two leaves of the bridge – which use counterweights – was more complicated than officials first thought, which also delayed the reopening.
The renovation has made commuting easier for some employees at MacMillan-Piper, a transloader and container freight station on the peninsula.
But being able to drive all the way across the Tideflats is what could give their truck drivers better access to the business. That’s not possible because the Murray Morgan Bridge is being renovated, and the Blair Bridge was demolished in 1997. Both moves left gaps in what used to be a straight route from downtown to the Tideflats.
“It would make it easier, especially because there’s only one way at the moment, which is (state Route) 509, to get to certain parts of the Tideflats,” said freight coordinator Ashley Young. “It would be nice to have an option.”
Driving through Northeast Tacoma to take the Hylebos probably wouldn’t make sense for the truckers, many of whom come from Interstate 5, Young said.
The Tideflats in general is a difficult area to get around, said Meinecke, but he sees the reopening changing that some.
“With the Hylebos opening and the Murray Morgan (Bridge) opening in the near future, that’s helping to resolve some of those access issues,” Meinecke email@example.com