Raft Island bridge opens ahead of schedule and under budget

In the last six months, Raft Island homeowners have watched a 757-foot bridge take shape parallel to the aging span they voted to replace almost 20 years ago. On Sunday, these Gig Harbor area residents will celebrate the bridge’s completion with the boom of a cannon, a crossing by a car from the LeMay car museum and fanfare including a live band, picnic and games.

Crews have worked on the bridge since December when piles went into the waters off Henderson Bay on the western edge of the peninsula near Rosedale. The bridge opened to car traffic Tuesday for the first time. Cars will alternate in one lane while crews add the finishing touches, including permanent asphalt and landscaping.

The old bridge will be removed in the next couple of weeks, said Rich Swenson, island resident and head of the Raft Island Improvement Association’s bridge committee. Swenson is also president of the association’s board of trustees.

Work on the new span and demolition of the old one should be done by the end of July, he said.

When construction began, Swenson said it was surreal to see it finally happen. The responsibility for replacing the 788-foot timber-trestle bridge fell on the roughly 700 people who live on the private, 160-acre island. Property owners knew something had to be done about the old bridge built in 1957 because it was no longer safe, but finding consensus on whether to maintain or replace it wasn’t easy.

After they voted to build a new bridge, the next challenge was raising an estimated $6.5 million. The issue became divisive, as some felt the old bridge could have been saved at a smaller cost. Now that the new bridge is operational and came in slightly under budget and ahead of schedule, things have quieted, Swenson said.

Driving across the bridge for the first time Wednesday felt good, said Mike Hirko, a resident of Raft Island since 1986 and a trustee on the island’s board. He was chairman of the bridge committee in 1996 when residents voted to build a replacement.

“It took us a long time to get here, but we’re here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going forward after this is completed and the old bridge is removed. Once all the dust settles, we can move on to normal things.”

Swenson looks forward to regular homeowners association discussions.

“We won’t have to worry about dealing with another bridge in our lifetime,” he said.

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