Special Reports

Span's foundation on the way

If all went as planned, Linea Laird will have swung a bottle of champagne at the first major piece of the new Tacoma Narrows bridge early this morning and launched it like a giant barge into Puget Sound.

The huge steel structure, called a "cutting edge," has been under construction at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle since before Christmas. It will be hauled by tugboat to Tacoma, arriving sometime Tuesday morning.

Laird, manager of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Project for the State Department of Transportation, called the launch a major step forward for the $849 million project.

"The roadway construction is obvious," she said, "but people can now actually see parts of the new bridge. The cutting edge is the first visible example of the scale of the new bridge."

On the ramp at Todd Shipyards, the cutting edge looked like a barge loaded with red fuel tanks. Actually, it is a segmented box, made of 15 cubes, each about 20 feet on a side and topped with a steel dome.

Washington transportation secretary Doug MacDonald, who attended a media briefing at Todd Sunday morning, accurately described the structure as looking "like the box you get the balls in to go on the Christmas tree."

The cutting edge will become the base of the foundation supporting the 510-foot tower on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge. The second cutting edge, which will become the footing for the tower on the Tacoma side, is scheduled to leave Todd Shipyards in late April.

Together, according to Todd Shipyards President Roland Webb, the two cutting edges cost about $5.4 million to fabricate. Todd is a subcontractor of Tacoma Narrows Constructors, the company building the new bridge.

The first stop for the cutting edges will be the Port of Tacoma's Pier 7, where they will be filled with concrete and topped with 62-foot steel walls.

The first cutting edge will be hauled from the Port to the bridge site in late June, according to Pat Soderburg, head of construction for TNC.

The second cutting edge will follow about a month later, he said.

Each cutting edge measures 131 feet by 81 feet. and contains about 750 tons of structural steel. Eventually, they will end up about 60 feet beneath the floor of the Tacoma Narrows.

The new span across the Narrows will parallel the existing bridge, with a space of about 65 feet between foundations, or "caissons." The bridge project is scheduled for completion in early 2008.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693