Special Reports

DOT bends on plans for new Narrows office

Under heavy political pressure, the state Department of Transportation has trimmed back its plan to turn seven acres of woods on the Gig Harbor end of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge into a temporary office park.

The department wanted to cut most of the trees on the property and set up 25,000 square feet of mobile office units where its administrators and Tacoma Narrows Constructors, the company building the new Narrows bridge, could set up joint headquarters during the five-year project.

Nearby residents complained about the development, saying it would destroy the buffer separating them from the uproar of bridge construction. The site is a roughly triangular area bordered by Highway 16, 24th Street Northwest and 14th Avenue Northwest.

State representatives Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) and Lois McMahan (R-Olalla), took up the cause, arguing that the office park would be an eyesore and a further affront to a community already antagonistic to the bridge project.

On Wednesday, just days before the chainsaws were to be turned loose, the department announced it will greatly reduce the development, paring the clearcut area back by about half and giving up entirely on the idea of co-locating construction headquarters there.

"I want to commend them for being able to change direction," McMahon said. "I don't think it was an easy decision for them. I think their pet goal was to co-locate by the bridge. But they were getting quite a bit of public pressure."

The department still will develop the property, said Claudia Cornish, the agency's communication manager for the bridge project. But she said office space is now more likely to be around 10,000 square feet, and parking spaces will probably be cut from 225 to 175.

Under the new plan, the offices would be used by Tacoma Narrows Constructors' superintendents and work crews, not as a headquarters, she said. The portion of the property that was to be used as a construction staging area will not be changed, she said.

The Department of Transportation and the contractors still are determined to find somewhere to locate their offices together, but where that might be is now an open question.

"Its a dilemma," Cornish said. "We're back to square one."

Currently, the DOT's bridge team is working out of offices on South Mildred Street in Tacoma while Tacoma Narrows Constructors is in an office park off Olympic Drive on the other side of the bridge.

Having offices close enough to walk back and forth is key to the success of a design/build project, Cornish said.

"In a design/build scenario, the project is being designed and built simultaneously. That requires constant communication between the two agencies."

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693