Special Reports

DOT, county OK plan for bridge site

Pierce County and the state Department of Transportation have reached an agreement that will provide parking and work space to contractors working on the new Narrows Bridge project, while keeping the site from becoming an eyesore to its Gig Harbor neighbors.

The DOT's original plan made neighbors and politicians angry in February when the state announced plans to clear-cut a seven-acre parcel of wooded land and along Highway 16 and turn it into a bridge-building headquarters for the DOT and Tacoma Narrows Constructors, the company building the bridge.

The land is on the Gig Harbor side of the Narrows Bridge along 14th Avenue West, between 24th Street and Stone Drive.

"We felt they had effectively circumvented us," said Chip Vincent, the manager of advance planning for Pierce County. Vincent said the buffers of trees in the wooded area were important to residents. "They hadn't told everybody they were going to clear-cut those acres."

The county and the DOT have met with local government officials and neighborhood groups since May to seek a compromise.

"Of course we chose the plan with the least impact," said Vincent, who helped broker the deal. "This is a good deal for the citizens of Gig Harbor."

The new plan will scale back the original project's 34,000 square feet of office space to 10,000 square feet. The 10-acre site owned by the transportation department also will include 175 parking spaces, a 2 1/2-acre concrete batch plant which the agency built in February to make concrete for the Narrows Bridge, and a storm water facility.

The plan will utilize low-impact design techniques, retaining a significant amount of trees and vegetation, Vincent said.

In addition to the design, the department agreed to collaborate with the county and the public to formulate a future vision for the use of the property, Vincent said. The state also would notify Pierce County if the property is to be declared surplus so that Pierce County has an option to acquire it. If the property remains in the use of the DOT after the bridge project, the agency will abide by all local regulations.

Vincent said the county would like to see the land turned into a trailhead for the Cushman trail when the department is finished with the land after the bridge's completion. The state purchased the 10 acres in two separate parcels from a developer early this year, buying the second as part of a settlement in a lawsuit against the agency. The newly acquired land right near the bridge seemed like a good place to build a headquarters, until bridge planners heard voices of disapproval from the Gig Harbor residents who live within 80 to 200 feet of the proposed project.

"It was made clear it was not a position the community favored," said DOT business manager Rick Singer. "We need to be a good neighbor here, so we downgraded the property."

The department is negotiating a lease with a business park off Olympic Drive in Gig Harbor that will house the project's headquarters, where bridge designers and builders can work near each other.

Currently, the department's offices are in Tacoma, and the bridge contractors' are in Gig Harbor. Singer said the two hope to move into their joint quarters by the beginning of October.

"It's really a nuisance for us to be on opposite sides of the bridge," Singer said.

More than three acres of the Gig Harbor land already have been cleared. Singer said the department has not been using it but will begin to do so now that an agreement's in place.

"We're going to start using it for parking as soon as we can - anytime now," Singer said.

The area also will be used for storage of soil, materials and equipment before the office space is constructed.

Tina Bennett: 253-597-8550