Special Reports

DOT bridges communications gap

After a year of collaborating on the construction of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the state Department of Transportation and the private bridge builder are taking their relationship to a new level - they're moving in together.

Next month, the 35 state workers overseeing the $849 million project will move from Tacoma to Gig Harbor, where they will sublet space from Tacoma Narrows Constructors, the Bechtel/Kiewitt partnership building the new bridge.

The reason? Better, more constant communication, said Claudia Cornish, the DOT's spokeswoman on the Narrows project.

"Communication is critical to a design/build project because things happen so fast," Cornish said. "Both agencies need to be able to resolve problems as soon as they come up, and the best way to do that is to be right there, side by side, working out issues."

The department's Narrows oversight team - design reviewers, inspectors, environmental specialists, auditors, engineers and materials testers - are charged with making sure the builder is meeting standards, on everything from the quality of concrete to noise control.

"Right now, our interaction is fairly formal because we have to drive back back and forth," Cornish said. "What will probably happen now is a lot more informal communication as well as formal. If there's a question about an issue, we'll probably just walk over to someone's cubicle and say, 'Hey, what do you think about this?'"

The move is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 1. From that point on, both groups will be working out of the Westside Business Center, at 3212 50th Street Court, near the QFC market.

The Department of Transportation team's office is currently located at 1614 South Mildred St. in Tacoma. Tacoma Narrows Constructors currently has a total of about 240 people working on the bridge.

The DOT and TNC have been trying for months to find suitable space to work together. Both wanted to locate joint offices on a 9.5-acre parcel of land near the Gig Harbor end of the bridge. The DOT had purchased the property from a private developer for $1.75 million.

However, when shown plans that entailed clearcutting most of the trees on the wooded property, residents in nearby houses and condominiums objected. In May, the department reluctantly gave up its plan, scaling back the development from 38,000 square feet of office space to a single, 10,000-square-foot building and a 175-vehicle parking lot and staging area - too small for co-location.

"It would have been a better site for a number of reasons," Cornish said. "It would have been less expensive, it would have allowed us to co-locate sooner and it would have been closer to (the) construction site. But it wasn't what the community wanted."

The department has been looking at alternate sites for the past three months. The space at TNC became available, according to Cornish, because the design phase of the new bridge is nearly completed and consequently, a number of engineers are leaving the project.

"We will be taking up space they are vacating," Cornish said.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693