Special Reports

Trying to bridge the peace

The new Tacoma Narrows bridge just got $247,000 more expensive.

The state Department of Transportation has agreed to pay for a 400-foot-long, 32-foot-high screen to cut the glare of lights from a Gig Harbor golf driving range at the west end of the bridge.

Some Gig Harbor residents have complained the lights are a safety hazard to eastbound drivers on Highway 16.

The transportation department doesn't agree, but is buying the fence to keep the peace.

"I would say, depending on who you talk to, it's a perceived safety issue," said Bob Aye, the senior transportation department project adviser who negotiated the fence deal. "It impacts specific individuals more than others."

The screen is being erected "because there was a perception that it could cause problems," said Claudia Cornish, a transportation department spokeswoman for the bridge project. "We haven't heard of it actually causing problems. On this project - given its contentious history - we are doing everything we can to accommodate requests from the local residents."

Many Gig Harbor residents opposed the new bridge because it will be financed by tolls, which they say will saddle them with most of the $849 million cost. They also complained last fall when the trees along Highway 16 were cut to make room for additional lanes of traffic.

The logging exposed several businesses previously hidden by heavy stands of Douglas firs and hemlocks. Among them was Performance Golf Center, an open field with golf tees at both ends, heavily illuminated at night.

To cut the glare, the transportation department agreed to buy 400 feet of screening that will be hung from steel poles and wrapped around the north end of the range. According to Aye, the screening is designed to reduce the glare by 70 percent.

The department won't build the fence, Aye said. The agency will cut a $247,000 check to Performance Golf, which will buy the screen, erect it and maintain it for five years.

Money for the screen will come out of the project's contingency fund, a pot of $54.8 million set up for unforeseen circumstances in the $849 million bridge project.

The screen is expensive because it needs to be sturdy, Aye said. It is made of tightly woven fabric and acts like a sail in the wind, he said.

"It has to be designed to withstand significant wind load when 32 feet in the air," Aye said. "It needs substantially more structural capability than the ball screen they've got up there now."

The price includes $31,000 in compensation to Performance Golf for loss of income during the time the fence is being erected, Aye said. If Pierce County grants the necessary permits, Aye said, the fence should be in place by the end of September.

The $247,000 is only the beginning of the peacemaking concessions to Gig Harbor.

In response to other complaints, the department also has agreed to pay for more landscaping along the highway. Cost of the extra landscaping is as yet undetermined, but state landscaping specialists say it could come to an extra $1 million.

In the new landscaping plan, trees will nearly surround the golf range. Leyland Cypress, a fast-growing hybrid evergreen, will be planted 15 feet apart in a triangular pattern along three sides of the facility.

"Under optimal conditions we're told they can grow up to 2 feet a year," Cornish said. "The idea is that eventually they will replace the need for the screen."

Performance Golf's general manager, Dana Smith, said he has no objections to the screen.

"We've tried to cooperate with the community and the state as much as we possibly can on this," he said. "We were all concerned that there was going to be glare out on the road, and we were happy to be able to help prevent it."

Overall, Smith said, Performance Golf is better off with the trees gone. Now people on the highway can see the range.

"A lot of people didn't even know we existed before," he said.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693