Special Reports

Bridge draws eyes from road

Tacoma Narrows Bridge commuters couldn’t resist the sight of 488 tons of green superstructure suspended in midair Tuesday.

They slowed to glance – perhaps wistfully – to the southwest, where the first deck section for the new Narrows bridge hung more than 100 feet above the surface of Puget Sound.

The result: long backups on Highway 16 approaching and onto the bridge.

Expect more of the same in the coming days.

“It’s just something we’re going to have to deal with until people get used to it,” Washington State Patrol trooper Bill Ashcraft said.

Congestion was especially bad eastbound, where it was bumper-to-bumper nearly all day from midspan to at least Olympic Drive in Gig Harbor – a distance of some five miles.

No major collisions were reported.

But it got so bad that the Washington state Department of Transportation posted messages on electronic reader boards encouraging drivers to keep their speed up as they cross the bridge, said Claudia Cornish, a department spokeswoman. “It’s really for their own benefit,” Cornish said.

Westbound traffic also was worse than usual during the afternoon commute, and the department issued an alert warning drivers to expect delays.

Cornish said DOT officials anticipated slowdowns after the successful lift and attachment of the first deck of the new bridge. Crews hoisted the 116-foot-long section into place Monday evening. The next section is expected to go up later this week, maybe Thursday.

DOT officials are banking that the novelty will wear off soon, she said.

“With the other major components of the bridge – like the caissons – what we’ve seen is people slow down for a couple of days, then they grow accustomed to it and get back to their speeds,” Cornish said.

There’s not much to be done in any case.

Steady, strong winds through the Narrows make a screen or curtain shielding the work impractical, Cornish said.

“We’re not going to add a sail to the bridge,” she said.

Ashcraft encouraged drivers who need to cross the Narrows this week to give themselves extra time. He did. The Gig Harbor resident left for work an hour early Tuesday but still got caught up in a bit of a backup.

Oh, and keep your eye on the road, Ashcraft said, not on the new bridge.

“It’s not against the law to look over there,” he said. “But if you run into the car ahead of you, you’re going to get a citation.”

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644