Special Reports

Narrows bridge deck takes ride in bay after barge breaks free

A barge carrying a 450-ton deck section for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge broke away from its mooring lines early Friday and drifted free in Commencement Bay until rescued by a tugboat.

The 120-foot-long deck section wasn’t damaged, said Linea Laird, the state Department of Transportation’s manager of the bridge construction project.

The barge, an ocean-going vessel called the Marmac, has a gash in its side, 4 feet above the waterline. The barge is specially equipped to help Tacoma Narrows Constructors in its deck-lifting operation.

As a precaution, TNC had moved its work barges out of the Tacoma Narrows before the storm and put them in the more protected Commencement Bay.

Frank Williamson, a spokesman for the Foss Maritime Co., which provided the barge for TNC and whose tugs rescued it, said he didn’t know what the barge had hit. Laird said the barge is still seaworthy, and the bridge builder plans to take it back to the Narrows today and resume lifting operations as soon as possible.

Friday’s wind presented such a danger to vehicles on the existing Narrows bridge that the Transportation Department shut it down for about five hours.

That was the first time the 1950 bridge had ever been closed because of wind, said DOT spokeswoman Claudia Cornish. Officials made the decision shortly after midnight after a gust blew a truck onto its side.

The new bridge escaped serious damage, Laird said. “Overall, we faired fairly well,” she said.

Parts of a temporary wooden safety railing along the new deck collapsed, and two 80-foot-long tents built to shield welders joining the deck sections were badly damaged. The wind ripped the heavy vinyl covering on the tents, and the pressure bent their steel pipe framework.

Laird said she doesn’t expect significant delay from the storm damage, but the lack of electricity might be another matter. “TNC still does not have full power on the construction site,” she said. “After the power comes back, all of the systems have to be energized and tested out, which will take time.”

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693