Special Reports

Big screen takes drivers far from bright lights

After several weeks of delay – caused in part by hurricanes near the supplier’s manufacturing plant in Florida – workers will break ground this morning for a giant fabric fence to shield Highway 16 drivers from the lights of a Gig Harbor golf driving range.

Building and maintaining the screen – 398 feet long, 32 feet high and containing nearly 1,500 yards of fabric – will cost $247,500. The money is coming from the state’s contingency fund for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Project.

Drivers started complaining about the glare from the Performance Golf Center last fall after Tacoma Narrows Constructors, the Bechtel/Kiewit partnership building the bridge, cut trees to make room for additional traffic lanes.

The logging exposed several businesses previously hidden by mature stands of Douglas firs and hemlocks. Among the businesses was Performance Golf, an open field with golf tees at both ends, lit at night like a prison yard.

Gig Harbor Peninsula residents complained to the state Department of Transportation that the lights were a safety hazard to eastbound drivers on Highway 16.

The state conducted a lighting study to determine the most effective location, type of screen material and screen dimensions necessary to reduce the amount of light reaching the highway, said Claudia Cornish, a DOT spokeswoman for the bridge project.

The agency then negotiated an agreement in which the state would pay Performance Golf to build and maintain the screen for five years.

In addition to screening, crews are scheduled to install shields on the lights on the western side of the driving range, Cornish said.

The state also plans to plant fast-growing hybrid cypress trees on transportation department property near the range to provide a natural light barrier over time.

Over the past few days, construction workers have built a temporary access road onto the range and cleared brush from the area where the screen will be installed.

Beginning today, Cornish said, they will drill eight holes along the northern and western sides of the range. Each hole, about 3 feet in diameter and up to 15 feet deep, will be used to support steel poles 2 feet in diameter that will hold the fabric.

The screen is a dark, woven fabric designed to reduce light glare by about 70 percent yet porous enough to let wind pass through.

In total, 398 feet of the screen will be placed along two sides of the driving range – 310 feet along the northern side and 88 feet along the western side (the one closest to the freeway).

Weather permitting, the screen should be in place by mid-December, Cornish said.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693