Special Reports

Support grows for bridge project

After a bitter beginning two years ago, the Washington State Department of Transportation is slowly winning local converts to its Tacoma Narrows Bridge project.

In a recent state-financed survey of bridge commuters and nearby residents, 38 percent said they have a “very favorable” opinion of the $849 million project.

Not exactly a love fest, but it’s an improvement over 2003, when just 32 percent of commuters and residents answered the question that way.

This time around, 68 percent of those surveyed said they were at least “somewhat favorable” about the project, compared with 61 percent in 2003.

“We were happy to see that some key factors of favorability increased,” said Claudia Cornish, WSDOT’s spokeswoman for the project. “Overall, people are looking upon the project favorably.”

When the decision was made to charge tolls to pay for the second suspension bridge across The Narrows, Gig Harbor residents and other frequent commuters reacted angrily.

In an advisory vote before the project got under way, 80 percent of people on the Gig Harbor Peninsula voted against charging tolls.

In the new survey, the improved attitude was particularly true of respondents who lived closest to the bridge.

Compared with 2003, significantly more of those respondents were very favorable toward the project.

The Transportation Department has a contract with the company, DDB Seattle, to conduct surveys during the five-year project to track public attitudes and awareness.

This year, 501 people were surveyed, down from 600 people in 2003.

Cutting the number of people significantly cut the cost of the survey, Cornish said, without much of an impact on reliability.

In the latest survey, significantly fewer business and personal commuters said they would use the bridge less often because of the tolls. In 2003, 45 percent of commuters said they would use the bridge less. This time, only 29 percent said they would cut their use.

While animosity apparently is decreasing, the survey indicates that a hard-core group of nonbelievers remains unconvinced that the bridge will actually fix the daily traffic jams on Highway 16.

Among those who view the project negatively, 26 percent said they don’t think the new bridge will ease traffic. That’s exactly the same percentage as the last time the survey was conducted.

Attitudes about tolls haven’t changed much either. In 2003, 30 percent of respondents said they thought tolls were unfair and didn’t want to pay them. This time, 28 percent said the tolls are unfair.

On average, residents said $1.84 would be a fair toll. That’s just over half of the $3 toll that is planned when the new bridge opens in 2007.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693