Special Reports

New park by Narrows bridge faces plenty of ifs, maybes

The vision is now in place for a new 10-acre park near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

But whether it will be built is far less clear.

A yearlong “community visioning” process, paid for by the state Department of Transportation and made public this month, has the asphalt being torn up when the bridge project is finished in 2008 and the land replanted with trees.

In the vision, stormwater retention ponds would be contoured into “organic” shapes. Walking trails would lead to a viewpoint, with interpretive signs documenting the fall of “Galloping Gertie,” the former Tacoma Narrows bridge, and explaining how suspension bridges are built.

But the park depends on some large intangibles.

First, the transportation department will have to give up ownership of the property, something it is not promising to do. Then some other agency, most likely Pierce County, will have to acquire the land and develop it.

“There are no guarantees on this,” said Tom Lerch, who lives across the street from the proposed park and participated in the visioning exercise. “The planning process was an outstanding job, with lots of community involvement, but there are still many hurdles to get over.”

The potential park parallels the 24th Street Northwest offramp from Highway 16 on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge.

The property was heavily logged in the early stages of bridge construction and is being used for a concrete batch plant, a construction field office and 175-space parking lot.

The initial concept for the park grew out of anger that many peninsula residents felt when they saw the extent of clear-cutting and grading along Highway 16 as a result of the new Tacoma Narrows bridge.

When the transportation department bought the property, it intended to cut most of the trees and construct as much as 40,000 square feet of office space, where its project team could share offices with the bridge builder, Tacoma Narrows Constructors.

Peninsula residents, led by State Rep. Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor), objected so strongly that the state backed away from its original plan, deciding to cut fewer trees and set up only 10,000 square foot of modular offices.

The transportation department paid for the visioning study, but at the same time warned it might not let the property go.

Claudia Cornish, a transportation department spokeswoman for the bridge project, said there is a possibility that, once the bridge project is finished, the property will be needed to accommodate wider ramps, maintenance needs or an expanded stormwater detention system.

However, the department signed a letter of agreement with Pierce County, saying that if the state decides it no longer needs the property, it would immediately notify Pierce County so it could consider buying it.

According to the report on the planning process, most Gig Harbor Peninsula residents canvassed for their thoughts about the park said they would most like to see the property put back the way it was, removing the asphalt parking lots and replanting trees.

The idea of a park was a second choice, with many people voicing concerns about how appropriate a park would be, just a few hundred feet from the noise and traffic of Highway 16 and the fact that the ponds will be empty in the summertime.

Nearby residents in particular voiced concerns about traffic and crime and urged closing the park at night and keeping parking spaces to a minimum.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693