Special Reports

Views of new plaza free – for now

The toll-collection facility for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge is starting to take shape, providing commuters with their first look at what promises to be one of the state’s most unpopular structures.

As Tacoma-bound drivers slowed and craned their necks, a 250-ton crane hoisted the first massive section of the toll canopy roof onto 16-foot upright columns on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge last week.

As expected, the sight was a distraction for drivers and slowed the morning commute.

“I was watching drivers, and every head was turned toward the right,” said Claudia Cornish, a Washington State Department of Transportation communications manager.

The eastbound lanes of Highway 16 currently bypass the toll plaza, but, beginning in April 2007 when the new bridge is finished, drivers will have to pay $3 every time they pass – either stopping and forking over the cash at one of six booths or having the cash automatically deducted from their accounts by an electronic tracking system.

Three “express toll lanes” adjacent to the toll plaza will be limited to drivers paying tolls electronically.

The toll is expected to gradually increase to $6 in 2016, then stay at that level until the $849 million bridge is paid off in 2030. Those projections are based on total bond sales of $723.6 million and repayment of $1.6 billion (with interest).

A second 37,000-pound section of the roof trusswork was to be lifted into place this morning. The roof will be welded together, sandblasted, painted and covered with metal roofing that will match that on the nearby toll-operations building, currently under construction alongside the 24th Street overpass. That process will take about a month, Cornish said.

Like nearly everything about the new bridge, the finished toll-collection facility will be large: approximately 113 feet long, 30 feet wide and 29 feet high. The roof trusswork alone weighs about 90,000 pounds.

Gig Harbor residents who commute daily to jobs in Tacoma argued vigorously against financing the bridge with tolls, complaining that, as most frequent users, they would end up paying for most of the bridge. They argued, unsuccessfully, that the project should be paid for by taxing all state residents, like most other public transportation facilities.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693