Tacoma’s fascination with the majestic new bridge about to open over the Narrows is completely understandable. I’ve hiked the catwalk, strolled the span, and descended 25 flights of stairs to get an inside look at a caisson – all the while awestruck at the remarkable engineering feat I was witnessing.
Still, I can’t help but think two other Tacoma bridges under construction may not be receiving their just due. The new Yakima Avenue and Delin Street bridges – over I-5 near the Tacoma Dome – are growing up in the shadow of the new TNB, the spotlight-stealing crown jewel of Pierce County.
The new bridges are being constructed as part of the I-5 widening project through downtown. (A how-to-build-an-overpass Web page is in the works.)
While the two Tacoma overpasses may not measure up to the new TNB with respect to wow-factor, historical significance or length (TNB, 5,400 feet; Yakima, 391 feet; Delin, 428 feet), the planning, engineering and work that goes into building them – without stopping traffic on I-5 – certainly is worthy of high praise.
This is not to say the work has transpired entirely without fanfare. As I make my way through downtown Tacoma on I-5 on my way to Olympia each day, it’s apparent that drivers are taking second and third peeks at the 70-ton vibratory hammer as it pushes 50-foot casings into the earth. (I peek, too.)
Each step in the process, from demolition, to excavation for new abutments walls, to column-foundation work, has captured the attention of passersby.
Curious drivers tap lightly on their brakes as they merge onto the freeway from downtown, providing them just an extra second or two to check out the imposing cranes and augers, and the giant, cylindrical shaft cages lying length-wise in the vacant center lanes.
In fact, all this impressive work may be backing up traffic a bit and slowing down my morning commute. Just wait until crews start setting girders in June. People will want to look at that, too.
On second thought, Tacoma, go back to admiring the new TNB. Nothing to see here.