Thursday, May 31, 2007

Celebrate the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on July 15

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge public celebration finally was announced yesterday. The celebration, which will take place July 15, honors the communities the bridge serves, the drivers who will use it every day, and the men and women who put in more than 3.5 million work hours to construct the new bridge. That's a tall order, but we think we're up for it.

We're planning for a lot of people. There will be shuttles from remote lots. We will have comfort stations along the route. And you can expect plenty of "ribbon" to be cut throughout the day. But bring your walking shoes. You should expect to walk a couple of miles during a trip across the bridge and back.

Here's how it's shaping up so far:
Type of event: Community celebration that gives guests full bridge deck access.
Activities: 5K bridge run (sponsored by MultiCare), activity stations with once-in-a-life-time photo opportunities, general public ribbon cuttings, an official dedication.
Event duration: Run begins at 8 a.m.Deck opens for viewing between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. We will begin clearing the deck at 4 p.m. to get ready to open the bridge to traffic the next day.

More information will be posted at the project web site as we move closer to the date - so check back often. Contact Victoria Tobin, WSDOT's TNB opening coordinator, at (206) 375-2412 if you have more questions.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Overlooked Overpasses: Living in the Shadow of the new TNB

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.

A Day to Remember

By Emily Pace
WSDOT Olympic Region Communications

Flying in the night before after a 10-day vacation in Hawaii to kick-off my summer, it was hard to wake up at 6:30 a.m. the next morning to get ready for my first day of work. Tuesday was my first day as a summer intern for the Dept. of Transportation in Olympia.

Groggy-eyed after my six-hour flight I grabbed a venti latte and went on my way. When I arrived at the office, I realized it wasn't going to be typical work day. We were going on a field trip. Our destination: the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

We all were outfitted with the appropriate gear before leaving to tour the bridge. The dress code was a bright orange DOT vest, hard hat, heavy-duty gloves and a quite stylish pair of glasses. I have to admit, while it was a bit different from typical office dress, it was fun.

With the temperature reaching 80 degrees I could not have thought of a better day to take a field trip, and I do not think anyone would disagree with me.

Up at the bridge the tour began with a presentation giving a glimpse into the past of the existing bridge and its permanent place in history. We even walked under the old bridge (which was nerve wracking for some) and got a peek at the existing structure and took a moment to snap a few group pictures.

Over on the new bridge, crews were busy hand-painting cables. The engineers made a point to make sure the color of the new bridge was slightly different than the old to preserve the existing bridge's historical image.

The tour guides were great and it was amazing to see how excited people were becoming as opening day for the bridge is getting closer. Everyone in the office, myself included, enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about it and see it first-hand. The enthusiasm around me kept me going long after the three espresso shots wore off and the rest of the day flew by. People joked that it was all down-hill after today, but I find it hard to believe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Is There A Warmer Welcome in the U.S.?

How would you like to be greeted with a bouquet of fresh vibrant flowers every time you arrived at home, or work, or to visit a friend or family member? For more than a decade the state of Washington has done just that—welcomed its citizens and visitors from the south, traveling by I-5 with nothing less than a vibrant and beautiful reminder that all are truly welcomed here.

I am referring to the Welcome to Washington sign on I-5 northbound just north of the Interstate Bridge and the Oregon state line. I am certain many of you have also admired this colorful array of plants as well. This year’s design is an arrangement of yellow and orange Marigolds paying tribute to the city of Vancouver’s 150th birthday.

I remember the impression the sign and plantings made upon me even as a young child after moving to the state of Washington with my family in 1989. I remember noting its beauty and vibrancy then as nothing I had seen in my limited travels as a youngster. I remember hearing my parents and their friends share buzz words about Washington being so much more “livable,” and offering a great “quality of life”—I listened very attentively.

As I reflect on the beauty of the plantings that surround the “Welcome to Washington” sign and its uniqueness comparatively to welcome signs in other states, I am drawn to its symbolism—reaffirming that indeed we do live in a beautiful state that offers a quality of life that is unsurpassed.

Is there another state that offers a “living welcome”? I am not aware of another. Not only is the arrangement of the plants colorful and artistic, its mere existence is the result of state pride, esprit de corps, and community collaboration. The plantings have truly become an evolutionary expression of the wonderful things our state represents and our gratitude as citizens for such a home.

History: The idea for the welcome sign was birthed in the legislature in 1989 in honor of the state’s Centennial celebration. The actual sign was constructed by the Washington State Department of Transportation’s SW Region Bridge Crew. The flag poles were donated by a local Veterans group, and the lighting was donated by a local electricians union. Since 1994, the Department of Transportation has maintained the sign and plantings, periodically polling the community for design submission ideas. Over the years, local Eagle Scout troops have helped clean and maintain the sign as well.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Traffic alerts and slow downs

It's Friday night and the Puget Sound roads are jammed. We all have places to go and people to see.

For several years we have suggested that travelers check their route before they leave home. We use a suite of tools to tell you about problem spots, including our web site, 5-1-1 telephone traffic information, e-mail alerts, highway radio transmitters and electronic message boards.

I can even get traffic flow map information on my blackberry device. It's not a statewide look yet, but we're heading that direction.

But in the end, all this information tells what we already know. Friday at 5 p.m. is a terrible time to try and get anywhere because we ALL want to get there at the same time. Even with the best information, we can't avoid gridlock when we all try and travel at the same time.

We are always looking for new ways to keep you updated on traveler information. What's missing? Got any ideas for how we can do this better? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

posted by Lloyd Brown, WSDOT communication director