Thursday, February 12, 2015

The days of SR 520 drawspan openings draw to a close

By Nicholas Mirra

A cheeky use of a drawspan opening during
the bridge's grand opening in 1963.
If you drive across Lake Washington’s Evergreen Point Floating Bridge with any regularity, you’ve likely been caught at some point in a drawspan opening that halted your vehicle for up to 30 minutes. During these traffic stops, drivers have had the chance to admire the Cascades (when visible), ponder nearby bumper stickers and, of course, check out @wsdot_traffic for more information.

Most of these backups have been caused by a required opening of the floating bridge’s center drawspan to let boats pass through. Since construction on the new floating bridge began in spring 2012 and blocked the old bridge’s east navigation channel, the drawspan has opened for marine traffic more than 600 times. We know this has been difficult for drivers on the bridge. And we have worked hard to keep them informed, including creation of a text service that sends advance notice of drawspan openings to more than 9,200 subscribed drivers.

Those alerts, however, soon will be moot. Drivers – good news is at hand. Starting Tuesday, Feb. 17, the floating bridge’s drawspan will open for boats nevermore.

The new floating bridge, at left, nears the drawspan
of the existing bridge, at lower right. On Feb. 17,
added pontoons will prevent boats from passing
through an opened drawspan. (Photo credit: HDR)
Why? The new floating bridge we’re building lies just north of the old bridge. The new structure is steadily growing from east to west as crews join together its supporting pontoons. On Feb. 17, newly joined and anchored pontoons will completely obstruct the drawspan. (See a diagram of the closure on the SR 520 website.) From that day forward, the north-south channel through the middle of the bridge will be blocked.

For drivers and transit riders, those midday minutes of motionless, midlake tranquility will be a thing of the past.Local mariners will still be able to get past the floating bridges (both old and new) by passing through a reopened east navigation channel or the marine channel on the west side of the lake. For more information on the navigation channels, visit our drawspan information Web page.

Until traffic moves to the new bridge in spring 2016 and the old bridge is removed, there will still be the occasional drawspan opening for late-night maintenance or high winds, but comparatively few motorists should notice.

We thank drivers and boaters alike for their patience as we continue to build the new floating bridge. We look forward to next year’s opening of the new cross-lake highway.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't federal law (rules?) require that the bridge be available to be opened? How is DOT responding to this issue?

Anonymous said...

Nicholas, I applaud your excellent writing in this piece. What could have been snooze-inducing, just-the-facts report was instead a surprising delight to read. Thank you - on behalf of English majors everywhere.

Jeff Dubrule said...

Hey... Bus riders get stuck on these closures, too!

I subscribed to the 520-bridge-alerts list, so I'd know whether to catch an earlier/later bus, to avoid getting stuck.

Just saying...

Bridge user brad said...

This makes up for the 5pm opening 2/16

Jules said...

Agreed on the literate typist comment. But I would have been more satisfied with a maritime perspective paragraph: what are the new clearances compared to old? Must the four-masted schooner I want to build on Mercer Island lower to half-mast?

Anonymous said...

Federal law requires that boats can navigate through the waterway.

With the east end of the bridge no longer being blocked, boats can now pass through there. If they're too tall, they can go under the East Channel Bridge that connects Mercer Island to Bellevue. In both cases, the waterways are now fully navigable for marine traffic without needing to open the bridge span.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is HOORAY!!!!

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