A milestone is upon us. The opening ceremonies for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge will be held on Sunday, July 15.

From 8 to 10 a.m., MultiCare will have a 5K Fun Run (walk, run, or jog) starting at War Memorial Park in Tacoma, going across the bridge to the Gig Harbor side, and then return.

At 10 a.m., a 1929 Lincoln Touring Car that participated in the opening ceremonies for the older Narrows Bridge will be driven across and pay the first ceremonial toll, accompanied by a 1950s Washington State Patrol cruiser. At 10:30, a memoriam for Sen. Bob Oke will occur on the west side. Oke was a major promoter of the new bridge, and survived his cancer long enough to see it take shape, but not long enough to attend the ceremony.

The bridge deck will be opened to the public (pedestrians only) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Organizers of the celebrations say this is a rare chance to play in the traffic lanes of a major highway. Officials will closely monitor the head count to ensure that the weight capacity for the bridge (60,000 adults) is not exceeded. At least four ribbon cutting stations will provide young and old alike with ribbon and scissors — and photographers —  to individually document the event for posterity. Digital photographs will be posted on a Website for later download. Kids of all ages will love to get their “passports” stamped at stamp stations at various points across the bridge.

 
The “official” ribbon cutting will occur at 1:30 p.m., with Gov. Chris Gregoire and other dignitaries present. The bridge will be cleared at 3 p.m. to get it ready for the first traffic flow. Those planning to attend the ceremonies must park either at the Tacoma Narrows Airport or at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma. Buses will shuttle people to and from the bridge throughout the day.

The bridge is expected to open the following morning, July 16, for vehicle traffic and toll paying. This could be delayed, however, if the weather prevents the final lane striping and apron modifications.

Victoria Tobin, the Washington State Department of Transportation official responsible for the opening ceremonies,  said she was assigned to the task because she usually works “with opening ceremonies that have only $25 in the budget.” “The budget for the Narrows Bridge is $260,000, and I expect it to be covered entirely by sponsors and donations,” she said. “This money will be spent on things like bus service to/from the parking areas, porta-potties, water and first aid stations, standby ambulances, barricades, trash cans, litter pickup, safety and security. There will even be a marine patrol boat with standby divers in the water beneath the bridge. We intend this to be a memorable event with the absolute minimum of negative experiences.”

More celebrating

If celebrating the bridge opening day is not enough for you, the city of Gig Harbor invites local community to a picnic on Tuesday, July 10, at the Skansie Brothers Park downtown to celebrate the new bridge. The free event, held from 5 to 8:30 p.m., includes a community picnic complete with hot dogs and potato salad, free hats and other commemorative items (while supplies last), children’s games and music by Gig Harbor’s Spelemannslag Norwegian Folk Band.

Good To Go update

The Good To Go! electronic toll collection program has already exceeded its goal of 25,000 accounts. Calculations (guesswork) included the following when setting this goal:

  • Daily eastbound traffic – 40,000 vehicles
  • Peak traffic (7 – 10 a.m.) – 3,700 vehicles per hour
  • Percentage of vehicles using transponders – 60%
  • Space for vehicles in queue – 150 vehicles
  • Transaction time at toll booth – 11 seconds
  • Each additional vehicle with a transponder is one less waiting in line at the toll booth.

 

EDITORIAL

 

Bridge opening could be milestone for Key Pen, too!

The July opening of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge will mark several milestones for the area. The bridge has been a dream, for some, for many years. Others fought it profusely: The project had been the subject of a long legal battle before it got off the ground.

Construction took more than five years, several delays, a total of 47.5 million pounds of structural steel (for bridge structure and suspension system), and more than $800 million to complete. The 2,800-foot span is an engineering marvel, becoming the longest suspension bridge built in the United States since 1964. It will also be the largest twin suspension bridge in the world.

For the local community, the bridge brings a different kind of milestone: It will be the first bridge in the state to be tolled in 20 years. For a Key Pen commuter who works on the other side, driving to work will cost about $450 during the first year for those who use transponders, and the tolls are expected to increase in future years.

But the implications of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge go far beyond engineering records and personal finances. Speculation has run far and wide about what impact the new bridge will have on the region. Most people agree that despite the toll, the expected congestion relief will make the peninsula area more attractive, causing big population growth. Since Gig Harbor has limited residential lots available, and its real estate values are the highest from the Narrows to Bainbridge Island, Key Peninsula becomes an even more attractive place.

Already, development has been booming here. Expected growth is the reason Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee proposed creating a KP community plan. Lee told the KP News in previous interviews: “You look at the Key Peninsula and all the miles of shoreline and view property — the bridge is the only thing that keeps people away… The new bridge will unlock the door to the Key Peninsula.”

The jury will be out for a long time on what the Tacoma Narrows Bridge means for the Key Pen. The first bridge brought an economic boom to the entire area, and the completion of the second bridge brought an influx of summer homes. Gig Harbor has certainly grown by leaps and bounds. Who could imagine that up until Target opened five years ago, there wasn’t even a place to buy undergarments locally. Now, national chains continue to roll in. No one expects Walmart to set up shop on the KP — but we should expect a bunch of new neighbors, who find a short commute into Gig Harbor a minor inconvenience.

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