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Hood Canal Bridge opens on August 12, 1961.
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On August 12, 1961, the Hood Canal Bridge opens. Thousands of spectators sit in a five-mile traffic backup waiting to cross the brand-new bridge, which is opening 15 months behind schedule. It is the world's longest bridge of its type, with a floating section consisting of 23 concrete pontoons stretching a distance of 6,520 feet, with the total span of the bridge reaching 7,869 feet. In 1977, the Hood Canal Bridge was officially renamed the William A. Bugge Hood Canal Bridge. Bugge served as Washington's Director of Highways from 1949 to 1963.
Although planning for the bridge had taken a decade, it was still controversial. Some engineers expressed doubt about its design and location, since the floating pontoon structure was the first of its kind to be built over salt water subject to tides, with water levels varying by as much as 18 feet. Some expressed concern that the canal would act as a natural funnel to intensify both wind and tides. But because of the depth of the Hood Canal channel -- 340 feet in places -- installing supports for a conventional suspension bridge would have been complicated and expensive.
Even during construction, there were problems. In December 1958, two pontoons sank in the Duwamish Waterway in Seattle, where the bridge was being fabricated. Then, during construction, storms damaged bolted joints between pontoons, convincing architects and the contractor that the design was faulty. The plans were modified and a new contractor was hired.
After opening, the bridge required constant maintenance. Joints tended to open during high wave conditions, the draw-span machinery tended to be damaged during storms, and hairline cracks appeared in the concrete of the pontoons.
The bridge remained in service until it sank in high winds during a storm on February 13, 1979. It was repaired and reopened on October 3, 1982.
Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington (Seattle: Tartu, 1998), 126-128.
Note: This essay was updated on March 23, 2005.
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