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New Tacoma Narrows Bridge is dedicated on July 15, 2007.
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On July 15, 2007, the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge is dedicated. The day-long celebration attracts some 60,000 people. The suspension bridge with its concrete towers will open to vehicular traffic the next day. The new bridge, roughly a mile long, has been under construction since 2002. It forms a twin to the 1950 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, except that the older bridge has steel towers. The new bridge is built parallel to and south of the older bridge, which in turn replaced the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the famous "Galloping Gertie" built in 1940 and collapsed in a windstorm a few months later. The new (third) Tacoma Narrows Bridge will carry SR 16 eastbound to Tacoma and the 1950 bridge will carry the route westbound to Gig Harbor.
History Not Repeated
The new bridge is the third suspension bridge to span the deep and turbulent fjord that is Tacoma Narrows. The original Tacoma Narrows Bridge was dedicated on July 1, 1940, and its notorious collapse in a windstorm on November 7, 1940, reverberated around the engineering world. Its undulations had earned it the moniker "Galloping Gertie" and the lessons learned from its tragic failure ultimately transformed suspension-bridge technology.
The sturdy 1950 bridge ("Sturdy Gertie") was constructed using the steel towers of Galloping Gertie and also using its unforgettable lessons in aerodynamics (wind forces).
To Build a Bridge
In a suspension bridge, the deck (the roadway and its underlying truss) is suspended by vertical suspenders or hangers that descend from two huge main cables, one on each side. The clothesline-like main cables pass over the towers through cable saddles and gracefully descend to the shore where they are hitched to massive concrete anchorages. The cable load is passed to the towers at the cable saddle and the anchorages provide a counterweight. Two wires above each main cable are handrails provided for intrepid bridge workers who, in order to do their jobs, prance along the cable like trapeze artists (they wear a harness).
The main cables on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge are 20.5 inches wide and consist of 19 strands. Each strand contains 466 wires. A wire is about as wide as a pencil. The cable as a whole contains a total of 8,816 wires.
At the anchorages, the main cable splays into its separate strands. Each strand is wrapped around a strand shoe. Each strand shoe connects to strong anchor rods and the anchor rods are cemented into the anchorage.
The towers of the new bridge are made of concrete reinforced with steel, in contrast to the steel towers of the 1950 bridge. The towers are each 510 feet tall and each contain 8,500 cubic yards of concrete. The two towers together contain 2.9 million pounds of reinforcing steel. The tower foundations (called piers or caissons), are also made of concrete and reinforcing steel. They weigh 85,000 tons each.
The overall bridge length is 5,400 feet, or about a mile long. The main span (tower to tower) is 2,800 feet long and is hung from 69 pairs of suspenders per side. The east side span is 1,200 feet long and hangs from 29 pairs of suspenders on each side. The west side span is 1,400 feet long and hangs from 34 pairs of suspenders per side.
The asphalt-covered roadway rests on a steel truss that WSDOT imported from South Korea. The truss arrived in 43 sections.
Contractors were Tacoma Narrows Constructors, a Bechtel and Kiewit venture. Cost of construction was $849 million. Among the advances in bridge-building since the 1950 bridge are more safety devises and procedures. Four fatalities occurred during building of the 1950 bridge, but during the construction of this equally massive and complex project there were no deaths and few injuries.
The Big Day
Sunday July 15 began as a beautiful, sunny but not-too-hot day. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) had a full day planned, with 40,000 people expected. (Actually some 60,000 folks showed up.) This was said to be the one and only opportunity in history to actually walk or run in the traffic lanes of the new bridge.
The first event of the day was a 5K (3.1 miles) bridge Run/Walk. It was held to benefit Tacoma General Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. About 10,000 runners/walkers registered for the run, which began at 8 a.m. As they took off, the bridge trembled and shook under the weight of the massive, foot-pounding crowd.
After the run, at the new toll booths at the Gig Harbor side of the bridge, the first official ceremonial ribbon-cutting took place. Short speeches were given, including an appreciation of the hard work done by all collaborating parties given by WSDOT state construction engineer Linea Laird. Then the ribbon was cut by Michael Murphy, Washington State Treasurer; Frank Chopp, State Speaker of the House; John Batiste, Chief of the Washington State Patrol; and State Representative Pat Lantz.
First Crossing and Ceremonial Toll
Next came the historic first drive across the bridge. The first vehicle to cross was the 1923 Lincoln Touring Car that had made the first crossing of Galloping Gertie in 1940 and had again led the first crossing of Sturdy Gertie in 1950. Among the passengers in this car were Mike Murphy and Frank Chopp. Mike Murphy paid the first toll.
The second car to cross was a 1950 Washington State Patrol Cruiser. Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste drove it and it carried transportation commissioner Richard D. Ford (1930-2013) and retired state trooper Bob Rupp. Bob Rupp had driven Governor Arthur Langlie in the same vehicle in the 1950 bridge dedication procession.
Next came a 1928 Lincoln Sedan and it was followed by a 2007 Toyota Prius, and finally by the Naval Hospital Bremerton's color guard.
At 10 o'clock the bridge opened to pedestrians although thousands had already run or walked across as part of the bridge run. Thousands of people, jolly and wowed, walked back and forth across the bridge throughout the day. Undoubtedly the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge will be one of the most photographed bridges in the state.
Remembering and Honoring
Among the ceremonies that day was a remembrance of those who had passed on, whose indefatigable advocacy over the years since 1992 made the bridge possible. Especially honored were State Representative Ruth Fisher and State Senator Bob Oke.
Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste spoke of the increased safety that the new bridge would provide, as head-on traffic would no longer be facing each other. He spoke of the 11,000 collisions that had occurred on the 1950 bridge, including 500 injury collisions and 19 fatalities. The ceremony recognized Lynn Torgerson, whose mother was killed in a collision when the Toyota pickup truck Lynn was driving was hit.
The ceremony concluded with a beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace" sung by members of the Color and Harmony Trio: Johanna Batiste, Alexandrea Henderson, and Vanelya Miller.
Next came the builder's ribbon-cutting ceremony and the official bridge dedication. Governor Christine Gregoire gave a short speech, and the ribbon was cut once again.
The Tacoma Wheelmen's Ceremonial Bicycle dedication and bike trek across the bridge and back concluded the events of a thrilling day in the state of Washington.
"SR 16 New Tacoma Narrows Bridge," Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) website accessed July 14, 2007 (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr16narrowsbridge/); Richard S. Hobbs, Catastrophe to Triumph: Bridges of the Tacoma Narrows ((Pullman: WSU Press, 2006); Mike Lindblom, "For Worker, Tacoma Narrow Bridge Forever Suspended in History,: The Seattle Times, July 13, 2007; Mike Lindblom, "Toil Ends, Toll Begins, Span Opens Today," Ibid., July 16, 2007,; Larry Lange, "Narrows Bridge Toll Could Be the First of Many," Seattle P-I, July 14, 2007; Observations of author at bridge dedication, July 15, 2007.
Note: This essay was updated on May 15, 2013.
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