Washington state

‘New feel’ to Hood Canal Bridge

SHINE — It’s straighter, sleeker, smoother and wider.

Bicyclists might find the wider emergency lanes more friendly.

People who use the Hood Canal Bridge to commute between the North Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas will no doubt find the refurbished version a more enjoyable commute.

The bridge reopened at 10:18 p.m. Wednesday after closing on May 1 for a $499 million replacement of its east half.

Conspicuously missing now is the so-called bulge in the bridge, gone after Canadians towed the old drawspan to Vancouver Island, where a developer hopes to reuse the span and other old pontoons for a marina or pier.

On Thursday, Paradise Bay resident Mary Harding, who has spent the past five weeks staying with family in North Kitsap County and commuting on weekends by driving around the bridge, said she was looking forward to getting home in 20 minutes.

Harding, an administrative assistant at Martha & Mary Health in Poulsbo, was driving via U.S. Highway 101 and cutting over to Highway 3.

It’s a 21/2-hour drive.

“I started listening to audiobooks again because it was such a long trip,” she said, adding that she planned her first trip over the new bridge Thursday night.

Hood Canal Bridge project staffers also were ecstatic about the bridge reopening.

“You could just feel the excitement in the room as they got closer,” bridge project spokeswoman Becky Hixson said, recounting how it felt to stand inside the new east-half control tower, counting down the 20-cycle test required of the east drawspan before the bridge could pass state contract standards.

Passing that test meant the bridge could be opened eight days earlier than scheduled. Contractor Kiewit-General earned a $600,000 bonus, the maximum allowed by the state for finishing before its contracted date of June 15.

Although the bridge is open, related work still remains.

Hixson said that next comes replacement of the heavy cables connecting the bridge to its 10 new 1,000-ton anchors, which the contractor sank in June 2007.

“To expedite the project, we kept to the old cables,” Hixson explained.

In September, the bridge’s west half will be upgraded with the same mechanisms used in the east half.

Roller guides, which keep the draw spans in alignment, and other gears will be changed on the bridge’s west half to “mirror” the new mechanisms in the east half, Hixson said.

The leak-detection systems installed in the bridge’s pontoons are capable of measuring as little as an inch of water to ensure their integrity.

The systems still must be wired to the bridge control tower so operators can read moisture levels.

Closures on the west half in September will be only after 10 p.m. and overnight, with the bridge being closed for no more than an hour and a half at a time, Hixson said.

Usually, about 16,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day.

During the closure, since May 1, commuters between the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas have had to take bus and water shuttles, which ran between the temporary Shine Pit park and ride and South Point ferry dock in Jefferson County and Lofall dock and Port Gamble park and ride, or drive around using Highway 101 or the ferry out of Port Townsend.

While water shuttle service and the Port Townsend-Edmonds “twilight” ferry ended with the bridge opening, Jefferson and Clallam bus service was to end Friday, once commuters picked up their cars at park-and-ride lots.

Motorists were given the extra day of ground transportation so they had more time to pick their vehicles up at temporary park-and-ride lots at the Shine Pit in Jefferson County and the temporary Port Gamble park and ride.

Hixson said many people watched the project’s blog Wednesday night at www.hoodcanalbridge.blogspot.com.

Once the bridge opened, she said, motorists who lined up to be the first to cross honked at workers.

“A guy on his bicycle said he wanted to be the first to ride a bike across,” she said. And he did.

“It does have a new feel to it,” Hixson said.