New Narrows Bridge

Yes Vote a Solution to SR 16's Traffic Woes?


Editorial By: Michael Pellegrini


Like a rite of passage, almost everyone who lives in or around Tacoma has at one time or another, been stuck in a traffic jam on the Narrows Bridge. These traffic jams often assume monumental proportions, occasionally so bad that traffic crawls all the way from the I-5 interchange to the bridge.


Anyone who has been held hostage in one of these affairs can see it's obvious that something must be done. What would otherwise be a pleasant fifteen-minute trip to Gig Harbor turns into a nightmare odyssey of stalled cars, noxious fumes and angry drivers.


According to the state Department of Transportation, the addition of the proposed second Narrows Bridge would vastly change this picture. On November 3, voters will have an opportunity to cast ballots in an advisory election to decide the fate of this proposed new bridge.


Under the DOT proposal, United Infrastructures, a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation, would build a second suspension bridge parallel to the current Narrows Bridge. The old bridge would be reconfigured to carry three twelve- foot wide lanes of westbound traffic; the new bridge would carry three twelve-foot wide lanes of eastbound traffic, plus would have a bicycle/pedestrian lane. Both bridges would have shoulders, and the metal grates would be removed from the existing bridge. The third lane on both bridges would eventually be destined for HOV use.


On its face, the addition of two extra lanes appears insufficient to rectify the current much less future traffic problems on the Narrows Bridge. Still, DOT presents a compelling case to the contrary.


According to their studies, the main factors involved in creating back-ups on the present bridge are:


        The width of the current lanes is up to two and a half feet less than the standard twelve foot freeway lanes;

        There is no barrier separating the lanes of oncoming traffic;

        The metal grates limit the available driving surface, prohibit lane changes and reduce traction;

        There are no shoulders for disabled vehicles.


Other factors tending to slow down the flow of traffic include the areas frequent high winds, the up-hill grade coming onto the bridge, and the scenic vistas which encourage gawkers.


DOT believes that traffic flow can be dramatically increased by seventy percent or more with three lanes of traffic in each direction, and the other improvements they have recommended. Statistics appear to back them up.


In addition, the new bridge will be built to allow the construction of a second deck which could carry vehicles or light rail, which would significantly reduce the cost of future expansion should it be warranted by increases in traffic volume.


The price tag for the package is estimated to be about $302 million. DOT proposes to pay for the package by implementing a round-trip toll of $3.00 per car - and it is this toll which is the most contentious aspect of the ballot measure.


This proposed toll is not out of line. Lest we forget, the existing bridge was paid for with the revenue from tolls. In 1950, that toll was $1.00 - the equivalent of $6.75 in 1997 dollars.


Opponents of the bridge toll favor spreading the cost over the tax base as a whole. That would be unfair.


Tolls are the most fair and equitable means available for assigning share of costs because people would pay costs proportionate to how often they use the new bridge. The person who uses the bridge daily would pay proportionately more user-fees than the person who uses it once a year - which is appropriate, because the daily user derives a substantially greater benefit: the benefit of greater safety in their commute, of less time spent in back-ups, and more time spent at home with the kids.


The Tacoma Reporter encourages you to vote in favor of the new bridge. DOT's proposal is well planned, equitable, and would substantively benefit Tacoma and the surrounding communities. The $3.00 round-trip toll is not excessive, and would be a proportionate tax, with the heaviest users paying the most, as it should be. Vote Yes on the Bridge Advisory measure on November 3.