Oke bill moves on

After a public hearing during which only one person spoke out against naming the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge after the late Sen. Bob Oke, the Senate Committee on Transportation voted unanimously to move the bill forward.

“I don’t believe this new bridge would have been built without Bob Oke in the Legislature,” said Sen. Ken Jacobsen, (D-Seattle) before the hearing, noting that “it was an incredible feat of courage by Bob to get it built, and it is the only major project in the state that has been completed, as opposed to the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the State-Route 520 Bridge.”

Transportation Chair Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) agreed that Oke was nothing if not determined to get a second span built.

“Believe me, he was a nag when it came to this bridge,” Haugen said, before opening the floor to public comments, the first of which came from Oke’s widow, Judy.

“We used to get calls on our (answering machine) from people stuck on the bridge who were very angry because they were late for an appointment,” Judy Oke said. “But now, I get phone calls from people as they are flying over the bridge and they are ecstatic.”

And though she admitted that her husband was the target of many who were opposed to the bridge, Judy Oke said that her husband “wasn’t afraid of the opposition, and safety for all was Bob’s main concern.”

Tom Derby, Oke’s son-in-law, described the opposition the senator faced as “life-threatening calls, e-mails and letters, but he loved the people in his district and he wanted the bridge to save their lives.”

After Port Orchard businessman Rick Flaherty and Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee also spoke in favor of naming the bridge — just the new span, not the older 1950 bridge — after Oke, the one voice of dissent was delivered by consistent critic Randy Boss.

“He’s either the stupidest guy in the world or the bravest,” said Boss, quickly clarifying that he didn’t have anything against Bob personally. “My opposition to the bridge doesn’t really have anything to do with Bob Oke.”

However, Boss said that 80 percent of the 26th District voted against the bridge, and that “Oke did not represent the people of the 26th District, and we feel that the project has been jammed down our throats, (and it would be) adding insult to injury to jam his name down our throats, too.”

In response to Boss’ comments, Sen. Jacobsen said it was true that perhaps Oke went ahead with what he wanted despite the opposition.

“Bob gave it his best judgement, and decided he knew what was best,” Jacobsen said. “And I think he has been vindicated.”

If the bill — officially named Senate Joint Memorial 8026 — passes once before the full Senate, however, co-sponsor Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) said “it would really be a recommendation, and (serves) to convey the feelings of the Legislature.”

Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, confirmed that deciding whether to name the bridge after Oke is ultimately up to the commission.

However, Griffith added, “I don’t know if the commission has ever rejected a naming request that came from the Legislature.”

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