New Narrows Bridge finally double-jointed

In a trip that was practically ignored compared to that of its counterpart, the second expansion joint for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge arrived early Wednesday morning at its new home.

Using the same tag team process employed for the first delivery, Big Boat Movers took the 100-ton piece from Minnesota to the Idaho border, then contractor Omega-Morgan drove it across Washington to Gig Harbor, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

WSDOT spokeswoman Claudia Cornish said that the first expansion joint, or “west” one, was schedule to be installed on the new span this week. The second, “east” joint, should be installed within the next few weeks.

Once installed, Cornish said the joints will be joining the western-most and eastern-most deck sections to their respective anchorages, and are designed to absorb the various deck expansions and contractions that can be caused by temperature changes, wind, or even traffic movement.

The bridge is expected to open to drivers this summer, and while the WSDOT is planning a large celebration for that event, one local legislator said the recently formed state budget — currently awaiting Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature — contains language meant to protect taxpayers from having to pay for the festivities.

“I feel the public shouldn’t have to pay for (the celebration) when we’re already paying for the bridge,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer, (D-Gig Harbor), earlier this week when discussing the proposed state budget that had just passed both legislative houses.

“We had a line put into the budget directing the WSDOT to seek private contributions to offset the cost of any opening celebration,” Kilmer said.

Earlier this month, the WSDOT recognized some of its own workers for reportedly saving even more of the taxpayers’ money.

According to the WSDOT, Secretary Doug MacDonald honored six members of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge’s maintenance crew who came up with an “innovative solution” for removing old paint from bridge suspender cables.

Previously, the process of removing paint on the cables was “difficult and extremely time-consuming” as the crews reportedly had to be suspended in cages and scrape each cable by hand.

However, the crew being honored created a machine “which is equipped with a vacuum and able to be guided remotely over the cables.” It is reportedly several times more efficient than the old, hand-stripping method, and is safer for the employees since they can remain on the sidewalk and do not have to hang from cages and be exposed to paint dust and other dangers.

Over the next five years, the WSDOT estimates the tool will save taxpayers an estimated $3.5 million in bridge maintenance costs.

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