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Overturned crane closes Narrows Bridge for hours

Monday morning’s commute became a nightmare that continued all afternoon for anyone needing to cross the Tacoma Narrows, as a fallen crane closed the bridge to all traffic and desperate drivers struggling to find alternate routes clogged both the ferries and surrounding roadways much of the day.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, around 3:15 a.m. on Monday a 30-ton crane toppled over after it was being used to remove a temporary structure on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, blocking all eastbound lanes just hours before the morning rush hour was to begin.

WSDOT spokesman Nick Dawson said Tacoma Narrows Constructors had finished their work with the crane and were preparing to move it off the bridge when it fell over. The crane’s 50-foot boom fell across the bridge’s sidewalk and handrail, damaging both.

Dawson said he could not address exactly why the crane tipped over, saying only that it was rotating at the time.

Crews originally kept one bridge lane open in each direction, using the westbound lanes, but by 8 a.m. they had closed all westbound traffic at Jackson Avenue to relieve the backup of eastbound traffic.

At 10 a.m., the bridge was closed to all traffic, and WSDOT officials originally expected to reopen it by noon. However, that estimate moved to 2 p.m., then pushed even further to 5 p.m.

All lanes were eventually opened on the bridge shortly after 4 p.m.

“It is just taking longer than anticipated to move the crane,” said WSDOT spokeswoman Debbie Schow, explaining at 1:30 p.m. that crews were scrambling to get a second crane into place to pull the fallen crane upright.

“They’re putting down metal slates onto the deck so they can put a second crane into place,” Schow said.

Aerial photographs of the scene showed the crane lying on its side with much of its length hanging off the bridge, and Schow explained that crews had placed counterweights on it to keep it from falling off the span.

Once State Route 16 ground to a halt, cars sought refuge on the water, filling ferry boats crossing Puget Sound from Bainbridge Island to Southworth.

By 8 a.m., Washington State Ferries reported that the 9:20 a.m. sailing from Southworth had sold out, and the ferry dock, normally nearly empty by 9 a.m., was still overflowing with cars by that afternoon.

According to WSF, to ease the congestion an extra sailing from Southworth to Fauntleroy was added at 1:30 p.m.

To control traffic near the terminal, Washington State Patrol troopers were dispatched to direct the motorists backed-up past the ticket booths and lined up along Sedgwick Road.

WSDOT officials said it was very fortunate that no one was injured when the crane fell, and thanked commuters for their patience.

“This was a major inconvenience, and we are very grateful for the patience of all the motorists,” Dawson said.

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