Bridge opponents still vocal

The mood was calm and collected for most the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Oversight Committee meeting on Thursday as Washington State Department of Transportation officials told legislators the new bridge’s construction so far has been largely trouble-free and at least temporarily under budget.

But it quickly changed as two vocal Gig Harbor residents reminded those present that the swell of resentment toward the new bridge still exists and should not be ignored.

“Don’t delude yourself that this (resentment) has gone away,” said Michael Murphy, a resident of Gig Harbor and a member of the Peninsula Advisory Commission for Pierce County.

Murphy cautioned the legislators — including committee chair Sen. Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard) and members Sen. Betti Sheldon (D-23rd District), Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-30th District) — that although the project is underway, if certain stakeholders are not included in the continuing oversight process, the unaddressed resentment will continue to erode the project.

“You still have angry, hostile stakeholders I believe should be folded into the process,” Murphy said, explaining that the project management should include representatives from the community such as associations of homeowners and businesses. “It is very important to the success of the project to heal the wounds you have created.”

When Oke expressed surprise that so much resentment still existed, vocal bridge opponent Randy Boss offered up himself as proof, and Rep. Lois McMahan, (R-Olalla), said she saw a great deal amongst her constituents in South Kitsap.

“I hear quite a bit from people who are still angry this project is going forward,” McMahan said. “I think anything we can do to win the public goodwill will be well worth it.”

“Any suggestions you have would be much appreciated,” said WSDOT Project Manager Linea Laird, and Murphy responded by suggesting that changing the HOV lanes to open lanes could soothe a lot of resentment as far as Kitsap County residents are concerned.

“I’d say that 90 percent of the traffic going over the bridge originates on that side of the bridge,” and these are not drivers who will easily gather into carpools and benefit from an HOV lane, Murphy said.

Oke responded to Murphy’s concerns by assuring him that changes to the project could still be made.

“I’m confident that if the HOV doesn’t work, it would be relatively easy to make the change,” Oke said. “I believe that (those) against the (bridge) have made it a better project overall.”

Oke said the next meeting of the committee — created by the Narrows Bridge bill (SB 2723) and charged with monitoring the progress, execution and efficiency of the design-build contract — would be sometime in September.

He also requested that Laird and the others prepare a written report that he could present to the rest of the legislators when the session resumes in January.

The reports will include updates on progress, a project summary schedule, tracking of expenditures, public involvement efforts, traffic impacts, workforce effectiveness monitoring and safety issues. Other elements will appear as needed to update citizens on issues related to noise, right of way development, and soil remediation.

The scope of the project includes the new bridge, reconfiguration and seismic improvements to the existing bridge, the toll facility, improvements at 24th Street NW and 36th Street NW on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge and at Jackson Avenue on the Tacoma side. The project size totals 3.5 miles, with the bridge being one mile long.

The meeting concluded with an executive session to discuss any pending legal concerns, including the lawsuit filed by Citizens Against Tolls, a group led by Boss, that contends the bonds currently being sold to pay for the bridge cannot be paid back with tolls as is planned because they were originally authorized as R-49 bonds which can only be paid back with gas tax revenues, not tolls.

More bridge updates:

Environmental violations: Two environmental violations have occurred since construction began, both involving areas designated as wetlands. One violation involved workers in unauthorized areas, and the other was planned contract work that did not have final approval. Both were self-stopped, said WSDOT Project Manager Linea Laird.

-- Office co-location nixed: WSDOT revised plans to move its bridge project operations office to a joint location with TNC, responding to community concerns that the nine-acre plot officials planned to raze to put in a 37,000 square foot office and employee parking would mean the removal of trees and increased traffic. Officials now plan to move to a 10,000 square-foot office that will not accommodate both agencies, with a decreased amount of parking spaces provided.

-- Viewing platform, cameras planned: TNC plans to build a public viewing platform near the the new bridge construction site, currently considered for Narrows Park, formerly Doc Weather’s Park, while WSDOT plans to install two closed-circuit cameras to make construction images available to the public via the project Web site. The cameras are scheduled to be active by the middle of July.

-- Only three noise complaints: The WSDOT reported it has received only three noise complaints since Jan. 28, when nighttime construction activities began. It has been tracking all noise complaints as part of a one-year noise variance granted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Laird said although noise walls have been erected around the concrete batch plant, she expects the number of complaints to increase once the plant is operating. The WSDOT must reapply for the variance in October, before the current one expires in November.

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