Lake Washington Floating Bridges

Lake Washington Floating Bridges

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The Lake Washington Floating Bridges that span Lake Washington, in Seattle, are the Lacey V. Hadley Floating Bridge (1989).The Morrow Bridge, designed by engineer Homer Hadley, floats on hollow concrete pontoons and was hailed at the time as innovative technology. In 1981, the bridge pontoons were replaced with straight pontoons by the Washington State Department of Highways.The Rossellini Bridge (popularly, the Evergreen Point Bridge) is the longest floating bridge in the world. The four-lane span carries traffic as part of Washington State Route 520, connecting Seattle and Medina.The Hadley Bridge was constructed as a parallel twin bridge to the Morrow Bridge, but during a storm in November 1990, it sank. The bridge was rebuilt later.The Morrow and Hadley Floating Bridges carry Interstate 90 commuters between Seattle and Bellevue.The three bridges on Lake Washington provide a windbreak for ideal rowing in nearly all conditions.

As more people populated Seattle and its neighboring communities on the east side of Lake Washington, it became apparent that ferries couldn't adequately serve as the shortest east-west trans-lake link. And to go around the lake the trip could be as much as 25 miles, the lake's north-to-south distance. The obvious solution: a bridge.

But what kind of bridge? Many suggestions surfaced but one in particular excited people's imagination. In 1920, Homer Hadley, a young engineer working in the architectural office of the Seattle School District, suggested a floating bridge supported by concrete pontoons. Mr. Hadley drew upon his experiences building concrete ships and barges in Philadelphia during World War One for the Emergency Fleet Corporation. He formally proposed his idea at a meeting of the American Society of Civil Engineers on October 1, 1921. Mr. Hadley's proposal caused considerable debate. The skeptics included the Seattle Times, Seattle civic leaders, and the Lake Washington Protective Association.

Then around 1925 the Mercer Island Community Club (MICC) became involved. On the Island, community clubs were forums for the residents, getting involved in such Island happenings as ferry service to Seattle, potential health hazards, sanitation control, and the water supply. The MICC began work on gaining a bridge across Lake Washington to Seattle. George Lightfoot (1889-1941), an early East Seattle resident and postmaster, led the fight for over 15 years. Until 1930, the bridge was projected as a private enterprise, but the crash of '29 ended that effort. Club members turned to Washington State, working five years in Olympia to gain the necessary funding.

The funds became available in 1937 for building the bridge (which would turn out to be the largest single road project in the State's history up to that time), and the Washington Legislature created the State Toll Bridge Authority. The time seemed right for Homer Hadley to approach Lacey V. Murrow, director of the State Department of Highways (DOH) with his suggestions. DOH engineers concluded that Hadley’s ideas were practical and adopted his theory. However there were some changes made which included the notorious "bulge" for the draw span so that navigation could take place on the lake. The bridge over the east channel was too low for most major navigation that was needed by Boeing and other shipping traffic. The engineer who did the design was Jacob Samuelson of Seattle, a graduate of an Oslo, Norway technical college. He was also the chief engineer for the general construction of the structure.

Funds provided for the entire six-and one half mile project which included the west side approaches, the twin-bore tunnel under Mount Baker Ridge, the floating structure, roadways on Mercer Island and the east side approaches.

When the Lake Washington Floating Bridge opened it consisted of 25 pontoons made of concrete. This unusual engineering feature spurred the imagination of classical-minded residents who referred to it as the eighth wonder of the world, whether true or not. The bridge proved a boon to eastside communities, spurring a population growth now that Eastsiders could get to Seattle more rapidly, whether for work or for cultural attractions.

In honor of George Lightfoot's efforts to procure the Lake Washington Bridge, a plaque was installed in Roanoke Park, dedicated on the occasion of the bridge opening, July 2, 1940. As a note of how George Lightfoot was perceived on the Island--in the 1940 census George Lightfoot's occupation was listed as "bridge promoter". He was able to see the results of his efforts, but passed away less than one year later.

Homer Hadley was similarly honored when the 3rd pontoon bridge across Lake Washington was named the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge.

The Lake Washington Floating Bridge Connects Seattle's History to the Road Ahead

The original Lake Washington floating bridge was expected to handle an average of 2,800 cars daily when completed in June 1940. It connected Seattle to the east side of the lake via Sunset Highway, which was later replaced by Interstate 90. The photo above depicts construction of the western approach to the floating bridge. The idea of a floating bridge across Lake Washington was proposed originally in the 1920s by engineer Homer Hadley.

The lake bed was too soft for piers and a suspension bridge was deemed too expensive, so Hadley floated the idea of connecting hollow barges end-to-end. The original Lake Washington Floating Bridge was renamed the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge in 1967. It closed in 1989 for reconstruction and, following a severe storm that sank portions of the old bridge, the current incarnation of the I-90 floating bridge finally opened in 1993. At 6,620 feet, it ranks as the second-longest floating bridge in the world. Today, it carries a daily average of some 66,000 vehicles eastbound over the lake. Westbound traffic is carried by the adjacent Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge, which opened in 1989.

Inside the world’s longest floating bridge: How engineers made Seattle’s new Lake Washington span bigger, better and safer

A view from the eastern side of Lake Washington, looking back beneath the new, right, and old SR 520 floating bridges. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

One of the more important aspects of a floating bridge is that it stays afloat.

That seems like a simple enough design request, and the existing SR 520 bridge over Lake Washington has met that vital criteria for more than 50 years.

But the time has finally arrived for a more weather, earthquake and time-resistant structure to take over the task of connecting Seattle and the Eastside, home to tech giants such as Microsoft, Concur and Expedia. And while the new floating bridge will stand more firmly against wind and seismic activity, it will also carry more vehicles and people in more efficient ways— and just plain look better doing it.

Construction of the new 7,710-foot bridge started in January 2012, and this weekend, the Washington State Department of Transportation will throw a grand opening party to allow the public to walk across, bike on and gawk at the multi-billion-dollar project. It’s an engineering and technological marvel, and GeekWire got a behind-the-scenes look into the innovation behind the world’s longest floating bridge. We also previewed the monitoring devices and maintenance facilities that make this floating span — connecting one of the key high-tech corridors in the country — a vast improvement over its 53-year-old predecessor.

A new bridge maintenance building was built beneath the eastern approach span. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Maintenance building

On the eastern side of the lake, beneath the approach bridge that connects the floating structure to land, a three-story brick building sits in the shadows, facing west toward Seattle.

The building houses technology that controls and monitors various aspects of the bridge and roadway including lights, traffic cameras, fire suppression systems and more. A large backup generator sits on the ground level to power all systems in the event of a power loss. A spacious maintenance shop is also on site for building parts and making repairs to bridge components.

Dave Becher, WSDOT director of construction for the 520 project, discusses the backup generator in the new maintenance building. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) A workshop in the new maintenance building will allow for all sorts of construction and repair work related to the floating bridge and roadway. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

At the shoreline, a dock — which even allows natural light to stream through for migrating fish — provides access to boats which can ferry workers and equipment across the navigation channel and out to the bridge.

Perhaps most importantly, a small touch-screen panel in a nondescript corner of the building illustrates the bridge-control system. Similar panels are also in the anchor galleries of some of the bridge’s 77 concrete pontoons.

Chris MacDonald, an assistant project engineer, demonstrated how the system can relay vital information, such as whether one of the concrete pontoons is taking on water.

“Every pontoon, and what’s here in the maintenance facility, all looks the same and can give you all the same information,” MacDonald said. “You don’t have to be in pontoon A to see what’s going on in pontoon A.”

Chris MacDonald, a WSDOT assistant project engineer, shows off a touchscreen control panel that monitors a number of bridge systems, including the pontoons. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

MacDonald said the system can trigger 23 different kinds of alarms, setting in motion a series of calls to WSDOT personnel.

“There’s also a fair amount of control we can do,” MacDonald said. “It’s not just reporting information in.”

Data from all of the various systems will not only feed into the 520 facility, but will be relayed to WSDOT’s traffic management center in Shoreline, Wash., which is staffed 24-7.

WSDOT construction manager Greg Meadows walks the dock which provides workers access to the maintenance building and boats which will carry them to the bridge. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) A massive earthquake retaining wall was constructed behind the back wall of the maintenance building. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) A worker spray paints the underbelly of the new bridge. WSDOT says landscaping will eventually hide the maintenance building from the view of bridge neighbors to the north and south. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

The entire monitoring and control operation is obviously an improvement over what the old floating bridge offered, because retrofitting just didn’t make sense, said Dave Becher, director of construction for the 520 project.

“If you went to I-90, which is [23 years old], it was state of the art at the time, but it can’t compete with this,” Becher said. “Hood Canal is probably better than that, but what you see is that technology increases and is improving.”


Descending from the top to the very bottom of the bridge’s pontoons happens in two stages, both times through a hole that’s about 2 or 3-feet wide. The first ladder accesses an anchor gallery which is the main area maintenance workers would need to work in. It is here that electrical systems feed a monitoring panel that’s the same as the one back on shore at the maintenance building.

Greg Meadows looks at an anchor cable in the anchor gallery of a floating bridge pontoon. The cables stretch out from either side of the bridge and down into Lake Washington. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) The 3 1/8-inch anchor cable is visible in front of a system control panel identical to what is located in the maintenance facility. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

“This is the brain of the pontoon,” Becher said. And while the old bridge made it about 50 years without this type of technology, the hope for the new bridge is a much longer lifespan.

“You want 75 years,” Becher said. “But the intent is that it can last indefinitely if you can maintain it. It’s all about maintenance. A lot of this is to avoid a catastrophic incident.”

This part of the pontoon also houses the 3 1/8-inch diameter anchor cable which extends out into the lake to tie into one of three types of anchors depending on the depth of the lake and location of the pontoon. The cables and anchors — affixed to the lake bottom — are what provide stability to the floating bridge.

Access to the cables is important in order to conduct inspections and maintenance or replace them in the future. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) It’s a good climb down from the anchor gallery of the pontoon into the lower gallery where’s there’s not much but concrete and air. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Another ladder descends into the lower gallery of the 28-foot-high pontoon. The floor is about 21 feet below the surface of Lake Washington, and the interior, with metal doors connecting various cells, looks like a cross between a prison and a battleship.

You don’t really feel like you’re this far underwater, though claustrophobes may not want to experience this submerged adventure.

The most vital piece of technology in this space is a simple-looking leak detection system that is reminiscent of the ball and chain in your toilet tank.

“If for some reason they were taking water, it trips an alarm so you’re aware of which pontoon exactly it is,” Becher said of the device, which has a float switch that sits about 3 inches off the floor of the pontoon. In the event that a pontoon is breached, a pump line can be dropped into the lower gallery and controlled at the deck above.

Greg Meadows uses his foot to illustrate how far water would have to rise in the bottom of a pontoon to trip a floating sensor alarm. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) Like a battleship made of concrete, it’s quiet and cold at the bottom of a giant bridge pontoon. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) Distressed boaters or swimmers will have cable and ladder access on the outside of the pontoons and can reach emergency call boxes on the lower bridge deck. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) Ducks that were landing in pontoon storm water collection “donuts” were unable to fly out, so special ramps were devised to assist the birds. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) Tons of ballast rock sits in bags on the tops of the pontoons, to be used to add weight and control buoyancy. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Ballast rock can also be added to the lower gallery to weigh a pontoon down and control buoyancy.

There are 21 longitudinal pontoons which measure 360 feet in length and 75 feet across. WSDOT says a single one of these pontoons is a little more than 11,000 tons, or approximately 23 Boeing 747 jets. A single pontoon anchor can weigh 77 tons. Two cross pontoons and 54 supplemental stability pontoons make up the remainder of the floating brigade.

The old bridge had 31 total pontoons. WSDOT says more than 30,000 linear feet of cracks have been repaired in those pontoons since the Inaugural Day Storm of 1993. While the old bridge was designed to withstand winds up to 77 mph, the new one is designed to withstand 89 mph winds.

Roadway and bike/pedestrian path

The main attraction for commuters headed to and from Seattle and the Eastside is happening high above the lake and the pontoons. The new elevated bridge deck features two general-purpose lanes and one transit/HOV lane in each direction, as well as shoulders for disabled vehicles.

There is also a 14-foot-wide pedestrian/bike path on the north side of the bridge.

Workers continued to pour concrete this week on the wall separating the bridge roadway from the bike path. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) With the bike path railing stretching toward Seattle above, pontoons are visible below on the north side of the bridge. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) WSDOT’s Dave Becher, left, and Greg Meadows stand in a viewpoint along the bike path on the east end of the bridge. A plaque is dedicated here in memory of Joe Arrants, a worker who fell to his death last year. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Construction manager Greg Meadows said a regional shared-use path is complete all the way back to Bellevue and is ready to hook into the new bridge and extend over to Seattle. The bridge path could also become a lane for cars if expansion of the roadway ever happens — to accomodate light rail down the center, for instance.

Along the path there is 8,500 feet of railing and curved viewpoints, or “belvederes,” feature benches for pedestrians or cyclists who stop for a rest. Signage will be installed to provide information on Native American history, geography of the lake and information about the bridge, Becher said.

The “belvedere” in the bike path above is visible from the lower deck. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) Construction workers are still focused on installing electrical components and conduit, among other tasks, as the bridge nears its opening. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) The roadway expansion joint between the lake side of the bridge and the land side is visible in front of one of the lighting “sentinels” which serve as a gateway to the structure. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) Greg Meadows stands in an area beneath the east end expansion joint and explains how the bridge is designed to move with the fixed structure attached to land. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) The old bridge isn’t even visible from the much higher new bridge in this view looking south. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

At the east and west ends, the bridge’s most pronounced architectural details are decorative lighting “sentinels” to serve as the “gateway to the floating bridge.” The lights will be white, but there is already talk about whether special colors will be employed for a significant Seattle Seahawks moment, or maybe when the University of Washington takes on Washington State.

On the completed east end, the land side of the bridge meets the water side at a massive expansion joint. Down below the roadway, at that transition spot, there are slider plates that would keep the bridge intact in the event that the lake level dropped dramatically. Meadows said if the Ballard Locks failed, Lake Washington could drop 20 feet.

“Every year they raise and lower the elevation of the lake water 2 feet,” Meadows said. “The Army Corps of Engineers does that for Locks. So you have to be able to take a floating structure and give it some capability to move while maintaining a rigid structure on the other side.”

Noise-dampening measures have also been installed in this area as WSDOT says it wants to be a good neighbor to residents who live just a stone’s throw from the bridge.

Standing in the middle of the wide, new highway and looking south, the old bridge falls out of view. So does the threat of waves splashing over the sides causing potential closures — or dangerous slowdowns and accidents.

The future

In the midst of a technology boom that is bringing more and more people to the region, WSDOT is projecting a healthy increase in the number of people crossing 520 every day. The tech community is already split by the lake with companies such as Microsoft, T-Mobile, Expedia and Concur on the Eastside of Lake Washington, and companies such as Amazon, F5 Networks, Tableau Software, Zillow and others on the west side.

By 2030, approximately 130,000 vehicles carrying over 235,000 people are expected daily.

A Microsoft Connector bus is seen headed west on the old floating bridge. Many thousands of tech workers rely on SR 520 to get back and forth across Lake Washington. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) Once the new bridge opens to traffic, work will begin on dismantling the old one. Before the end of the year it will be completely gone.

The $4.56-billion 520 project still has improvements to be completed on the west end, including:

  • A new Portage Bay bridge.
  • A new Montlake interchange and lid.
  • The south (eastbound) half of the new west approach bridge.
  • New ramp for transit and carpools to reach I-5 express lanes.
  • Extension of the bike and pedestrian path with connections to existing trails.

When the bridge opens to the public for the first time Saturday morning, and to cars later in April, it’s the hope of workers like MacDonald, the assistant project engineer, that people will positively react to a number of things: the fact that much of the project is done the addition of extra lanes the addition of a bike path the creation of a beautiful roadway and the removal of a significant risk from an aging structure.

“I’m also somebody who used to travel across this bridge every day. Any one of those things would be a great improvement,” MacDonald said. “Not only do we have a safer, bigger, faster, easier to travel bridge, we also have one that looks nicer.

“It’s not an iconic structure in the sense of the Empire State Building. But it is going to be something that when they compare it to the old bridge, it’s not just functional, it does have some aesthetic appeal. People 100 years from now are going to say, ‘It’s still a nice bridge.'”

There should be plenty of people in the middle of 520 this weekend, but it won’t be long before vehicles transition from the old floating bridge to the new. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Looking Back: Thanksgiving Flood Sinks Old I-90 Bridge

The Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge that connected Seattle to Mercer Island sank to the bottom of Lake Washington 23 years ago this weekend.

Here in the Evergreen State, there’s something peculiar about bridges and windstorms. Take the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge back in November 1940. Bad design doomed that span from the start and earned the bridge an appropriate nickname. “Galloping Gertie” was blown down in a gale just four months after it opened.

As the narrator of a newsreel about the collapse said, “No structure of steel and concrete can stand such a strain. Steel girders buckle and giant cables snap like puny threads. There it goes!”

And then, in February 1979, there was another big blow in Washington state, along with a lot of waves. In that storm, The Hood Canal Floating Bridge broke apart and sank to the bottom.

A similar floating bridge was built across Lake Washington in 1940 to carry traffic on old US Highway 10, which later became known as Interstate 90. The bridge was named for Lacey V. Murrow, longtime director of the Washington State Highway Department. He was also brother of famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. The two grew up together in Skagit County.

In November 1990, the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge was 50 years old, and it was being refurbished. A new matching span had been built alongside and was already carrying cars across the lake, so the old bridge was closed to traffic for the renovation project.

Then, over Thanksgiving weekend, as often happens, a big storm blew in to Western Washington. By Sunday, the news from Lake Washington was bad. The Lacey V. Murrow Bridge was no more. Like the Hood Canal Bridge 11 years earlier, it had broken apart and sunk.

Officials and the public were stunned by the sudden loss of the old bridge. Nobody was hurt that blustery November day, but a few construction vehicles that’d been parked on the bridge for the weekend sank beneath the waves. Meanwhile, passenger cars whizzed by on the adjacent new bridge.

When they work, a floating bridge is an engineering marvel. They’re made up of narrow, barge-like, hollow concrete boxes called pontoons. The pontoons are bolted together and then tethered with heavy cables to giant concrete anchors on the lake bottom. The cables help to stabilize the bridge.

But when the old bridge sank it severed anchor cables on the new bridge. Highway officials faced a dire situation. The Murrow Bridge was on the bottom of Lake Washington. The anchor cables on the new bridge were broken, and it wasn’t safe.

Sunday night, officials decided to close the new bridge. Tens of thousands of commuters were forced to find other ways to get to work. Monday traffic was a mess.

But worst of all, the winds of November were still blowing, and the new bridge was in serious danger. Then, somebody had a brainstorm: hook up tugboats to the new bridge to keep it from blowing away. The tugboats remained on this unusual duty, holding the pontoons in place, until the anchor cables could be replaced and the new bridge made safe once again.

An investigation into the sinking found that the pontoons had been exposed to water from the renovation process and from the rain and waves of the windstorm. The hollow pontoons filled with water and sank.

Seattle radio station KIRO won the industry’s most prestigious broadcast journalism award for their coverage of the sinking of the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge.

When the plaque was presented, nobody seemed to notice that the award KIRO had won was named for Lacey’s famous brother Ed.

"Wreck of the Lacey V. Murrow" 1990 parody song by Dave Ross for KIRO Radio

This story originally aired on Nov. 26, 2012.

Video of the Sinking of the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge

Links to external websites do not constitute endorsement by WSDOT of the linked websites or the opinions, information, products or services contained therein.

W hen local, regional, state and federal dignitaries cut the ribbon to open the Governor Albert D. Rossellini (Evergreen Point) Bridge in 1963 it was the most expensive and one of the most technically advanced floating bridges in the world. Over the next 53 years the bridge played a major role in the development of the Seattle metropolitan area, where the bridge provided easy access for commuters travelling between Seattle and the communities east of Lake Washington. The bridge paved the way for increased suburban development to support population expansion and the development of the east side of Lake Washington into one of the region&rsquos largest employment centers.

While the region reshaped itself and changed in ways most could only imagine over the decades the bridge was in service, little about the bridge had changed since Gov. Rosellini, the mayors of Seattle and Bellevue, and the president of the American Automobile Association opened the $30 million bridge on Aug. 28, 1963. As the bridge aged, it became apparent that it no longer could safely serve the transportation needs of the region.

Following over a half decade of service, the old floating bridge had begun to float about a foot lower than originally designed and was closed during major storms and high winds – eliminating one of the two vital transportation corridors across Lake Washington. The aging structure required patching and repairs over the years. Contractors completed a limited seismic retrofit on the approach structures in 1999. The bridge remained at risk of collapse in an earthquake, however, because the west and east approaches rested on hollow piles that did not meet seismic design standards. Nonetheless, the old floating bridge kept people in the region moving until a new SR 520 floating bridge opened to traffic in April 2016.

History of big windstorms in the Northwest

Denny headed west from Illinois in April 1851. He arrived during a November rainstorm at what’s now Seattle later that year, and witnessed much of the city’s growth, and much of the region’s weather, over the next several decades.

In his book, Denny also provides what might be the first account of a windstorm in Seattle:

The heaviest wind storm since the settlement of the country was on the night of November 16, 1875. This was simply a strong gale which threw down considerable timber and overturned light structures, such as sheds and out buildings.

Since it’s obvious that this week’s big windstorms are nothing new in the Pacific Northwest, here’s a quick overview of some other big windstorms going back to the late 19th century.

The Great Gale of January 9, 1880
In 1924, historian and judge Cornelius H. Hanford wrote:

The second week of January, 1880, gave a surprise in the form of a freak snow storm. Elisha P. Ferry, governor of Washington Territory, had just previously forwarded to the Department of the Interior at Washington, D.C., his annual report in which he extolled the mildness of the Puget Sound climate, especially remarking upon the infrequency of snow in the winter seasons.

This “freak snow storm” was preceded by a huge windstorm that hit Oregon and southwest Washington the hardest, with winds estimated at 138 mph along the Oregon Coast. The storm generally left Seattle untouched (other than by depositing two feet of snow, on top of several feet already on the ground).

Windstorm of December 3, 1901
During this long-ago storm, winds were estimated at 115 mph along the Oregon and Washington Coasts.

Great Olympic Blowdown of January 29, 1921
This winter windstorm included sustained winds of 113 mph with gusts to 150 mph at North Head, Washington near Cape Disappointment. Gusts in Seattle were estimated around 60 mph. The storm blew down thousands of board feet of timber throughout the region. National Weather Service meteorologist Ted Buehner says evidence of the “blowdown” is visible just a short hike from Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula.

Windstorm of October 21, 1934
The United States was deep in the Great Depression when this storm struck 82 years ago. There were reports of 59 mph gusts in downtown Seattle 70 mph gusts at Boeing Field and 90 mph on the Washington coast. Newspaper headlines called it “THE WORST GALE IN HISTORY,” and reported at least 17 had died, including five fisherman who went down in the purse seiner Agnes off of Port Townsend. Other deaths were caused by falling trees, downed electrical wires, and the collapse of a wall in a downtown Seattle hotel. Dozens of passengers on the famous steamer Virginia V escaped injury when that vessel struck the dock at Ollala during the storm.

The Intense Cyclone of November 3, 1958
The wind gusted to an unbelievable 161 mph at an exposed Cold War radar site atop Naselle Ridge near the mouth of the Columbia River, and gusted to 59 mph at Sea-Tac Airport. Damage during “The Intense Cyclone” included downed trees and power lines. A farmer died near Roy in Pierce County, and an 18-year old student at what was then Pacific Lutheran College was killed when a branch knocked a power line down onto her outside the Student Union Building.

Columbus Day Storm of October 12, 1962
The Pacific Northwest’s most infamous storm did about $2 billion in damage (in 2016 dollars) from Northern California to British Columbia, and 46 people were killed. Like the storm expected Saturday evening, the Columbus Day Storm had roots in a typhoon in the Western Pacific, with a low-pressure cell tracking close to the coast.

Hood Canal Bridge Storm of February 13, 1979
Winds gusted to 60 mph at Sea-Tac Airport and damaged the original 1963 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, but the brunt of this storm hit Kitsap County, with wind gusts higher than 70 mph that sunk the west half of the Hood Canal Floating Bridge. One man died when a tree fell on his vehicle near Cosmopolis in Grays Harbor County. The aftermath wreaked havoc for travelers and commerce, and ferry service across Hood Canal was started up again until the bridge could be replaced.

Friday the 13th and Sunday the 15th Double Storms of November 1981
At least two storms (beginning on Friday the 13th) were responsible for a total of 12 deaths in Oregon and Washington, including a man on Maury Island electrocuted during the first storm by a downed power line. More than 400,000 were without power along the I-5 corridor in Western Washington in the wake of the storms. Winds gusted over 70 mph, shutting down both the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. Another casualty of the storm was a historic round barn north of the town of Skamokawa on the lower Columbia River. On Monday, November 16, with the blustery weather continuing outside, the Seahawks beat the San Diego Chargers inside the Kingdome on Monday Night Football, 44-23.

Thanksgiving Day Storm of November 24, 1983
Many people still remember this poorly-timed storm that knocked out electricity to 270,000 homes around Puget Sound around midday on Thanksgiving 1983, and ruined countless turkey dinners. No injuries or deaths were reported.

Inauguration Day Storm of January 20, 1993
The era of President William Jefferson Clinton was ushered into Washington with this brutal storm that hit around mid-morning on Inauguration Day with 88 mph gusts. The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge was closed, and cars “trapped” on the span had to do U-turns to get off the bridge. One made died from a fallen tree in Maple Valley, and no one was injured when a taxiing floatplane flipped on Lake Washington. Eastside suburbs were hit particularly hard by long-lasting power outages, and a cold snap after the windstorm meant days of shivering in the dark for thousands.

Sinatra Day Storm of December 12, 1995
Winds gusted to 119 mph at the Sea Lion Caves on the Oregon Coast, and winds around Puget Sound hit the 50 and 60 mph range. The “Sinatra Day Storm” name (which was suggested by Gregg Hersholt because December 12, 1995 was Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday), was probably only used by KIRO Radio.

Hanukkah Eve Storm of December 14, 2006
The Hanukkah Eve Storm brought heavy rain and devastating winds to Western Washington, killing a woman in a basement flood in Seattle, and leading to the deaths of 14 people from carbon monoxide poisoning trying to keep warm in the aftermath.

Rebuilding the Social Landscape

Public works programs rested on a social ideal of providing work and thus self-sufficiency and dignity to unemployed Americans. For example, eighteen rural lodges and camps were built around Washington State in 1935 for the “transient and homeless,” who gardened, maintained the camps, built roads, and took advantage of health services and vocational classes offered. A state agency report from 1935 outlines the social aims of the public works projects: to “revive self confidence and initiative, restore lost work habits, remove depression-produced handicaps, and, most importantly, to provide food and shelter and thus retain public spiritedness and social sanity.” [4] Similarly, CCC camps provided pamphlets to teach illiterate young men how to read, as part of their overall CCC training.

However, included in this social vision was a limited view of who could benefit and who constituted an appropriate working person. While women were employed in library programs, sewing centers, and childcare programs, youth programs like the CCC and construction projects were limited to male workers. The Civilian Conservation Corps were also racially segregated, and a ten percent quota limited the number of African American youth admitted to the camps. [5]

WPA projects were supposed to be open to all races and there were no official segregation rules in Washington State, although discrimination on particular projects was common. Still African Americans made use of the federal jobs and sometimes managed to seize valuable opportunities. Blacks had been routinely shut out of traditionally "white" jobs before the Depression. Some now found office work through the WPA or worked on one of the federal arts programs. The Negro Repertory Company, funded by the WPA in Washington State, was one of the nation’s only all-African American theatre companies.

Like all New Deal programs, public works sought to redefine an American liberalism that broadened its social vision to include the unemployed, the poor, and working people. Yet that vision was never quite as expansive as many of its supporters hoped, and thus the civil rights gains of the era relied not on the opportunities granted by the federal government as much as on the social protest of disadvantaged groups.

Just as public works programs reshaped the geographical landscape of the state, they also shaped its social landscape as well. Mass unemployment relief did much to upend the 1920s poor law mentality that assumed that the unemployed were lazy, not victims of larger structural collapse, yet also upheld previous ideas about the marginal place of nonwhites and women to the American workforce. [6] These ideas about work, labor, and unemployment would be contested, upheld, and transformed through the World War II era.

Copyright (c) 2009, Jessie Kindig

Click on the links below to read illustrated research reports on the federally funded public works, parks, construction projects, and social programs that made up Washington State's New Deal:

Funding from the Works Progress Administration allowed the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington, one of the most dramatic ways the New Deal rebuilt Washington's infrastructure.

An interactive map of New Deal projects in King county from 1933-1934.

An interactive map of major New Deal construction projects in Washington State during the 1930s.

An interactive map of Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Washington from 1930-1939.

Evergreen Point Floating Bridge

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The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge stretches across Lake Washington, connecting Seattle to its eastern suburbs. When it opened in 2016, it immediately entered the record books as both the longest and widest floating bridge in the world.

In April 2016, the new Evergreen Point Floating Bridge opened to traffic, carrying Washington State Route 520 across Lake Washington. It was built to replace the previous Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, built in 1963 and closed in April 2016, which previously held the title as the longest floating bridge in the world.

Supported by 77 pontoons, the new Evergreen Point Floating Bridge has a span of 7,710 feet (2,350 m), 130 feet longer than the bridge it replaced. As such, it currently holds the record as the longest floating bridge in the world. And with its midpoint measuring 116 feet (35 m) across, it’s also the world’s widest floating bridge.

Beneath the surface of the water, 58 anchors secure the pontoons to the bottom of the lake, connected by three-inch-thick steel cables. As with the former bridge, a pontoon structure was deemed more practical than a fixed bridge due to the middle of Lake Washington being 200 feet deep with a further 200 feet of soft silt below it. Building the foundations for a suspension bridge, therefore, would have been a hugely costly and complicated endeavor.

On the water float the 77 concrete pontoons, the largest of which are 75 feet wide and 360 feet long. The idea of building a bridge out of massive floating chunks of concrete may sound crazy, but each pontoon has a watertight compartment – remotely monitored to detect any leaks – and the weight of the water displaced by the pontoons is equal to the weight of the structure and all the traffic on it, allowing the bridge to float.

On top of the pontoons sits the bridge deck, made of 776 precast concrete sections, each elevated 20 feet (6.1 m) above the pontoons. This creates what is in effect a bridge on top of a bridge, with the added benefit of allowing maintenance vehicles to travel along the lower pontoon deck to access the main roadway above without interrupting the flow of traffic.

Unsurprisingly, building the longest and widest floating bridge in the world doesn’t come cheap: the total construction cost of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge was more than $4.5 billion. But with an average of 74,000 toll-paying motorists crossing it every day, and an expected life service of at least 75 years, it seems a reasonable investment.

The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge joins its older floating bridge siblings located just a few miles south on Lake Washington, the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge (collectively part of Interstate 90, connecting Seattle with points east).

By 2023, Sound Transit is planning on installing first-of-its-kind light rail on the Hadley Memorial floating bridge, using revolutionary technology at each end that will allow the joins between land and bridge to flex in ways that safely stay within the range the rail cars can handle.

Know Before You Go

Route 520 runs along the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (officially known as the SR 520 Albert D. Rosellini Evergreen Point Floating Bridge) from central Seattle to the eastern suburbs. Tolls are collected in both directions and typically range from $1.25 to $4.30 depending on the time of day.

Let’s remember the sinking of the I-90 floating bridge, on this day in 1990 (November 25)

Travelling always sucks around holidays, and it gets exponentially worse when, I don’t know, a floating bridge sinks. And it happened 29 years ago today, on Thanksgiving.

In November 1990, the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge was 50 years old, and it was being refurbished. A new matching span had been built alongside and was already carrying cars across the lake, so the old bridge was closed to traffic for the renovation project.

Then, over Thanksgiving weekend, as often happens, a big storm blew in to Western Washington. By Sunday, the news from Lake Washington was bad. The Lacey V. Murrow Bridge was no more. Like the Hood Canal Bridge 11 years earlier, it had broken apart and sunk.

Officials and the public were stunned by the sudden loss of the old bridge. Nobody was hurt that blustery November day, but a few construction vehicles that’d been parked on the bridge for the weekend sank beneath the waves. Meanwhile, passenger cars whizzed by on the adjacent new bridge.

When they work, a floating bridge is an engineering marvel. They’re made up of narrow, barge-like, hollow concrete boxes called pontoons. The pontoons are bolted together and then tethered with heavy cables to giant concrete anchors on the lake bottom. The cables help to stabilize the bridge.

But when the old bridge sank it severed anchor cables on the new bridge. Highway officials faced a dire situation. The Murrow Bridge was on the bottom of Lake Washington. The anchor cables on the new bridge were broken, and it wasn’t safe.

You may remember the floating bridge was made up of concrete pontoons. Prior to the disaster, engineers removed the pontoon’s watertight doors so they could work on the bridge. But when a storm arrived on November 25, 1990, the wind-driven water from the lake flooded the pontoons, causing the bridge to sink.

Thankfully, prior to the collapse, construction workers who were working on the bridge noticed it was starting to sink. A few workers were on the bridge when it was going down, but no one was injured or killed.

The then newly opened bridge next to the one underwater did suffer some damage to its anchor cables because of that, traffic was stopped for a few days.

The cost of the disaster was $69 million.



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