Year In Review: Hylebos Bridge Re-Opening

EDITOR’S NOTE: Through the end of this year, the Tacoma Daily Index will feature its annual “Year In Review” series, which recaps an important story covered earlier this year in the newspaper according to reader interest on our Web site. Enjoy!

For more than a decade, the locked and upright platforms of the double-bascule Hylebos Bridge literally served as walls.

For truck drivers hauling cargo throughout the tide flats and Northeast Tacoma residents headed toward State Route 509, the broken bridge meant motorists could no longer bypass most of Marine View Drive in favor of a shortcut along South 11th Street, across the Hylebos Bridge, and a connection to Taylor Way and Alexander Avenue East.

That changed on May 21 when the bridge re-opened to all traffic. In June, representatives from the City of Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma gathered on the west side of the Blair Waterway for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the official re-opening of the Hylebos Bridge, which spans the Hylebos Waterway on East 11th Street.

The bridge’s troubles began in 2001, when a failed drive shaft meant operators could no longer raise and lower the bridge. Instead, cables locked the bridge’s bascule leaves upright to allow boats to navigate the waters between the Hylebos Waterway and Commencement Bay. It was great for boaters who no longer had to wait for the bridge to be raised and lowered. For motorists, however, it was frustrating. A fire three years later damaged the mechanical and electrical control systems. And a bridge inspection in 2005 noted that the existing bridge approaches, support structure, fender system and electrical system needed to be replaced, according to City of Tacoma officials.

In 2009, a $15.3 million contract was awarded to Quigg Bros, Inc. to repair the bridge and restore service. The project was funded by the City of Tacoma, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Port of Tacoma. Earlier this year, Tacoma City Council awarded a three-year, $546,000 contract to Orion Marine Contractors of Tacoma to operate and maintain the bridge.

Tacoma City Councilmember Jake Fey recalled how the broken bridge became an embarrassment of sorts for City Hall.

“I can’t tell you how glad I am that this bridge is done,” said Fey. “I don’t know how many conversations I had in the city manager’s office about when we were going to get this done. When I ran for office in 2005, my opponent, in one of his mailings, had a picture of the Hylebos Bridge up like this as a statement about things not getting done in the city.”

Fey, a resident of Northeast Tacoma, also observed that repairing the bridge was important to his neighbors. “This is my council district so I feel very proud of this project,” he added. “The important part is that this provides an essential second evacuation route from the East Blair peninsula in the case of an emergency, enhancing public safety. So for those folks who don’t know about Northeast Tacoma, I think I can count at least four occasions when I headed down on Marine View Drive and couldn’t get through because there was a fire or some other impairment on [State Route] 509. So it’s very important for residents of Northeast Tacoma and folks coming from the north and west to get through.”

He also hoped re-opening the Hylebos Bridge would mean additional business for the Port of Tacoma. “I love to see all the ships come through in to the Port of Tacoma and I’m hoping to see more,” said Fey.

Following the ceremony, visitors walked the length of the bridge and toured the control room.

“It took a little longer than anticipated but it is a benefit to the northeast residents and all the people that work on the tide flats and some of the businesses that are growing here and expanding here,” said Port of Tacoma Commission President Richard Marzano.