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Why can’t WSDOT build the new 520 bridge any faster?

It’s been two years since construction began on the new SR 520 floating bridge. And we’ve heard from a number of listeners and readers who want to know why the project is taking what seems to be an inordinate amount of time.

After all, the original I-90 floating bridge opened just 18 months after construction started.

So why can’t we bang out another bridge in a couple of years like we used to? We reached out to our friends at the Washington State Department of Transportation to find out.

WSDOT spokesman Ian Sterling tells us there are a number of factors in both planning and construction that didn’t come into play way back when.

First and foremost are those pesky environmental regulations. There were far fewer reviews and hoops to jump through when the original I-90 and 520 bridges were built. The public has a much greater say now than it did on past projects.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Sterling says.

“The R.H. Thompson ramps to nowhere, that would be a good example of what happens when you build something maybe that people along the corridor don’t want,” he says.

It was also a lot easier to build bridges when there were far fewer people living around here, and far fewer roads, Sterling says.

“There was no bridge there and not a lot of traffic moving around, and now we’re working in the corridor where there are 70,000 cars moving through there on an average workday.”

Of course, construction has also become much more complex. While concrete is still concrete, the new bridges are far more advanced, which is a good thing considering the original I-90 bridge ended up in Lake Washington and the 520 bridge is falling apart. The new 520 bridge is being built to last and handle our ever-growing population, Sterling says.

When you look at the big picture, actual construction on the new 520 bridge won’t take that much longer than the original, which opened in August 1963.

“We built the old bridge in three years versus four for the new bridge, so the actual construction process of this thing doesn’t take much longer than it did back in the day,” Sterling says.

Still, Sterling acknowledges the ongoing construction is a pain, and he says everyone at WSDOT feels it as much as we do.

“Obviously, we’d all like to have the bridge up and running today,” he says. But he insists we’ll be much happier in the long run once we get the new bridge open, which is scheduled for the spring of 2016.

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