CHOKEPOINTS

Flying cars and bridge behemoths: 2021’s transportation curiosities and oddities

Dec 23, 2021, 6:24 AM
ZEVA, flying cars, transportation...
ZEVA's personal flying vehicle (right), next to a model of the Wright brothers' plane. (Photo courtesy of ZEVA/Facebook)
(Photo courtesy of ZEVA/Facebook)

It can’t always be about road projects, construction delays, tolls and ferries. There were also several fun transportation related stories over the course of 2021.

Let’s begin with a mystery road found under the Maple Valley Highway that delayed a culvert project for a couple of days in October.

Maple Valley Highway mystery

Workers excavating in the area near Cedar Grove Road found some wooden planks. Because no one knew what they were, the state called in archaeologist Jason Cooper to investigate.

“My job is to evaluate it and make the determination if this was a significant piece of roadway,” Cooper told KIRO Radio.

It turned out to be nothing special, allowing work to continue. Cooper traced the history and determined that it was part of the original road from Renton to Maple Valley, built in the 1920s. Most of that original road was made of dirt and rock, but the wood was needed because this particular spot was prone to floods.

“It wasn’t just thrown together. It was built as a solution to this particular wet, soggy spot,” Cooper continued.

Now, 100 years later, the Cedar River still floods that same area.

Largest concrete girder

Earlier this year, we also talked about the largest girder ever made in the United States being installed on I-5 in Tacoma. At 223 feet long, 9 feet high, and over 250,000 pounds, it was the largest of 30 girders placed over the Puyallup River to create the new southbound I-5 bridge.

Tacoma freeways near end of 20-plus year construction cycle (kind of)

“It’s the largest pre-stressed concrete girder made in North America,” Washington State Department of Transportation’s Cara Mitchell told KIRO Radio. “And it’s being made right here in Tacoma.”

Work around this new bridge will continue through mid-2022, when all the lanes of the new span will open.

Flying cars

And who can forget about our discussion of flying cars? A Tacoma company is building an electric personal flying vehicle that it believes will be the future of transportation.

“ZEVA” is engineer Steve Tibbitts’ brainchild, a drone-like flying vehicle that can take off and land vertically, so it won’t need runways to operate.

“The thrust causes it to fly up vertically straight away, and then, within maybe 20 to 30 seconds, it’s developing enough speed where it’ll transition to forward flight. And then you’re flying through the air, kind of like Superman,” Tibbitts told KIRO Radio.

At 160 miles an hour at an altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 feet, ZEVA can go 50 miles on a single charge. Tibbitts envisions a future where you can buy one of these vehicles for personal use at an expected cost of $250,000. He sees companies or cities buying fleets of them to provide on-call ride service.

“A utopia, in my mind, is to be able to walk to your vehicle, fly, and then walk to your destination,” Tibbitts said. “There’s no intermediate car access that is going to continue to clog up the highways.”

Tibbitts believes the flying cars will come to fruition in 2040.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Flying cars and bridge behemoths: 2021’s transportation curiosities and oddities