Slowdown Lowdown

We're stuck in traffic so you don't have to be

NOTICE: Slowdown Lowdown has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Slowdown Lowdown.
Visit the new section.

UPDATED: WSP has closed both Tacoma Narrows bridges

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on Jan. 20, 2012 at 11:52 am with 31 Comments »
January 20, 2012 5:48 pm

Drivers were still waiting on state Route 16 and on various side streets to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridges late this afternoon, hours after Washington State Patrol troopers closed both spans because of large ice chunks falling onto the bridge deck.

On the Gig Harbor side, Richard Heistand was heading to St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma to pick up his girlfriend who had just gone through surgery when his trip was delayed.

Several Bremerton Kitsap Airporter buses were also among the vehicles held up in traffic, causing passengers to miss their flights out of Sea-Tac Airport.

“I’ll miss my flight but I’ll be able to take another one,” passenger Darrell Fields said as he stepped off the bus to get some fresh air while the Airporter sat on the freeway.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m., State Patrol Sgt. Patrick Pronovost was stopping drivers on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge and warning them that the bridge will be closed for another two hours.

And that is a minimum, said Pronovost, dressed in a fluorescent rain slicker and leaning into cars as they pulled up on the 24th Street on-ramp.

Transportation crews did an assessment and found two inches of thick ice all over the upper reaches of the bridges.

In the mean time, there are no good travel alternatives between Gig Harbor and Tacoma.

Drivers headed to Gig Harbor and points west from Tacoma need to take Interstate 5 south to Olympia, catch U.S. 101 to Shelton where they can take state Route 3 back toward Bremerton and eventually hit state Route 16 eastbound to the Harbor.

Otherwise, drivers can drive to Seattle and try to catch the Seattle-to-Bremerton ferry. They can pick up SR 16 eastbound in Bremerton.

It’s a long trip either way.

On the Tacoma side of the bridge, many people weren’t willing to take the detours – at least not yet. Traffic was backed up for blocks at North Jackson Avenue, the last exit before the bridge. Cars waited in the center turn lane and fanned out to side streets.

Cort Viert, 23, of Tacoma, watched You Tube videos on his phone as he idled in his car off Jackson. He was on his way to an appointment in Gig Harbor and already had been delayed two hours.

“I’m just going to sit here and wait,” he said at about 2:30 p.m.

Tom Brown, 47, also used a smart phone for entertainment as he waited a few blocks away. He watched an action movie.

Brown lives in Gig Harbor and was trying to get home after a shift at Madigan Army Medical Center, where he’s a physician. He said he weighed alternate routes but figured it would be faster to wait.

“I’ll get home one way or another,” he said.

Johann VanVeelen, 69, of Port Townsend, had come into Tacoma to pick up a trailer. He sat in his truck on a side street off Jackson about 3:15 p.m., with the trailer hitched to the back.

He was thinking about the road trip he plans to take with the trailer – once he finally gets home.

He’ll head “down south, where it’s warm,” he said, as rain fell outside.

The State Patrol decided to close the bridges shortly before noon after receiving several reports from drivers whose cars had been hit or nearly hit by large pieces of falling ice, trooper Guy Gill said.

One caller reported that a ice chunk about eight feet long had come down.

Even though no injuries have been reported, troopers decided to close the bridges.

“We are just not going to take the chance,” Gill said. “We are going to err on the side of caution.”

“There is just so much ice built up on the bridge,” Gill said. “It is coming apart in huge pieces and it can cause some serious damage.”

The westbound Narrows Bridge was last closed for ice on Dec. 27, 1996. It was closed for wind in November 2008.

“This is highly unusual,” said Troy Cowan, regional maintenance manager for WSDOT. “But nothing about this storm has been typical.”

Staff writers Adam Lynn and Sara Schilling contributed to this report. Freelance writer Kris Sherman and Peninsula Gateway staff writer Susan Schell also contributed to this report.

Leave a comment Comments → 31
  1. Wow, you Puget Sounders really got a mess out there, I’ve seen this type of weather when I lived in the region, so best of luck to everyone dealing with it and be safe!!

  2. whitman411 says:

    Design defect or Act of God? You make the call!

  3. Design defect or Act of God?

    As you serious? Perhaps the trees, building, powerlines and everything else from where ice is falling are defective in design as well.

    Just wow.

  4. gonefishin69690 says:

    I have some defective trees in my yard as well. Perhaps I will sue the manufacturer.

  5. PuppyDogsButterflies says:

    hahahhaaa!!! design defect! I hope that was a joke.

  6. gonefishin69690 says:

    Hey, get a couple guys with 10lb sledge hammers to smack the bride supports at each end and the vibration will knock all the ice off! That would be cool.

  7. reformedliberal says:

    A piece of ice the size of your fist will break your windshield falling from those heights. WSP made a good call here.

  8. Whitman – I see why you are not WITman.

  9. gonefishin69690 says:

    @reformed, you bet it will, then add the traveling speed of your vehicle.

  10. whitman411 says:

    To the naysayers about the design defect or act of God issue. Do you think that somehow the possibility of ice buildup on the bridge should not have been considered in the design? If you sneer, as some of you have, you do not know the first thing about engineering design. It is the DUTY of the designer to protect human life from just such occurrences as are now playing themselves out on the bridge. Ice is a foreseeable condition. And read the story. The original bridge was closed in ’96 for the same issue.

    The real question is, what type of design could be used to overcome this poor structural performance that endangers the lives of drivers?

  11. hey Gov Lady, You are losing toll money…..

  12. reformedliberal says:

    Yes, large amounts of ice on the overhead structure IS a foreseeable condition – as in foreseeable to occur once every five years or so.

    So, do we modify the design to the tune of millions in added costs? Or do we accept that the bridge may need to be closed for a few hours once every 15 years?

    I don’t think an engineering degree is needed to understand this decision-making process.

  13. gonefishin69690 says:

    Pay some guy in november to go up there and spray it with PAM

  14. Gonefishin,
    In regards to your defective design of the trees, it could prove to be a difficult task in suing the manufacturer (God) because this is an act of God.

  15. fanciladi says:

    My goodness…hardley a serious post in the lot… I feel bad for those who need to get home or to work…whichever way they’re going!

    Actually, to join in, I like the sledge hammer and Pam comments…those make the most sense…LOL…

  16. serendipity says:

    Better to have ice falling off the bridges than people.

  17. whitman411 says:


    Who says it will cost anything, let alone millions? Don’t you know that there are similar bridges in cold climates that do not have this issue? Why is that? Could it be the DESIGN team thought it out? You know, proper design may have been CHEAPER. After all, this was design-build. And we all know that cutting corners is part of the game to line the designer’s pocket.

  18. Hey Whitman they close bridges and streets all across the country due to ice. The design flaw is in your thinking, although a tunnel would have solved the problem and it would have cost a measly billion dollars more. Why must it be someones fault when nature throws us a curve ball? Personally I think your borred and just looking for some companionship. That’s OK with me as I’m waiting for a certain bridge to open so I can get home.

  19. gonefishin69690 says:

    Hey oldman, this is Washington. It’s always someone else’s fault!

  20. whitman411 says:


    No offense, but I have been designing bridges for over 30 years. This condition should not be a challenge. Ice accretion and systems to remove it are well know. Keep in mind that the structural integrity of the bridge may be compromised by ice loads as well.

  21. fanciladi says:

    Much better to err on the side of caution, which isn’t a given in most government issues…

  22. gonefishin69690 says:

    @whitman411. Had your comments been posted in reverse order, it would have gone easier on you.

  23. Who the hell looks at weather and architecture and can conclude there is a supreme being? Sorry children. Have all the faith you want. Me and my mentally healthy friends will just go about our business. Cool stuff that nature provides for entertainment though, eh?

  24. Wrapper98439 says:

    The reason they don’t have problems in the Midwest is because they don’t have channels as wide and as deep. Different bridge designs work there. at the current rate, the bridge will be closed for 24 hours every 60 years for ice. Ya, I think we have better things to worry about then redesigning a very good bridge.

  25. dinseattle says:

    Whitman – It is better to be thought ignorant than to speak and remove all doubt. So the bridge is closed. It’s not forever. Besides, there’s always the ferry to get to the Peninsula. My grandson needs to go home to Seattle so I will just meet my son at the ferry terminal. Pretty simple process to me.

  26. olympicmtn says:

    For all those people waiting on the neighborhood side streets off Jackson and the Narrows, please be considerate of the local residents who are trying to get to their homes and don’t need 10 more cars to maneuver around to get to their driveway. In Bellevue they’d have the local police helping direct traffic, but not in Tacoma.

  27. itwasntmethistime says:

    For most of my life there was just one bridge and I remember it closing a few times every year for one reason or another — wind, collision, jumper, etc. People who had to cross it regularly simply always had a back-up plan to cover any dire need like picking up a kid before day care sent him to an orphanage.

    One problem with making things more convenient is that people can’t cope when faced with inconvenience. Good grief. Go to a movie, read a book, run some errands, take a walk, relax. And while I’m at it, maybe the people clogging up the streets near the bridge entrance could have some consideration for people trying to travel on those surface streets. Could you all please go park a couple of miles away and wait? Just because you’re stuck doesn’t mean you have to stand in every one else’s way.

  28. Traci909 says:

    @NewsTribune, I have one general request. Would it be possible in articles like this to post a section that is devoted to the updated information? I appreciate that you add it to the story to make it flow as a new story and that works well for people who haven’t read it before. But as someone who is stuck on the opposite side of home, I would prefer a quick way to get all of the updated information. Thank you for all that you do to keep us informed during storms like this. I’m sure you’ve all been putting in some serious overtime.

    While I’m at it – thank you to everyone else who is out dealing with this. Plow drivers, tow truck drivers, police, fire fighters, EMTs, DOT workers, power workers, etc. It’s been a hard week and I appreciate it.

  29. olympicmtn says:

    Do NOT take the Jackson Exit cars are blocking the exit. Some guy finally made the cars blocking the exit move over so Tacoma traffic could get home. Would be great if the WSP would clear the Jackson Street Exit. There could be an emergency and no emergency vehicle could get through. Keep the exits clear please

  30. austrolatrish says:

    Sounds like a real life game of frogger!

  31. Traci909,
    I had a complaint with the TNT in October about how a traffic slowdown article sat on the front page of the web site for 9 days. When you wake up in the morning and see a traffic issue I click on it to see if it will affect me just to see once again that it is an old article.

    The response I got back from the writer of that article was that they don’t have a dedicated reporter to be doing traffic reports and that I shouldn’t rely on the TNT for traffic. This person completely missed my point that they don’t update their web site very well.

    But they outdid themselves for a traffic report being on the front page not too long ago. It was a story about a crash and backup on December 22nd and it stayed there until January 10th.

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0