Is It Time to Replace the Tri-Cities ‘Blue Bridge’?
According to Wikipedia, The Pioneer Memorial Bridge (known to us locals as the “Blue Bridge”) was first considered in the late 1940s because the previous bridge, known as the “Green Bridge” couldn’t handle the increasing traffic flow – it was only 19 feet wide, two lanes, and struggled to handle the 10,000+ cars crossing it a day.
The Blue Bridge (which is getting a new coat of paint this week) is 66 feet wide with four lanes and opened for traffic in July of 1954, which makes you wonder – when will its useful life end? The average age of a bridge in the U.S. is 43 years, and most are constructed to last 50 years, which puts the Blue Bridge 17 years past expectations. The original Blue Bridge construction cost was $7 million - today's dollars would likely be near $75 million - so maybe a fresh coat of paint and tightening up the bolts is good for now.
Traffic on the Blue Bridge is typically snarled at least once or twice a week – the main causes include speeding drivers, a blind spot as you approach, and a spectacular view at the top (distracted driving). How many fender-benders do you think have happened since it opened? It has to be in the many thousands, right?
How could the bridge be made safer? For starters, I think adjusting the speed limit from 55 to 45 would help. Yes, drivers will still speed, but instead 5-10 over (60-65 mph), it would likely decrease it to 50-55. It might help, it might not. Either way, expect delays on the bridge through Thursday of this week as crews finish up the painting, check the traffic cam before you go. Every time I cross the Narrows Bridge in Tacoma, I think of how it collapsed from high winds in 1940. Check it out below.