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Oak Harbor to lobby for new Deception Pass Bridge

Oak Harbor officials may ask state lawmakers to start planning for the eventual replacement of the Deception Pass Bridge. - Jim Woolbright / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor officials may ask state lawmakers to start planning for the eventual replacement of the Deception Pass Bridge.
— image credit: Jim Woolbright / Whidbey News-Times

The Deception Pass Bridge may become a topic at the state Legislature next year.

As soon as next month, the Oak Harbor City Council is expected to adopt its annual list of legislative priorities. And among the items being considered is a request for a legislative effort to begin planning for the replacement of the Deception Pass Bridge.

City Administrator Paul Schmidt said the item was added to the list shortly after the bridge’s 75th anniversary ceremony in July. Mayor Jim Slowik, who has had conversations on the topic with Capt. Gerral David, the commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station at the time, requested it be put on the list, Schmidt said.

“There’s no panic, just concern,” he said.

As part of a special section for the 75th anniversary, the Whidbey News-Times published an in-depth story on the condition and maintenance of the two bridges that span Deception and Canoe passes, along with the fact that no plan is in place to replace the aging structures.

In the story, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said a plan doesn’t exist for two reasons: a lack of funds and that the community hasn’t made it a priority. She challenged groups such as the Navy and the Skagit and Island County Regional Transportation Planning Organization to “get your act together” if a plan that addresses the bridge’s eventual replacement is what’s wanted.

For such a project to move forward when competition for state funding is so severe, it will require the community to send a clear message that this is a priority, she said.

In an interview last week, Capt. David said the bridges are a vital transportation link for the base. Personnel use them daily to commute to work and more than 15,000 supply trucks cross them each year. If the bridges were unexpectedly destroyed, it would put the base in tough spot, he said.

“I believe the Washington Department of Transportation and Washington state need to be paying attention to the life expectancy of the Deception Pass Bridge and not allow them to be caught by surprise like they were with the ferries,” David said.

The Steel Electric ferries were unexpectedly yanked from service in November of 2007. For the past two and a half years, the Port Townsend to Keystone ferry route has been a one-boat run, served by a smaller borrowed ferry that has been subject to increased cancellations due to its size.

While the first permanent replacement boat has been built, its arrival has been delayed for performance problems.

Schmidt said the idea to include the item on the council’s legislative priority list has already been aired at two standing committee meetings and received favorable responses from several city council members. Most agree with David’s assessment, Schmidt said.

“They need to know we consider this an issue and we can’t wait until something happens like with the ferries,” he said of legislative leaders.

No one believes the well-maintained bridges will fall down tomorrow, but a community-led effort to build a new bridge or replace an existing bridge can last decades. At the Governmental Services Standing Committee meeting, Mayor Slowik said the initial effort to construct the two-span bridge over Deception and Canoe passes, which was completed in 1935, began in 1894.

“It took them over 40 years to build a bridge,” Slowik said.

He said the effort toward the next bridge should begin now and should start from here, as the bridge was created to serve the Oak Harbor and greater Whidbey Island communities.

If the city council approves the list item, Slowik and a group of council members would personally present the entire list to lawmakers in Olympia sometime in late January or early February, Schmidt said.

While the city’s legislative priorities is really nothing more than a local wish list, the effort has paid off in the past. Just last year, Oak Harbor received $132,000 to help meet new storm water regulations. It was one of about 100 cities in the Puget Sound region to receive such funds.

The entire list is expected to be brought before the council for approval in late September or early October, Schmidt said.

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