Fidalgo Islanders lead the crusade
Seventy-three years ago this month, the Deception Pass bridge was formally opened in a dedication ceremony.
Since then, tens of millions of vehicles have passed over the historic structure. But the vital link between Whidbey and Fidalgo islands won’t last forever.
A Fidalgo Island man is on a crusade to push leaders to start planning now for the inevitable need for a new bridge. Dave Crawford has researched the issue thoroughly and he’s come to the conclusion that the best solution is a seven-mile, toll bridge from Strawberry Point on North Whidbey to the mainland just north of Stanwood.
“Something is going to have to get done eventually or we’re going to end up with a Steel Electric-type catastrophe again,” he said, referring to the old ferries that were suddenly taken out of service on the Keystone-to-Port Townsend run.
On Wednesday, July 9, the South Fidalgo Community Council is holding a town hall meeting to discuss the prospects of a new bridge. State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and an administrator from the Department of Transportation will be there to answer questions. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Mount Erie Dewey Beach Fire Hall on Deception Road.
“The residents are concerned about the increase in traffic volumes that are funneled through Fidalgo,” said Jan Hersey, a member of the council.
As Crawford points out, a new route off North Whidbey may be needed sooner than most people want to think about.
A 2001 study by the state Department of Transportation says that peak traffic volumes in a 20-year horizon would overload the existing bridge.
Haugen, the chair of Senate Transportation Committee, said the conventional lifespan of a bridge is 80 years, though engineers can extend that somewhat. The senator agrees that plans have to be made.
“This comes up every few years,” she said. “We need to talk about it. The bridge will need to be replaced.”
But Haugen explained that there are major obstacles. Most of all, the state doesn’t have any money to spare in the transportation budget. Other areas of the state, where there’s more serious congestion problems, have higher-priority projects.
Also, Haugen said there’s not enough traffic to support a toll bridge. And politics plays a role. The senator said as many Whidbey residents oppose a new bridge as favor one.
Haugen speculates that a new bridge won’t be built in her lifetime.
“It’s something we should talk about for the future, but it’s certainly not something we can do in the near future,” she said.
Haugen said nobody is talking about getting rid of the historic Deception Pass bridge.
The 2001 study by the Department of Transportation analyzed the feasibility of three bridge locations and a ferry for vehicular access to North Whidbey. One of the alternatives is the bridge concept that Crawford has been pushing. At the time, it was estimated to cost $260 million.
The study, however, concluded that none of the ideas were feasible because of environmental concerns, as well as the sheer cost. The study states that the project Crawford is promoting would face serious obstacles for permitting because of shoreline protection requirements, as well as the effect it would have on commercial and tribal crab and fish harvesting areas.
Yet Crawford is using environmental concerns as an argument for the new bridge. Using statistics from the state, he estimates that more than 5 million cars pass over the bridge each year. The bridge would save drivers about 30 miles from Interstate 5 to Whidbey. That would translate to millions of gallons of fuel being saved each year.
Crawford points to a new state law that requires the state to plan for ways of cutting greenhouse emissions.
“A new bridge is one way to reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.
Crawford emphasized that it takes years, even decades, to permit, design and build a project of this scale. He insists that planning needs to begin now.
“If something happens to Deception Pass bridge,” he said, “North Whidbey will be in a world of pain.”