Thanksgiving night at the Narrows Bridges

The in basket: I was surprised to read in a letter to the editor from Jackie Miller of Port Orchard in the Dec. 2 edition that the traffic waiting at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booths Thanksgiving night had filled the toll plaza and backed up perhaps as far as Mullenix Road in South Kitsap.

I knew Thanksgiving and Christmas had disproportionately high numbers of bridge crossers without transponders who would have to use the toll booths, but I didn’t know it was anywhere near that bad.

Jackie was able to observe the backup while going the other way rather than crawling along in it, but said members of her family will face it after coming to her house for Christmas. She suggested the state give drivers a “wonderful gift” of no tolls on those two high impact days.

I asked Janet Matkin of the Good to Go! toll collection office if it really was that bad, and whether anything like toll-free days had been discussed to address it. 

The out basket: Janet said her information is that traffic did back up out of the toll plaza area into the through lanes, but only as far as Burnham Drive, fives miles back. Delays of 40 minutes were reported.

She guessed that any slowing of traffic north of there resulted from the temporary 40 mph speed zone and narrowed lanes at the Olalla-Burley interchange project site.

Thanksgiving wasn’t as bad as the previous Thanksgiving, she said. That was the worst day so far, and a thousand fewer vehicles used the bridge this Thanksgiving than last. I’d bet the 2007 backup taught many to go through Shelton on the holiday this year.

“It seems that this is the most concentrated time for non-Good To Go! vehicles to use the bridge,” Janet said. “On other holidays those returning from the peninsula are more spread out throughout the day, rather than concentrated in a five-hour window.  About two-thirds of the traffic used the manual toll lanes during the peak hours from 6-11 p.m. 

She’s heard no talk about changing the collection of tolls on that day, she said.

But state traffic management and highway patrol officials did see it coming and “closely monitored conditions to keep traffic moving smoothly,” she said.

They had all toll lanes operating at the peak and opened the eastbound HOV lanes that begin at the Olympic interchange to all vehicles with transponders, she said.

They put out holiday traffic alerts suggesting that using Gig Harbor’s streets to get to the transponder-only 24th Street on-ramp to the bridge was an option if the backup at the toll booths slowed the freeway lanes for everybody.

They warned drivers via electronic signs along the freeway and via advisory radio that there would be long backups that night, including traffic heading westbound early in the day that would be returning later, she said.
There were no backups reported for the remainder of the weekend, Janet said.

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