Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Poker and the 520 Bridge (bluffing won't get it done)

In poker, smart players look for ‘tells’ in their opponents. It can be as subtle as putting down the cards front edge first when you have a good hand, to yelling “Whoopee! I have three aces!” “Tells” can let you know what is really going on.

The 520 Bridge is not going to sink or fail and the state has given us abundant tells that let us know that this is the case. Either that or they are even more stupid than I thought possible.

If the state thought there was a likely chance that the bridge might sink, they would install a set of railroad crossing arms and some warning lights at both approaches. If the bridge sank, the arms would come down and prevent anyone from continuing on to the bridge deck. But they haven’t installed them. And they won’t. In fact, if they really thought it was even possible, they would string an electrical wire the length of the bridge; if the structure broke, the wire would break and the railroad crossing arms would come down.

When it became clear that the ferries on the Port Townsend/Keystone run were seriously dangerous, the Governor stepped in and shut them down. But the 520 Bridge is business as usual because there is very little chance of it sinking.

The state isn’t even doing anything about the bridge safety. There aren’t even rubber floatation bumpers around the piers even though a tugboat hit one of the concrete posts years ago. They could fill the hollow piers with concrete, substantially improving their strength, but they do not. Even something as simple as installing more and better lights on and around the piers isn’t being done.

And if the state really wanted to do something about the 520 Bridge, they would go out and buy a bunch of concrete floats like the kind that are used for marina docks. They would put a string of these floats tied together with some room in between each one and place this floating breakwater off of the sides of the existing bridge. They could be attached to the anchor cables that go from the bridge to the huge concrete anchors on the bottom of the lake. This floating breakwater would prevent the waves from splashing up against the bridge. Currently, the floating bridges bow twenty-two inches in the biggest storms. This flexing out and then snapping back is the worst thing happening to the structures. But the state does nothing to mitigate the damage. It can be done for a lot less than $4 billion.

Which brings up another interesting question: if we could build the replacement I-90 bridge for under $200 million, how come this replacement is going to cost $4 billion?

1 comment:

mao said...

Couple reasons why 520 will cost more:

1) The project includes expanding 520 from I-5 to the water, not just replacing the bridge.

2) The project includes rebuilding every single interchange between I-5 and Bellevue Way.

3) The project includes replacing two North-South bridges on Union Bay between I-5 and the water.

4) The 520 Bridge is three football fields longer than the I-90 bridge.

5) Rapid growth in China and India is inflating the costs of basic construction materials like steel and concrete at rates far in excess of core inflation.

6) Inflation in general.