38 of 77 pontoons complete for new SR 520 floating bridge

38 of 77 pontoons complete for new SR 520 floating bridge »Play Video

ABERDEEN, Wash. - A fresh batch of giant concrete pontoons for the new 520 Bridge just rolled out of the Aberdeen casting basin today, finishing the third of six total pontoon cycles to be built in Grays Harbor.

The massive pontoons represent a significant day in the 520 Bridge Project because they are the first to be built incorporating engineering solutions that are supposed to fix the expensive flaws that plagued the first pontoons.

"It's a milestone moment for us," said Julie Meredith, SR 520 program director for the Washington State Department of Transportation. "On this job there was a design flaw that we had to work through, and I'm proud to say that we worked through it."

It takes a small fleet of powerful tugboats, a crew of seventy experienced workers, and a bit of nice weather to slowly guide each of the six concrete pontoons out of the construction yard. The larger pontoons weigh 11,000 tons and stretch longer than a football field.

A Problem Solver investigation first revealed extensive cracks and leaks in the first four pontoons, costing taxpayers nearly $50 million to fix, and contributing to a growing list of serious cost overruns.

Department of Transportation leaders faulted their own engineers for the mistake, and Meredith assures taxpayers the engineers now have it right.

"We had to come up with a design fix," Meredith says. "We had to come up with how to implement it, and we lived through that."

Crews still need to build 39 of the 77 pontoons that make up the entire span. Eventually the pontoons will make the three to four day trip by water to Seattle, where they'll be fitted into place to complete the new 520 bridge.

The new floating bridge was originally scheduled to open in late 2014, but has now been delayed until April 2016.