Floating Bridge on Lake Washington in Seattle, Washington
Lake Washington Floating Bridge is dedicated on July 2, 1940.
Beginning at 11:15 a.m. on July 2, 1940, dedication ceremonies are held for the Lake Washington Floating Bridge (also called Mercer Island Bridge). The bridge carries US 10 (later decommissioned and renamed Interstate 90) across the lake from the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle over Mercer Island to a point south of Bellevue. It is at the time the largest floating structure ever built, and the first to cross Lake Washington. In 1967 the Lake Washington Floating Bridge will be renamed the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge.
The dedication went off with great fanfare. Two thousand people attended on the east side of the bridge. A ribbon was cut, and an urn containing water from 58 Washington streams and lakes was smashed against the side of the bridge. The Seattle Breakfast Club enjoyed its repast under the west approach, and an Army band played. Later there were swimming races, fancy diving, surf boarding, and water skiing exhibitions.
The bridge, designed by the engineer Homer Hadley (1885-1967), floats on hollow concrete pontoons, which was at the time an innovative technology. It was the world's largest floating structure and cost $8,854,000 to build.
Governor Clarence D. Martin paid the first toll to cross the bridge. Toll charges mostly applied to automobiles but included 35 cents for wagons drawn by one or two horses and 50 cents for wagons drawn by three or more horses. The bridge saved up to an entire hour of commuting time to Seattle.
The bridge had a sliding draw part (a bulge) that required traffic to make a sharp turn at high speeds. Because of this bulge, the bridge became notorious for accidents, some fatal. In 1981, the Washington State Department of Highways replaced the bulge with straight pontoons. In 1989 a parallel twin bridge, the Homer Hadley Bridge, was completed.
On November 25, 1990, during a storm, the bridge sank. It had been under repair and bridge workers had left open the hatchways to the hollow pontoons, which filled with water during the storm. The bridge was later rebuilt.
Lake Washington Floating Bridge (later renamed Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge), dedication, 1940
Lake Washington Floating Bridge toll plaza, 1940s Postcard
Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge (Lake Washington Floating Bridge) sinks on November 25, 1990.
On November 25, 1990, after a week of high winds and rain, the 50-year old Lacey V. Murrow Bridge (Lake Washington Floating Bridge) breaks apart and plunges into the mud beneath Lake Washington. Since it took some time for the bridge to sag and finally crack apart, news cameras were poised and ready to show post-Thanksgiving TV viewers a once-in-a-lifetime telecast of the demise of the historic I-90 span. It is later discovered that hatchways into the concrete pontoon air pockets were left open, allowing water to enter, while the bridge was undergoing a $35.6 million renovation. A new Lacey V. Murrow Bridge will open the following summer.
The Biggest Thing Afloat
The floating bridge, designed by the engineer Homer Hadley (1885-1967), opened on July 2, 1940, to public acclaim and amazement. Many people thought that a concrete structure of this size (1.25 miles long) could never float, let alone handle traffic. At the time, The Seattle Times called it "the biggest thing afloat," easily larger than the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth, the giant of its day. On opening day, Governor Clarence Martin called the bridge "original, distinctive, striking and graceful -- a product of this great state's vision and constructive spirit."
The bridge, called the Lake Washington Floating Bridge or the Mercer Island Bridge, was in 1967 renamed the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge in honor of the state's highway director. It was a marvel of engineering. Planners originally expected the bridge to carry 2,000 people a day, but from the start more than 5,000 people used the bridge on a daily basis. When tolls were taken off the bridge in 1946, this number skyrocketed.
The bridge did more than carry traffic. It turned Mercer Island from a summer resort into a suburban community. The bridge also turned Bellevue from a collection of berry and chicken farms into the fourth largest city in the state.
Slow Motion Titanic
After 50 years of service, the bridge was in need of repairs. Starting in 1989, a twin span had been completed parallel to it to handle the tens of thousands of new commuters who now inhabited the burgeoning Eastside. Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday in 1990, workers for Traylor Bros., an Indiana-based construction firm hired to do the renovation, had cut six-foot-high holes into the hollow concrete pontoons to facilitate work. Unfortunately these holes had not been closed before the weekend of unusually high winds and rain.
On Saturday, pontoons in the center of the bridge were inspected and found to be dry, but when workers returned to the bridge on Sunday morning, they found them nearly submerged. Efforts were made to pump them out, but it was too late.
By this time, news organizations had gotten wind of the situation and, within a short time, helicopters hovered over the bridge. As viewers looked on, the bridge began to sag. By the afternoon, it began to break apart. One by one, sections of the bridge broke off. In Titanic fashion, the pieces upended themselves and then tilted, slicing their way to the bottom of the lake. By the end of the day, the bridge was gone.