SR 520 Bridge 50th Birthday

August 2013 marks the 50th birthday of the SR 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington. Throughout the month we’re taking a look back at the history of the bridge, as well as the places it connects and the people who use it.

The Evergreen Point Bridge, its original name when it opened five decades ago (and before it was named for former governor Albert D. Rossellini), was built in a different era. Prior to 520, drivers had just one crossing across Lake Washington – the original Lake Washington Floating Bridge. And prior to that, you either drove around or hitched a ride on one of many ferries traversing the lake. Today’s quick trek across the lake was once a day’s (or more!) journey.

520 construction began in 1960, lasted through the 1962 World’s Fair, and opened on Aug. 28, 1963, the same day as Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

Aerial view of west approach bridge construction in 1962. Bridge piers were built in Lake Washington prior to adding the superstructure and roadway. Photo credit: City of Seattle Municipal Archives
Each winter, significant wind and wave action takes its toll on the existing SR 520 floating bridge, requiring WSDOT to perform regular inspections and maintenance.
Over the next 50 years, the 520 bridge has been through a lot. It’s endured decades of winter storms and wave action and closes for safety when sustained winds reach 50 mph. The 1993 Inaugural Day storm ravaged Puget Sound with winds reaching 94 mph and closed the bridge for several days. It’s been tolled, untolled, and tolled once again. It’s been hit by a barge. It’s had cables strung through its pontoons for additional post-tensioning.

During the 2008 Seafair Marathon, thousands of runners crossed the SR 520 floating bridge, filling its two eastbound lanes to capacity.
But through it all, the bridge’s work ethic remains strong. SR 520 is still the world’s longest floating bridge, and it still carries thousands more cars per day than it was designed to accommodate in the 1960s. Sometimes it even takes a break from car traffic: 520 hosted the Seafair Marathon in 2008!

Retirement is the next step, as crews continue work to assemble the new SR 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington, featuring a bicycle/pedestrian path, new transit/HOV lanes, and wider, safer shoulders.

This visualization of the new SR 520 floating bridge looking east shows the bridge’s new transit/HOV lanes, bicycle/pedestrian path, wider shoulders, and sentinel architectural features.
The new floating bridge’s opening is on the horizon, and the bridge is expected to serve the region for 75 years or more. While it’s never easy seeing one’s replacement come onboard, today’s bridge can rest assured that it will be remembered and celebrated as a vital connection across decades of growth and development in the region.

Happy Birthday, SR 520 Bridge!

Those are our memories. What are yours? We’d love to hear from you. Hitch a ride on 520 Memory Lane to share your fondest 520 memory as a story, poem, photo or video. We’ll be posting them regularly throughout the month of August.