What does it take to build the world’s longest floating bridge?

By Ian Sterling

It takes people – a whole lot of them. As Labor Day approaches, we at WSDOT tip our hardhats to the men and women building and maintaining our state’s transportation system, with a special nod to the more than 1,400 workers involved in one of the largest construction undertakings in state history.

Did you know that the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program is actually a series of separate projects being built at several sites around the state? These locations include:

Brandy Cunningham, a traffic control supervisor
Making it all happen are workers like Brandy Cunningham, a traffic control supervisor and member of Laborers’ Local 440. The mother of two has spent most of her weekends and many an early morning this summer directing drivers around roadwork on the Eastside Transit and HOV Project. Cunningham says it’s cool to be working on something that thousands of people use every day. She tells us she has a  sense of pride anytime she drives by the project because she has a role in it. One of her favorite parts of the job is when drivers give her team a wave. She says the crew gets to know the faces of a lot of people driving by and enjoys it when they get a smile or a wave. Keeping drivers safe and moving through the construction is a critical role.

Tyler Rabey is a member of Carpenters Local 317. Aberdeen-born-and-raised, he completed a two-year carpentry program at Grays Harbor College and now helps build the massive pontoons that make up the backbone of the new floating bridge. He says it’s incredible how they’re built and it’s amazing to be part of their construction. He also notes that the job has allowed him to buy a house and a nice car before most of his friends of the same age. His training and work on the pontoons have launched his career.
Operator trainee Pernell Vuepa

Operator trainee Pernell Vuepa starts his day at 3:30 a.m., making the commute from his home in Auburn to work on the Eastside Transit and HOV Project. The heavy-equipment operator has a job that any child with a Tonka truck would envy. He says kids come to watch as he operates a giant loader. He tells us little kids like to see big things – like concrete forms, piles of dirt and other objects he spends his days moving into place. According to Pernell, the best part of his job is getting to do something different every day. He’s a proud member of the Operating Engineers Local 612.

One of the most unique jobs anywhere has to belong to Daniel Nielsen, a fourth-generation pile driver with Local 196. He’s in charge of bolting together the football-field-size longitudinal pontoons on Lake Washington—a key to the Floating Bridge and Landings Project. He notes the bolts used are up to 20 feet long and weigh roughly 400 pounds each. To reach the latest pair of pontoons being joined, he walks on the ones already connected. Every time two more pontoons are bolted together, his on-foot commute along the pontoons increases. He tells us it currently takes about 15-minutes to make the walk.

Daniel Nielsen, a fourth-generation pile driver
These are just a few of the many faces making the new SR 520 bridge and corridor a reality. From scuba divers in the waters of Grays Harbor to crane operators perched high above Lake Washington, well over one thousand individuals are laboring every day to rebuild this vital corridor. Other SR 520 construction workers we talked to for this story included Randy Janson, a concrete foreman in Aberdeen and member of Cement Masons Local 528; Mark Folk, a former jeweler now doing carpentry work on the new floating bridge’s east approach; and Sergio Carlos, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters who’s building concrete forms on the highway’s Eastside corridor.

On this Labor Day, we say, “Thanks, we can’t do it without you,” and salute them all for a job well done.