The Hood Canal Bridge is back, eight days ahead of schedule. During the closure, the commute to my office in Poulsbo went from 25 minutes each way to about an hour and a half. And it involved five vehicles -- car, bus, water shuttle, bus, car. Considering all of that, lots of smiles and greetings at all hours of the day and night from the commuters and workers alike made the trip relatively pleasant. At times it was almost a festive atmosphere. One morning I met a friend climbing on the bus with flowers from her garden for a party at work. When we arrived at the water shuttle, she pulled a few out and presented them to the water shuttle crew. "I just wanted them to know I appreciate what they are doing," she explained.
The close-quarters commute made me feel more connected with my neighbors on the Olympic Peninsula too. It was a diverse group; a bank teller, a car dealership manager, a semi-pro football player returning from practice at North Kitsap High School, a fellow carrying a violin case and a hand finishing saw, fire fighters heading home from a training session and a young musician who has been touring with "a lady named Maria Muldaur" to name a few.
The Washington State Department of Transportation took great advantage of the new electronic communication tools available. They sent out text messages, emails and tweets, posted transportation schedules, project task lists, photos and videos on the project web site, and hosted a very informative and occasionally entertaining blog. In fact, the blog postings and comments Wednesday night (6/03), the night the bridge opened, created a following and sense of anticipation that seemed reminiscent of the early manned space shots - especially as the draw span test count reached 15 out of the needed 20 successful cycles that would allow the bridge to be opened to traffic. It has made the blogger Joe Irwin a local celebrity. My wife overheard people talking about him and the blog at the grocery store the next day.
It was an amazing undertaking to complete in just over four weeks. Visits to the project web site and blog are worth your time.
My wife and I have both been across the bridge now, and both of our cars are on the same side of the canal as we are. I'm glad the closure is over. But despite the serious inconvenience, I'd say that, overall, it was a positive experience. Who'da thought?
I'm fine lurking in the shadows behind the scenes, and am sincerely honored by the kind words. I'm just happy people enjoyed the project updates and the banter that went along with them.
When people got pushy or rude, the blogging community got behind WSDOT and put them in their place. While I didn't take the negative comments personally (I grew a pretty thick skin during my 12 years in journalism) I couldn't help but smile when writers defended the agency and the people who work here.
It's easy to paint the state as if its run by Darth Vader and staffed by Stormtroopers hell bent on making everyone's lives harder (OK, I'm a bit of a Star Wars geek, sue me).
But we're just a bunch of people trying to do the best work we can, and were almost as happy as you folks when the bridge opened early.
I'm glad I was able to connect with so many fine folks on the blog and if I was able to give this project a little personality and make a few people smile, all the better.
"Bikini" Joe Irwin