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Bridges to nowhere in Puget Sound | History Files

Driving to Bainbridge and Vashon? Dream on


Last updated 12/1/2021 at 12:27pm

A number of years ago there was much complaining about a bridge to nowhere in Alaska.

My story today is a bit different. It is about roads that would have gone somewhere useful in Washington, but were never built.

On the website of the Washington Secretary of State is a map called "Puget Sound Bridges" proposed routes and mileage table. The date of the map is July 1950. As far as I can tell none of the bridges and "tubes" proposed were ever built.

If this project would have been completed, Bainbridge Island would have been given a total of five connections to the mainland, including the Agate Pass Bridge, which already existed in 1950.

Vashon Island would have gained two connections, one to the east shore of Puget Sound and one to the west shore.

The proposed project would have done away with a lot of ferries.

Vashon Island would have been connected to West Seattle near Brace Point by a floating bridge. The connection to Southworth would have been a suspension bridge.

The Bainbridge Island plan was much more involved. A proposed "tube" would connect West Point in what is now Discovery Park in Seattle to East Point on Bainbridge Island.

A second "tube" would connect Alki to Restoration Point, just south of Port Blakely. A bridge on the south end of Bainbridge Island would have connected to Manchester. A bridge on the west side of Bainbridge Island would connect to east Kitsap County mainland.

A fill and a bridge across Sinclair Inlet would connect Bremerton to Port Orchard. There was also a bridge designed to cross Hood Canal, but not where one was built a decade later. It would have been constructed south of Bangor to the closest point on the west shore.

None of those proposals were completed, so we still have ferries. There are other major road projects that also didn't reach fruition.

The most famous is probably the R.H. Thomson Expressway, which would have connected to the SR-520 bridge. The so-called "off ramps to nowhere" near the Arboretum were intended to connect to the Thomson Expressway, which would have generally followed the route of MLK Jr. Way to the south, and roughly 25th Avenue NE to the north.

The Thomson Expressway wasn't built because of community opposition. Many were angry that it would have destroyed parts of the Arboretum. The route would also have gone through much of the Central Area of Seattle, through a community that was just discovering that it could exercise its common voice.

I believe that the off ramps to nowhere have finally been removed after nearly 60 years.

Another road that wasn't built is Interstate 605. Actually part of it was built and is in use as Highway 18 from Federal Way to Snoqualmie Ridge. The section that was to have been built north through the Snoqualmie and Snohomish valleys was never built. Somewhere near Marysville or Arlington, I-605 would have re-connected to I-5.

Then there is one other odd highway that hasn't been built, but unlike the others it has never been canceled either. Washington State Highway 168 has, according to Wikipedia, been codified since 1970, but it has never been built.

Highway 168 would go east from Greenwater in Pierce County, at the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park, to Cliffdell in Yakima County.

The route would include a tunnel under Naches Pass, which was authorized by the Washington State Legislature as early as 1959.

I don't know if some future legislature will authorize the money to build Highway 168. Until then, it just remains as a mirage of a highway.

The last question in all of this is what would have happened to Edmonds ferries if the Puget Sound bridges and "tubes" had been built? I don't know. The map doesn't show ferries from Edmonds or Mukilteo, but it also doesn't indicate that they would have been removed.

The one thing that is clear on the map is that traffic to the Olympic Peninsula would have been directed more to the south, and an Edmonds ferry would have been utilized far less than it is now.


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