The latest episode in Season 2 of Smithsonian Channel’s “How Did They Build That?” (airing 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28) explores the design and construction of Seattle’s Highway 520 bridge, aka the Evergreen Point floating bridge, which opened in April 2016.
Dan Wolf, executive producer of the series on behalf of Smithsonian Channel, said the Seattle engineering marvel featured this season was on a list of possible topics submitted by the show’s production company.
“We like to go for a good mix of wild and crazy buildings but also down-and-dirty bridges,” Wolf said. ”These things are important to people. And it might not be as sexy as the Guggenheim in Bilbao. But it’s really interesting how they build something like a floating bridge. To me, it’s an important story to tell.”
For Wolf, the Highway 520 floating bridge (officially the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge) also struck a personal chord. He lived in Ballard in the early 1990s, when he worked for Boeing writing and producing training videos for airlines that buy Boeing planes.
“I didn’t have to cross this bridge every day, but in the traffic reports, I’ve definitely heard about those who did,” he said. “That piqued my interest as well because I left before the new bridge was done.”
As an executive producer on “How Did They Build That?” Wolf reviews cuts of episodes, helps guide the storytelling and gives notes as episodes come together.
“I said, ‘Don’t forget to add the perspective of the commuter in the story and what they had to live through,’ ” Wolf said. “What a relief it is for people to have those extra two lanes. So I made sure that they gave the Seattleites’ perspective on some of that so it’s not just the engineering perspective.”
Steve Peer, media manager for Highway 520 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct projects through the Washington State Department of Transportation, said “How Did They Build That?” shot in Seattle earlier this year for about three days. It’s not the first TV series to showcase the bridge — Vice did a story on it, as did a show called “Extreme Projects” during construction — but “How Did They Build That?” may offer the bridge its largest media platform yet.
“There are so many nuances of this bridge, that just telling half of it, people are amazed by that,” Peer said of the world’s longest and widest floating bridge.
Wolf says his favorite part of the Evergreen Point story is how the pontoons that support the bridge were constructed in Aberdeen and Tacoma and floated to the bridge site.
“I love the story of the pontoons and how they’re built and all the things people can’t see about the bridge underneath it,” Wolf said. “One of the engineers takes us down in there. We were inside of a pontoon. I thought it was super cool how those are compartmentalized like a submarine with hatches between the compartments.”
Series such as “How Did They Build That?,” hosted in its second season by actor Jay Ellis (“Insecure”), have proliferated in the past 20 years on outlets like Science Channel and Smithsonian Channel.
“We have lots of shows that give us insider access to big machines and I think we do have a strand of our audience that loves this type of stuff,” Wolf said. “This series taps into that childhood notion of [being] a little kid on a bike and you go by a construction site and you might stop and watch for a while just out of wonder. That’s what this series taps into for people.”
To marvel at this floating hometown engineering marvel from the comfort of your couch, tune to Smithsonian Channel this Sunday.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the episode’s air time. This episode of “How Did They Build That?” airs Sunday Aug. 28 at 5 p.m. PDT.