Thousands came to see the new Highway 520 bridge and walk across it. But when they wanted off, they had to wait — much longer than they wanted.
Though it’s still a few weeks shy of opening to traffic, the new Highway 520 bridge still managed to create a bottleneck Saturday for thousands of people.
Between 25,000 and 30,000 people showed up to walk the world’s longest floating bridge at Saturday’s grand opening. Gov. Jay Inslee spoke, a ribbon was cut, and crowds packed the place.
Event planners had anticipated up to 40,000 people, but a few hours after the start they ran into an issue: Thousands wanted to leave at the same time, and there weren’t enough shuttle buses. Visitors waited as long as an hour for one of the 51 buses, each able to carry 100 people, officials said.
“It was all based on how fast we could load and unload the shuttle buses,” said Suanne Pelley, a spokeswoman with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). “We hit a classic bottleneck.”
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Shortly after 3 p.m., officials announced no more visitors would be admitted onto the bridge, but those already there could stay. Not that they had much of a choice.
As people waited for the buses, anxiety swirled. When a helicopter flew by, some partygoers waved their hands and shouted, “Help us!” Simply walking away wasn’t allowed, for safety reasons.
The transportation agency said it provided water for those waiting for the shuttles.
It wasn’t as if the circumstances were dire on a nice, 60s-ish day.
“There are food trucks,” WSDOT spokesman Steve Peer said at midafternoon.
Anyway, as Angie of Seattle tweeted, “There’s a backup getting off 520. Nothing new there.”
On Sunday morning, 7,000 riders, in a sold-out Cascade Bicycle Club event, will cross the bridge and travel Interstate 5 express lanes and some arterials. There will be no other pedestrian or bike access to the new bridge that day.
The old bridge, which was closed Saturday, will reopen to traffic at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The new bridge, part of a $4.6 billion series of projects on Highway 520, from Interstate 405 to Interstate 5, will open to westbound traffic April 11. Eastbound lanes will open April 25.