Seattle — The world’s newest and longest floating bridge opened its arms to the public Saturday morning, April 2, as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee cut an orange ribbon to commemorate the completion of the new State Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington.

The official ribbon-cutting at the bridge’s midspan was just one of many Grand Opening activities during a daylong celebration expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors onto the 1.5-mile-long structure.

“A bridge is a monument to optimism,” Inslee said. “It's the ultimate expression of confidence in ourselves and in our communities. Today, we’re taking a big step toward that bright future.”

The new, six-lane bridge opens to vehicles, in two stages, later this month. Today’s opening is all about foot traffic. The Grand Opening lets participants stroll across a car-free bridge while enjoying interactive exhibits, displays of bridge components, a LEGO play area for amateur bridge building, “passport”-stamping stations, food-truck offerings, and great views from the middle of the lake.

“This is what it’s all about – seeing years of public engagement, planning, design and construction all come to fruition,” said Roger Millar, acting secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation. “This grand bridge is going to serve our region well for a long long time.”

During this morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Michael Empric, a representative of Guinness World Records, presented Millar with a certificate designating the new floating bridge – at 7,708.494 feet, end to end – as the world’s longest. The ceremony opened with a tribal blessing of the bridge by Muckleshoot Tribe member Warren KingGeorge, and closed with a tribal song by the Muckleshoot Language Group.

Earlier in the day, more than 12,000 people participated in a 10K run/walk from Husky Stadium, across the bridge, and back to the stadium. On Sunday, April 3, 7,000 bicyclists will close the celebration with a 20-mile “Emerald City Bike Ride” across the bridge and through car-free downtown Seattle streets. More than 50 corporations and organizations, including Delta Air Lines and Microsoft, helped sponsor the weekend celebration.

From his first day in office, Inslee worked to secure full funding for the SR 520 corridor, and last July he signed into law the project’s final installment of $1.6 billion, which will complete the highway’s Seattle improvements from Lake Washington to I-5. This funding was part of a balanced and multimodal transportation investment package that fixes hundreds of bridges, funds thousands of miles of roadway, and authorizes Sound Transit to expand light rail north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond, and within Seattle between Ballard and West Seattle.

The “Connecting Washington” package will increase safety, create 200,000 jobs and provide traffic relief. All told, it is the largest and greenest transportation investment in state history.

Benefits of new bridge

The new bridge is replacing its four-lane predecessor, built in the early 1960s, that is structurally vulnerable to windstorms and strong waves. Benefits of the new bridge include:

  • Bigger, heavier, stronger pontoons and anchors that allow the structure to withstand stronger winds and waves.
  • A bus and carpool lane in each direction; eventually, SR 520 will have HOV lanes from Redmond to I-5.
  • Wide shoulders that allow disabled vehicles to pull off the highway and not block traffic.
  • A 14-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path that, in 2017, will connect the Eastside with Seattle.
  • A stormwater-collection and -treatment system that will improve water quality in Lake Washington.

The new bridge, part of the ongoing SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program, is scheduled to open to traffic later this month following two weekend closures of SR 520. First, crews will close the highway April 9-10, and then open the bridge to westbound drivers on Monday morning, April 11. Next, crews will close the highway the weekend of April 23-24, and then transition drivers onto the new bridge’s eastbound lanes on Monday morning, April 25.

The old SR 520 floating bridge is expected to be taken apart and removed from the lake by the end of this year. Its pontoons will be towed away and reused for other marine purposes.