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Future Bridge

Open for bizness

Open for bizness

The yearlong future is here.

The Argo bridge–which carries Airport Way from Georgetown, over a tangle of railroad tracks straightlining out of the Port and downtown, up to SoDo–has reopened. It has been closed thirteen months, dead in the middle of the twelve to fourteen the city predicted. I moved in for just enough use of the old bridge to understand how crummy losing it was: at least an extra fifteen daily minutes on the bus, if not more. The men and machines have worked steadily, but hardly furiously, since then. The city announces its opening three days beforehand, and on December 21st, the sun comes out.

Enlightened bridge

Enlightened bridge

It’s been a good day: my job panic has abated, both from familiarity and encouragement from my virtual workmate’s sharing Microsoft stories and compliments. The week’s surreal start has slowly transformed into a rich loam of fatigue made from realizing the week’s stress is at an end. I am too tired and sleep-deprived to do anything fun tonight, but I can take a break and see if the bridge really opens. I have taken several short breaks to go look at the sun so low in the sky it never clears the trees. I remember something about a long-ago high school Christmas break: another sunny day but colder, crisp in that way flyover country can get when winter decides to appear, the sky huge outside and a BBC documentary about ice yachting on my friend’s giant console TV. Isn’t that cool? somebody says, and the world is all wonder.

New approach

New approach

The past year’s muddy plunge and tangle of barriers has been transformed over the last few days. The contractor must have been racing for a deadline: the giant lights were brought out and the crews worked overnights. The bridge still lacks railings and the landscaping remains empty concrete, but the bridge deck is ready for travel.

Scones and handouts

Scones and handouts

The parks department has a table with coffee and scones, and construction contractors mill around. Only one of the TV stations has sent a camera; the other is from the city’s cable channel. The mayor, in his trademark hat, is on hand, chatting with the head of the local business association. When the time comes he talks about Georgetown being his favorite neighborhood, then moves aside for the city’s infrastructure director, a vulturous man who pleads for more money to fix everything else that’s falling apart.

Mayor, having spoken

Mayor, having spoken

Women who must work in marketing push in for iPhone pictures when the ribbon is cut.

Big moment

Big moment

Thin applause dissipates up the clean winter sky. Standing in the roadway has the surreal, ghostly feeling of standing where trucks and buses usually are. It feels like a tsunami waits over the rise. A guy honks his bike horn and his tricked out bicycle is the first citizen vehicle across the new bridge.

I walk up a lane, then move to the sidewalk, automatically, conscious of moving but unjustified. I think my emotion and the legs follow. A guy in a hardhat and orange vest runs up and asks me to pick the other side. There are some gaps, he says. I ask if they’re really opening it or this is just a photo op. No, it’s really opening. I say something about the long months when nothing seemed to be happening, a giant crane drilling holes and then nothing happening. Most of the work was stuff nobody sees. The original 1928 bridge was built on lousy fill, the tideflat only twenty feet above sea level. The big crane drilled over eight hundred cement pilings to support the new bridge. The ground was really bad. All of August while I was in New York, the cement was drying in the record sun.

I walk halfway across the bridge with a doddering old guy overrun with facial hair. The rail yard seems very far away down there. Construction litter is everywhere. A woman in a hard hat drives a loader and picks up fence sections. I can see the northern end free of obstruction, a red pickup truck with flashing orange lights. When I walk back the popup awnings are gone, a few orange vested people still around. The traffic light is red for the empty roadway.

December new bridge

December new bridge

Yesterday I walk down in the rain and get some pictures. I walk a little ways up the span, back down, along the side. Scaffolding is still in place but signs are gone. The flashing arrow sign directing traffic left is gone. All lanes are open. Traffic is nonexistent. Word hasn’t gotten out.

To walk up and around the bridge is not thrilling, not quite new. What is it like? I am most familiar with its becoming a bridge again, the process of its destruction and recreation. Its promise has been out there a long time, but a year isn’t so long these days. But here it is, solid concrete, done enough to drive over. We have moved beyond observation and waiting. Here we are, the future arrived.

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