Drivers, your bridge to Camano Island awaits

STANWOOD — It’s been 101 years, almost to the day, since the opening of the first bridge from Stanwood to Camano Island.

Before that people used various sorts of boats, including a cable ferry, to cross the west pass of the Stillaguamish River.

Then, 60 years ago, the state opened the Mark Clark Bridge. If you feel nostalgic about the bridge, take a last ride on it today.

Drivers making the morning commute Friday can expect to roll off the island on the new Highway 532 bridge. This third bridge is to be called the Camano Gateway.

The state Department of Transportation plans to work through tonight to ensure the new span is open by early morning, spokesman Dave Chesson said.

The new bridge is part of the state’s $84 million project to improve safety on Highway 532. The project includes truck lanes, new turn lanes, bus pullouts, new sidewalks and other features. Construction began in July 2009. All the work, including the demolition of the old Mark Clark Bridge, is expected to be finished by December.

More than 20,000 drivers use the highway each day, and the improvements should help cut down on accidents caused by congestion on the highway, Chesson said.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, remembers riding over the first bridge that connected Camano with Stanwood.

On Wednesday, Haugen told a crowd of about 100 people gathered to dedicate the new bridge that she would shudder when her school bus crossed the old steel trestle swing-span bridge. It wasn’t the most sturdy of structures, Haugen said.

Haugen’s friend Janice Sabo is the granddaughter of Bert Lawson, the first bridge tender for the swing bridge. Sabo, of Arlington, said Lawson and his family lived in the little house on the east end of the bridge. From there he would watch and listen for steamers approaching and swing the bridge open to let the vessels pass.

In the 1940s, people in Stanwood and on Camano Island began to make noise about getting a new bridge built, said Karen Prasse of the Stanwood Area Historical Society.

When the route from Camano out to Highway 99 was made a state road, the Legislature came up with the money to build a new, taller bridge. It was dedicated to Gen. Mark Clark, a World War II Army officer who spent some time vacationing on the island, Prasse said.

Lenore Moa was 17 years old when she had the honor of cutting the ribbon at the July 1950 opening of the Mark Clark Bridge. On Wednesday, Moa was on hand for the dedication of the Camano Gateway Bridge.

“It’s very exciting to be here to see history being made again,” Moa said.

While it was a wonder when it opened, and served the community well, the Mark Clark Bridge has outlived its time, Haugen said.

“This crossing is part of the heritage of this community,” Haugen said. “Now we have a bridge to the future.”

The bridge between the island and Stanwood is important for commerce and for public safety, Stanwood Mayor Dianne White said.

“Economically, we can’t exist without our Camano Island neighbors. And our mutual aid agreements mean that we take care of each other,” White said. “The new bridge is twice as wide as the old one so that emergency vehicles should always be able to get through.”

Also at the dedication ceremony Wednesday, Camano Island artist Debbi Rhodes unveiled her sculptures, which will adorn the corners of the Camano Gateway Bridge. The artwork was paid for by bridge contractor Parsons-Kuney, the Stanwood Camano Area Foundation and the Camano Arts Association.

The sculptures depict an orca, bald eagle, salmon and great blue heron. From the side view, each sculpture is also a Douglas fir.

When the old bridge is gone, Rhodes’ sculptures will be mounted on the new bridge.

“Not many people get to create art that is seen by thousands every day,” she said. “I am humbled.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

More on the bridge

To see Debbi Rhodes’ sculptures before they are mounted on the new Camano Gateway Bridge, visit the Matzke Sculpture Park, 2345 Blanche Way, on the south end of Camano Island.

For more information about the Highway 532 project, go to www.wsdot.gov/Projects/SR532. Learn more about the history of the crossing between Stanwood and Camano at www.sahs-fncc.org/CamanoBridge.html. (Link repaired since article was first posted)

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