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Washington votes to pay for new Tacoma suspension bridge

WASHINGTON STATE this week moved a step closer to starting construction of its 850m span Tacoma Straits crossing - the first major suspension bridge built in the US for 30 years.

Residents voted 53% in favour of paying for the new structure through tolls on the existing bridge. This now carries 80,000 vehicles a day toll- free - far in excess of its design capacity.

The new £220M bridge will be built alongside the old one under a design, build, finance and operate contract by United Infrastructure, a joint venture between Bechtel and contractor Kiewit Construction. It will be the State Department of Transport's first use of private finance for major infrastructure.

Project engineer Jim Eastman said work is expected to start in 2000. Construction should take four years.

The design will feature a concrete deck suspended from concrete pylons to carry three east-bound traffic lanes and a cycle lane. The old steel bridge - built in 1950 after the notorious collapse of the ultra-narrow 'Galloping Gertie' suspension bridge in 1940 - will be retained and reconfigured to carry three lanes westbound.

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