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July 30, 2012 at 8:55 PM

The 520 bridge pontoons float easily out to Grays Harbor

One of several primary pontoons is floated out of the Port of Grays Harbor Monday. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

The first three giant lengthwise pontoons for the new Highway 520 bridge — each 360 feet long and 11,000 tons — floated out easily from their casting basin on the muddy banks of Grays Harbor tonight between 7 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.

The first one displaced 12 feet of water, and needed a mere 2 feet of water beneath it, for a tugboat to tow it out. A few dozen workers watched or took pictures, and a few hooted approval as the pontoon passed out a gate.

These are the biggest pontoons in the world, project managers say.

A group of six were built simultaneously and are being floated out tonight: three of the 21 lengthwise type, a cross pontoon that will secure the east end of the 7,710 foot long floating span, and two of the 54 smaller supplemental stability pontoons, which serve as “water wings” in the words of a spokesman. (Most of the smaller type are being built in Tacoma.)

They will undergo two days inspection in the Harbor, followed by a journey of four to eight days to the Ballard Locks, said 520 program manager Julie Meredith.

All is going smoothly under a clear sky and a nearly full moon. A steel dinghy, deployed to pick up flotsam, hit a steel post, but there were no injuries in what principal engineer Dave Ziegler called a bit of hotdogging.

State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond watched half the operation, scheduled to last until high tide of about 11 feet at 11 p.m. “It went great. My whole feeling is of excitement and pride, especially watching these workers.”

She said the federal government is close to awarding a $320 million loan, but the project needs new revenues or I-90 tolls to fully fund the Seattle portion.

Neighborhood advocates worry that new lanes might reach Montlake without parklike lids funds to reduce noise or blight.

Comments | Topics: 520 bridge

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