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Friday, July 5, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

We're here to help you show off the Seattle area to your summertime visitors — and teach even you locals a few things.

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Big for our bridges

By Jack Broom
Seattle Times staff reporter

Your houseguests from Dry Flats, Okla., may be surprised to see Seattle is a city of nearly 200 bridges. But few get more attention than the humble, 1917-vintage Fremont Bridge in the community that calls itself the Center of the Universe.

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The Fremont Bridge opened 23 times a day during last year's boating season.
Up, down, up, down. If the Fremont Bridge flapped its wings any more often, it might fly away. Last year it opened 700 times a month — about 23 times a day — in the May-to-October boating season. You'll hear people say it's the busiest bridge of its kind in the world, but city officials say that can't be backed up with stats.

Why so active? At 30 feet off the water, the Fremont Bridge is more than 10 feet lower than the three other drawbridges spanning the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The others: Ballard, 44 feet; University, 42 feet 6 inches; and Montlake, 46 feet.

A choice color. The blue-and-orange structure is the only bridge in town whose color was selected by its community, but that comes with a qualification. Blue was chosen at a 1985 street-fair vote in which orange, a favorite of some local activists, hadn't been included as an option. The two-color scheme was developed by Fremont artists as a compromise.

How cool is bascule? Calling it a drawbridge is correct, but it's specifically a "bascule" bridge, which works like a teeter-totter, with the bridge deck and cars counterbalanced by a huge concrete weight underneath.

Big load, small power: Because the span and counterweights balance one another, each leaf of the bridge, weighing 3 million pounds, is tipped using just a 100-horsepower electric motor — about the power of a Volkswagen Beetle.

Ships before cars: Although 16,500 vehicles cross the bridge on an average day, marine traffic on the federal waterway has precedence except weekdays from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Even then, vessels of 1,000 gross tons can prompt an opening.

Learn more about Seattle bridges:
See the Seattle Department of Transportation's bridges and roadway structures page or call 206-386-4251.

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