If you’re going to embark on a massive infrastructure project-cum-tourist attraction using reclaimed materials, it’s probably best that said materials are also regionally indigenous/locally sourced, right?  


The spirit of homegrown salvaging is behind a starry-eyed floating toll bridge idea recently pitched by freshly minted Washington state lawmaker Rep. Jesse Young (R-Gig Harbor) that aims to alleviate local traffic congestion woes. The new bridge would span the Puget Sound’s Sinclair Inlet and connect the Kitsap County cities of Bremerton and Port Orchard. While a Kitsap Transit-operated Foot Ferry service operates between the two cities to offer car-free commuters a speedy mode of transport, traffic on the bottleneck-heavy 10-mile stretch of State Routes 3 and 16 that wraps around the southern end of Sinclair Inlet remains problematic.

While it may seem novel, floating bridges aren't exactly new. This is particularly true in Washington, where you’ll find four of the five longest pontoon bridges in the world. The Evergreen Point/520 Bridge, the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial/I-90 Bridge and the Homer M. Hadley Memorial/I-90 Bridge all span Lake Washington to connect Seattle with its East Side suburbs while the Hood Canal Bridge links Kitsap County with the Olympic Peninsula’s Jefferson County.

What hasn’t been done before — and what Young is pitching via a proposed $90,000 feasibility study recently introduced into the state highway budget — is a floating bridge built entirely from repurposed Vietnam-era aircraft carriers. Channeling Xerxes, Young envisions a string (well, just three) of these retired — mothballed, technically — Navy vessels, each a little over 1,000-feet-long, spanning Sinclair Inlet. As KUOW elaborates, two aircraft carriers connected by a span in the middle is actually Young's preferred design.

Retrofitted to allow the passage of vehicular traffic and secured with some serious anchors, the vintage warships/floating runways won’t just ease traffic in the area. As envisioned by Young, they’d also serve as a local economy-boosting, tourist-snaring military tribute of sorts.

Sinclair Inlet, Puget Sound, Washington

Connecting the cities of Port Orchard and Bremerton via Sinclair Inlet, the aircraft carrier bridge would allow motorists to bypass the congested highways winding around the Inlet. (Google Maps)

Young explains: "I know that people from around the world would come to drive across the deck of an aircraft carrier bridge, number one. Number two, it's the right thing to do from my standpoint because this is giving a testimony and a legacy memorial to our greatest generation."

While all a bit bonkers — Alex Davies of Wired goes into detail as to why using aircraft carriers to build bridges probably won’t fly from an economical and environmental standpoint — you do have to admire Young’s adaptive reuse-driven creative thinking. After all, he’s simply attempting to make good new use out of something that Kitsap County just happens to have a lot of: decommissioned aircraft carriers.

Located next to the Bremerton annex of Naval Base Kitsap (formerly Naval Station Bremerton), the historic Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (aka the Bremerton Navy Yard) is home to a sizable fleet of old, out-of-service, in-repair, in-active, reserve and otherwise defunct U.S. Navy vessels including two mothballed aircraft carriers, the USS Independence and the USS Kitty Hawk, that have been brought to Bremerton — aircraft carrier purgatory of sorts — to await their ultimate fate. According to Naval policy, fully retired aircraft carriers must be demolished and dismantled for scrap at a recycling — or “ship breaking” — facility. Some, including the USS Oriskany, are sunk as massive artificial reefs. Either that, or they’re repurposed into museums.

Retired U.S. Navy aircraft carriers at the Bremerton Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash.

The USS Kitty Hawk and USS Independence (pictured here in 2012 with the now-scrapped USS Constellation and USS Ranger) are currently moored at the Bremerton Navy Yard. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Young’s warship-to-bridge proposal is an obvious and gleefully idiosyncratic break from protocol. And already, the Navy is saying no way and no thank you.

Navy spokesman Chris Johnson recently made it clear to KUOW that neither of the two vessels eyed by Young for the project, the USS Independence and the USS Kitty Hawk, are “currently available.” In fact, the fate of the USS Independence, a 1950s aircraft carrier officially decommissioned by the Navy in 1998 and in too poor shape to be converted into a museum, has already been decided: later this year, it will leave Bremerton for a ship-breaking facility in Texas where it will be dismantled.

And as for the USS Kitty Hawk?

Brought to Bremerton and decommissioned in 2009, the vessel, an oil-fired, Brooklyn-built behemoth commissioned in the early 1960s, will remain at Bremerton in reserve until supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford enters into full service in 2019. And when the Kitty Hawks is ultimately released by the Navy, several groups are already vying to see it converted into a floating museum.

With the Navy, at this point anyways, unwilling to part with Bremerton’s mothballed aircraft carriers and a host of not-so-small engineering challenges involved with transforming warships into bridges, it’s unlikely, but not impossible, that Young’s fanciful idea will evolve beyond more than just that. 

Via [Wired], [KUOW]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.