May 5th, 2022

The Bridges of Fidalgo Island


By Steve Berentson

Many who travel to Anacortes are surprised to learn the popular seaside community is located on an island. Another surprise is that this island is served by five bridges.

While there are five bridges, the spans are located at only three service points. There are two sets of “twins,” and a small, single span serving the historic Town of La Conner.

This article features a bit of history about “The Bridges of Fidalgo Island.

Deception Pass Bridge: First of our “twin” bridges are Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges, built in 1935 to connect Fidalgo and Whidbey islands.

Millions of travelers cross these bridges each year as Deception Pass State Park is one of the most popular parks in the state. Most travelers are too busy taking in the view to notice that they actually cross two bridges, linked in the center on tiny Pass Island.

These two steel spans were built in 1934 and 1935, the result of a partnership involving local, state and federal governments as well as civic promoters eager to provide vehicle access to the once-rural Whidbey Island.

The shorter bridge on the Fidalgo Island side of the Pass is a 350-foot arch with three T-beam approach spans. The longer bridge from the Whidbey Island side is a 976-foot cantilever design. It is made up of two 175-foot anchor spans and one 200-foot suspended span. There are four T-beam approach spans on the larger “twin.”

A dedication of the spans was held in July 1935, leading the way for dramatic Whidbey Island growth including the establishment of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor.

Today much of the traffic across Deception Pass is generated by tourism, with many travelers drawn to the natural wonders of the area and Deception Pass State Park. The only other access to 60-mile-long Whidbey Island is by state ferry on the south end of the island.

The more adventurous visitor is invited to take one of many trails from either side of the Pass. As is the case with many Northwest coastal trails, caution is required, but park staff does an awesome job of maintaining trails and offering support services.

Duane Berentson Bridge: As noted, many people travel to Anacortes from the mainland without realizing they have crossed a bridge algo Iinking Skagit Valley with Fidalo Island. On a clear day, however, the traveler cannot fail to notice the meandering Swinomish Channel that separates the Skagit neighbors.

Initially, Fidalgo Island was linked to the Skagit Valley by a drawbridge over the Swinomish Channel. In 1972 the drawbridge was replaced by a single steel truss span serving both east and westbound traffic.

This first bridge was built by the Washington State Department of Transportation, named in honor of former State Representative Duane Berentson. It is 3,259 feet long, and 33 feet wide curb-to-curb. It was repaved with a modified concrete overlay in 1979 and seismically retrofitted in 1997.

The second “twin” span, which now carries westbound SR 20 traffic only, was built in 1981. It is 3,545 feet long and 33 feet wide, curb-to-curb. This span features a 6-foot sidewalk, popular among bicyclists.

This high-traffic bridge crosses over public facilities including a Skagit County public boat launch on the mainland side.
Swinomish Channel “Rainbow” Bridge: This, the least traveled of the five bridges serving Fidalgo Island, is a postcard icon of the Town of La Conner. The Skagit County owned bridge, nicknamed “Rainbow Bridge” because of its design, was built in 1957.

Countless photos have been taken featuring this bright-colored bridge with downtown La Conner and majestic Mt. Baker in the background.
The steel deck arch bridge links the town with a vital part of the Swinomish Tribal Community including residences and administrative/service facilities.

There is a public park on the mainland side of the span. Pioneer Park is the site of an annual picnic celebrating Skagit County’s heritage. A visit to the park also yields walking paths, picnic amenities and an impressive view of the bridge above. Downtown La Conner is just a few blocks away.
Notes:

• Deception Pass Bridge has been featured in numerous print ad campaigns and TV commercials.
• A regular traveler across Rainbow Bridge is “Another Roadside Attraction” author Tom Robbins of La Conner.
• Berentson Bridge namesake Duane Berentson was an Anacortes native, serving in the state legislature for 18 years before being named secretary of the state Department of Transportation.

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About Photographer Steve Berentson

A fourth generation Skagit County native who was moved kicking and screaming from this island community in 1960. I finally reclaimed an Anacortes address in 1980, and I have been in constant celebration of my return since that time. Many of us who call Anacortes home love Fidalgo Island for its natural assets: among them are rugged beaches, pristine lakes, thousands of acres of forestland and some awesome views of the Skagit Valley and surrounding islands. Another element of my love affair with this community is its people, both natives and immigrants. They will “star” in many of my journal entries.

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