Floating bridges are just plain neat. We’re taking concrete, making it buoyant and then placing them on ocean or lake waters and driving cars and trucks and even trains all over them. Call me simple, but that’s just a swell idea. And Washington does it with more frequency than anyone else.

So, don’t be surprised that I get excited about the next round of pontoon construction, really the precursor to the main State Route 520 floating bridge replacement near Seattle.

With an open house planned for Wednesday, Jan. 19, construction crews from Kiewit-General (did you really expect somebody else?) will start as soon as mid-February on a new facility in Aberdeen, Wash., to produce the massive concrete pontoons for the floating bridge.

The $367 million project will bring hundreds of workers to the Grays Harbor region both in the construction of the pontoon-making facility—a casting facility, in all reality—and in the actual construction of the pontoons, which follows new technology research in pontoon construction.

“We’ll be building the largest pontoons we’ve ever built and we’re counting on these construction crews to work quickly,” state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond says. “Puget Sound commuters and businesses can’t afford to have a long-term closure of the 520 bridge, and getting pontoons under construction now puts us in a better position to replace this vulnerable facility.”

Coming in the next few months, crews will create the casting basin facility and churn out 33 concrete pontoons, each up to 360 feet long. The existing bridge over Lake Washington opened in 1963 and is vulnerable to strong wind and waves, even getting shut down in stormy weather. In the event of catastrophic failure, the pontoons built in Aberdeen could be used for emergency replacement. If not needed in an emergency, the pontoons can be stored and used for a new six-lane SR 520 floating bridge, proposed to open to traffic by the end of 2014. Construction on the bridge ramps up in 2012.

The pontoon construction project is funded in part by future revenue from tolling that is scheduled to begin on the floating bridge in the spring. The state Legislature set the SR 520 program budget at $4.65 billion for improvements from I-5 in Seattle to SR 202 in Redmond. Toll revenue along with state and federal funds provide about $2.37 billion for the SR 520 improvements. WSDOT will continue working with the lawmakers to identify additional funding for more improvements in the corridor.

The open house, held form 4 to 7 p.m. at Aberdeen High School, 410 N. G St., Aberdeen, has no formal presentation.