Road relief: SDOT cancels Spokane St. Viaduct lane-reduction plan

February 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm | In Spokane St. Viaduct project, West Seattle news | 21 Comments

(Spokane St. Viaduct work zone, photographed by Long B. Nguyen; click for longer/wider view)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The final phase of work on the Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project will NOT require a lane reduction after all.

We talked with SDOT managers at the Muni Tower downtown this afternoon, following up on last week’s announcement at the Alaskan Way Viaduct South Portal Working Group meeting that the work on the east end of the West Seattle Bridge would require at least six weeks with one eastbound lane and two westbound lanes (reported here last Thursday).

Since then, SDOT says, they have figured out how to fit two lanes each way onto the new half of the SSV; they say they had been hoping all along to work that out, but it didn’t happen until after that briefing last week.

Right now, traffic in the project area between 99 and I-5 is flowing partly on new construction and partly on old:

In late March, when all traffic is shifted onto the new structure on the north side of the old one, the configuration will look like this:

SDOT also says they have NO daytime closures scheduled currently – neither weekend nor weekday – but reiterate that if any are necessary before the project’s completion in mid-summer, the notification and signage will follow the new guidelines spelled out in a report we brought you here last Friday. It resulted from a review of what happened Saturday, January 28th, with traffic backups much of the day because of what was supposed to be a weekend-long closure of the eastbound SSV, a surprise to many because there was no warning signage either ahead of time or during the shutdown.

We have more to add to this story – about the project’s overall status and some questions that have arisen along the way – but wanted to get this news out first; we’ll add the rest here shortly.

ADDED 6:30 PM: As promised, the rest of the story:

We met at the Muni Tower with project manager Stuart Goldsmith, capital projects/roadway structures director Mike Terrell (who wrote the memo about the new informational procedures in case of daytime bridge closures), and communications director Rick Sheridan.

Goldsmith explained that there are variables once they move all the traffic onto the new structure next month so they can “repair and repave” the old one – “We won’t know its condition till we get there. We have done examinations and testing,” but that still can’t answer all the questions about what kind of repair work it’ll take. And those variables in turn mean they can’t say for sure when it’ll all be done – the contract goes till the end of July, barring any further delays out of the contractor’s control, and if they miss the deadline, the contractor will owe “liquidated damages,” according to Terrell.

They’re still not expecting to fully open the new 1st Avenue South ramp from the westbound SSV until the end of the project. It will be usable as an offramp weeks before it can be opened as an onramp; that’s because the onramp requires the “transition lane” space that won’t be available until traffic is flowing again on both sides of the structure, old and new. As for when it will open as an offramp – they’re still waiting for those steel girders mentioned here back in November. Goldsmith says the subcontractor in Montana who is responsible for them has “had a lot of problems getting (them) exactly correct” but “we think we have everything (now) worked out” and the girders may be “releas(ed) from the factory” soon. They say the steel is responsible for much more of the delay than the concrete re-do required when an alignment problem was discovered in the ramp’s very early construction stages.

So when all the traffic is on the new structure for a few months, how will vehicles get to one of the offramps on the other side (SDOT promises either 1st or 4th will be open at any given time)? “Special chutes,” explains Goldsmith. The routing might be a little odd at times – “we don’t really know how the final paving is going to go, and the west end is the trickiest – it’s going to be messy” – but they’ll do their best to keep things moving.

If you’re wondering how tight a squeeze it will be with four lanes all on the new north structure – SDOT says they’ll be 10-foot-wide lanes, and that’s only six inches narrower than the official width. No shoulder, of course. But for comparison’s sake – the Aurora Bridge has lanes that are nine-and-a-half feet wide.

We asked about the uneven surface noticed when traffic first was directed onto part of the new structure back in December (as reported, shown, and discussed here). The SDOT reps point out that currently, you’re driving on what will be the shoulder of the north side, as well as the section connecting to the 1st Avenue South ramp. They say it’s also tricky to match the “new bridge … essentially to the height of the old one,” with drainage adjustments required among other things. However, they also noted that SDOT hasn’t “accepted it yet from the contractor” – no final inspection yet – so there’s still a chance to make changes if real problems are discovered as it’s all being connected in the final stretch. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, there is no current plan to extend the transit lane on the eastbound side, though it was considered.)

Bottom line – the three-fifths-of-a-mile-long project is “more than 80 percent complete” and expected to conclude on or under budget. And beneath the newly widened SSV, there’s one more phase you might notice – an art project that will paint a “good number” of the support columns: “Stencils, patterns, some abstract, some historic, some wildlife …”

Again, no date is set yet for shifting everything onto the north side, with two lanes each way, but it’s projected for late March. We’ll bring you updates when new info is available.

21 Comments

  1. Well that is good news for us here on the West-side.
    Anyone know about the sign posted on the on ramp from Avalon/Harbor? I commute through there at 3am, and am not sure how to make travel plans to I90 eastbound. If I circle up to Fauntleroy, it is closed up there also.
    Do I need to take low bridge through downtown?

    Comment by Bill at Duwamish Head — 4:42 pm February 7, 2012 #

  2. Can’t wait for all the work to be done. Hopefully after it is all complete, people getting on to the Westbound from I5 won’t feel the need to stop at the flashing 35mph sign, and instead accelerate.

    Amazing how that one point can back traffic up all the way to downtown.

    Comment by Danny — 4:50 pm February 7, 2012 #

  3. Thank you SDOT.

    Comment by Tony — 5:48 pm February 7, 2012 #

  4. Fantastic news.

    Comment by Eddie — 5:50 pm February 7, 2012 #

  5. Is there an update on project completion?

    Comment by Chris — 6:25 pm February 7, 2012 #

  6. No change in the projection – but I just added the rest of the story.

    Comment by WSB — 6:31 pm February 7, 2012 #

  7. Just get that 1st ave on ramp finished ALREADY!! It seems it’s been in limbo for 6 months now. I am so tired of the backup on the lower bridge!

    Comment by johnnyblegs — 6:51 pm February 7, 2012 #

  8. SDOT has demonstrated an abuse of their power to close streets. This action shows they are beginning to realize they overstepped their boundaries. What about making a community advisory board oversee their ability to close main roads? Left to themselves, they cannot be trusted.

    Comment by mark — 8:33 pm February 7, 2012 #

  9. I am just glad someone pointed out the shortcomings of throttling the EB traffic to one lane. It would be open warfare on 99 and the “West Seattle Freeway” as the KPLU traffic reporter calls it (in a bit of of mid-90s time warp)…

    Comment by JayDee — 9:05 pm February 7, 2012 #

  10. Gee Whiz, good news, thanks to all who made it happen

    Comment by dsa — 9:15 pm February 7, 2012 #

  11. Glad these guys aren’t doctors.

    “We are going to need to amputate that leg.”

    “Wait, on second thought it is just a hangnail”.

    Comment by Robert — 10:07 pm February 7, 2012 #

  12. Amen Mark!

    Comment by Neighbor — 10:21 pm February 7, 2012 #

  13. While I am glad they have finally figured out a way to not have to close the eastbound lanes, I am struck by the amount of weasaling and spin on what appears to be past mistakes; any way to avoid admitting error. Maybe I’m wrong (and invite anyone to correct me), but:

    1. “SDOT says, they have figured out how to fit two lanes each way onto the new half of the SSV; they say they had been hoping all along to work that out, but it didn’t happen until after that briefing last week.”

    So they honestly had been trying hard not to close the eastbound lanes, during the whole years-long planning phases, but found it necessary up until last week, and JUST NOW came up with a MIRACULOUS DISCOVERY, immediately after mass gridlock and loud complaining? Sounds fishy.

    2.”We won’t know its condition till we get there. We have done examinations and testing, but that still can’t answer all the questions about what kind of repair work it’ll take. And those variables in turn mean they can’t say for sure when it’ll all be done…”

    Yes but can’t they estimate three probable scenarios: Best, average (based on their testing), and worst case, and give timelines for each? Looks like insufficient testing was performed or the contractor is taking SDOT for a ride. Cost-plus contract?

    3. “They say the steel is responsible for much more of the delay than the concrete re-do required when an alignment problem was discovered in the ramp’s very early construction stages.”

    Blame-shifting. To outside of SDOT.

    4.”The routing might be a little odd at times – ‘we don’t really know how the final paving is going to go, and the west end is the trickiest – it’s going to be messy’ – but they’ll do their best to keep things moving.”

    Wait a minute. Nobody knows how to do the final paving? What have the contractor built successfully before this project?

    5. “…they also noted that SDOT hasn’t ‘accepted it yet from the contractor’ – no final inspection yet – so there’s still a chance to make changes if real problems are discovered as it’s all being connected in the final stretch.”

    So– more delays from more re-do work?

    I wonder if they went with the lowest bidder?

    Comment by bolo — 12:21 am February 8, 2012 #

  14. “…SDOT says, they have figured out how to fit two lanes each way onto the new half of the SSV; they say they had been hoping all along to work that out, but it didn’t happen until after that briefing last week…” Ya, right!

    Comment by KT — 5:38 am February 8, 2012 #

  15. Your voices have been heard, West Seattle – this change came about because of our “input.” Continue to let SDOT know that we deserve better.

    Boggles my mind that they even CONSIDERED reducing Eastbound to one lane.

    Comment by sw — 5:59 am February 8, 2012 #

  16. Does anyone else see the concern of the middle two lanes? They are 10′ across, but they are further narrowed by the concrete barrier. I have seen the tendency of “nervous nellies” to cross over into the outer lanes due to this narrowness.

    Comment by Brian M. — 7:55 am February 8, 2012 #

  17. They knocked down half the viaduct and rebuilt an entire new elevated section and have had it open for months now in 1/2 the time this relatively puny project has been going on. I have counted 2 or 3 men at work MOST of the time on this project. It is very rare to see anything that looks like a full crew and then a whole of standing around and watching going on even then. This is getting ridiculous.

    Comment by chris — 10:06 am February 8, 2012 #

  18. I love how terrible this GC is. Never seen a construction project run so poorly, the who thing is one big disaster. I hope the city fines them for what a crappy job they have done. I have driven by many times to see two guys standing while one guy works. Skanska (the GC who is working on the Alaska Way stuff) is doing a stellar job though.

    Comment by Delridgian — 11:14 am February 8, 2012 #

  19. @bolo: You raise some good points. However I’m going to spend a couple of hours feeling complete relief before I go all the way to where you are already…

    Comment by DF — 11:14 am February 8, 2012 #

  20. None of this will really matter much since the REAL BOTTLENECK will remain. I’m speaking of the single lane from EB SSV & lower Spokane St feeding on to NB I-5. Without 2 lanes there, traffic will ALWAYS back-up to 99. It seems totally lacking in foresight, good planning, & good design. Another expensive public project that doesnt fix the biggest mess!
    Big dummies!

    Comment by Smeaker — 12:34 pm February 8, 2012 #

  21. bolo is spot on the mark with his comments above except maybe lowest bidder. The city should take the lowest *qualified* bidder, therein lies the rub. And the city should have geared up to properly manage this project long before it went out to bid. Now they are left to blaming others, and making last minute traffic fixes.

    Comment by dsa — 7:07 pm February 8, 2012 #

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