(Photos courtesy SDOT)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tomorrow starts the first full week of realigned traffic on the Spokane Street Viaduct – the official name for the easternmost section of the West Seattle Bridge, between Highway 99 and I-5.
After two weekdays with the SSV’s newly built north side handling all four lanes of bridge traffic, during the final phase of three years of work to widen the bridge, project-team leaders promised “tweaks” to the signage for one aspect of the realignment that caused more upheaval than expected – the new restrictions on the eastbound onramp that deposits vehicles on the bridge right before 99.
Those vehicles are now only allowed to go to northbound 99, rather than onto the SSV, but as WSB commenters noted, some semi-trucks, either out of surprise or defiance, were running through the upright lane markers on Thursday. SDOT asked the contractor to bring in some “double-collared” orange barrels on Friday, but that didn’t deter everyone, acknowledged project manager Stuart Goldsmith; project engineer Darin Stephens even got video of one truck driving on through.
We talked with Goldsmith, Stephens, and community-relations rep Paul Elliott during the second meeting of a community task force that’s getting periodic briefings on where the Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project stands in its final months. Friday afternoon’s meeting was scheduled before SDOT knew it would be making the lane switch on Thursday, but the timing proved fortuitous for discussing the changeover, as well as other updates.
SDOT acknowledges it will need to do more toward “getting the trucks to behave,” though it says jersey barriers are not an option, in case emergency vehicles had to get through. Task force participant Dave Montoure, West 5 proprietor and West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board chair, said it sounded as if the drivers were caught by surprise; going onto northbound 99 could be a costly detour if they are on a tightly scheduled run. He and another community participant, Vlad Oustimovitch, wondered how much outreach had been done to let truckers know. Goldsmith said the Port of Seattle was indeed informed about the changes for truckers, with the intent for them to share it with drivers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it got to all of them.
Flyers or posters available/visible at the terminals might help, it was suggested. SDOT says it’s working on signage that could be placed further west to catch truckers’ attention sooner, and they’ve changed the messaging on the existing signs to make it clearer. At the “point of decision” before going up to the elevated structure, a sign will be placed saying “99 only.” The project team says the signs should be in place sometime Monday. Last but not least on this topic – if you weren’t clear (we weren’t), the ramp restrictions will last for the duration of the project, till everything’s done – they are not a short-term change like the closure of the 4th Avenue ramp.
Speaking of ramps, the 1st Avenue South on-/off-ramp on the westbound side of the Spokane Street Viaduct was another major topic of the task-force meeting.
They say all of the steel is up and erected for the new ramp; the city has said that the girders were a source of major delay for getting the ramp done. In terms of whether anyone will be penalized for that, all the SDOT reps would say is that it is currently a dispute to be settled between the contractor and subcontractor.
Beyond the steel, they are doing “form work now on the onramp side of the “Y”-shaped structure, with the deck-concrete pour expected in early May, in hopes the onramp will be available to emergency vehicles coming to West Seattle from off-peninsula in case of major incidents, weeks before it’s actually open to regular traffic (which can’t be done till the entire project is complete, because of a lack of merging space, though the offramp side may open sooner).
Last but not least, overall timetable for the project was discussed. As has been reported, it’s contingent on how much work the old bridge deck requires before resurfacing. Here’s photographic proof of the shape it’s in:
Engineer Stephens showed spots where the existing concrete has worn through to the steel bars – and even some spots where the steel bars also have broken off/worn away. Project manager Goldsmith says that “in an ideal world, the entire bridge would have been replaced” – but that wasn’t considered to be feasible or affordable.
Preparing for work on the old side of the bridge, they’ll be doing “hydrodemolition” – a high-pressure, low-flow “scarification” to rough up the deck in preparation for resurfacing.
It will be done via vehicles – we asked what it would look like, and it was explained as what looks like the back of a flatbed truck plus a vehicle about the size of an ice-rink Zamboni; this could start as soon as Wednesday. They will even need to replace the steel bar in some spots. “It’s going to be a big operation,” said Stephens. “It’s going to get taken care of, and we’re going to do it right.” But since they don’t know exactly how much time it will take, that’s why the estimate is now “late summer.” The 4th Avenue South offramp is still expected to be closed for about 8 weeks, until the old bridge deck work in that area is done, and they can move further west, closing the 1st Avenue South ramp instead. The project team says that while that ramp is closed, it’ll get some resurfacing.
Bottom line, they still don’t know enough to estimate the project completion date with something more specific than “late summer.”
“We know it’s been a long haul,” acknowledged Goldsmith. “It’s understandable that a lot of people in the community are antsy. I wish we could go faster, but things have to be done sequentially.”
Our coverage of the Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project, dating back almost four years, is archived here, newest to oldest.