Timely topic: Councilmember pushing for bridge change


(photo by WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli)

During commutes like this morning, when something goes wrong with The Viaduct or the high bridge, many eastbound West Seattle commuters flock to the low bridge. Just one glitch with that: It sometimes opens for vessel traffic during peak-commute hours. That’s a sore spot for drivers such as WSB’er Jennifer, whose question about the situation was featured here last November. West Seattle-dwelling City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has been pushing for rush-hour restrictions, especially as traffic-affecting work on the Spokane Street Viaduct section of The Bridge gets closer, and talked to WSB about where this stands:

Right now, the low bridge opens “on demand.” The city Transportation Department notes that vessel traffic has right-of-way over vehicle traffic.

Rasmussen hopes the city and other affected agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, can reach an agreement to keep the low bridge from opening 7-9 am and 4-6 pm on weekdays, unless tide conditions and vessel size combine to require an opening during one of those periods — and there aren’t too many such cases, according to this passage from a city report completed last month, looking at low-bridge openings and related factors during a 3-month period last summer and fall:

There were a total of 598 openings during the study period, of which 68 were peak period openings and of those there were only 17 vessels passing that carry more than 5,000 tons of cargo. Our request would not impede those tide dependent vessel and would allow them to pass without delay during peak periods.

Overall, that report found that the bridge opens an average of 23 times per month during the aforementioned “peak periods” for vehicle traffic, and each opening lasts from 5 to 43 minutes. The report also analyzed how much the delay adds up to, for the eastbound morning commute alone:

The data shows that as vessel traffic increases delay to surface traffic increases. Currently, there is an average of 12 minutes of delay incurred by each vehicle caught on the lower level bridge in each direction. The bridge opens 9 times each month during AM peak; assuming each event is catching approximately 70 eastbound vehicles, over the month there are 630 surface vehicles caught in the delay equating to 126 hours of delay every month to AM peak eastbound surface traffic due to the bridge opening.

In addition to that, the report notes, the high-level bridge then gets the hundreds of cars whose drivers saw the “use high-level bridge when flashing” lights in time to divert. (Note that the low bridge is the only option for bicyclists and pedestrians, who were not measured in this analysis.)

When the report was completed in early February, the city sent it to the USCG as part of a formal request for the bridge-opening restrictions.

So then what happened? Councilmember Rasmussen says the city hasn’t heard back yet, but will seek an official response on the status of the request if there’s no word by the end of this week. This is an issue he’s been working on for a while; his staff says Rasmussen first met with a local Coast Guard official in late 2006 and told SDOT the USCG was willing to discuss the situation, but this apparently languished for some months without followup, aside from a temporary moratorium on AM-peak bridge openings during Freeway Fright ’07 last August.

We’ll let you know what happens next. Meantime, while we were talking with Rasmussen, we asked what he favors as a replacement for the “Central Waterfront” section of The Viaduct that Gov. Gregoire says will come down by 2012, one way or another: “I don’t want to see an elevated structure,” he says. “I would like to see an alternative to get to and from downtown without that — and to address the through-traffic beyond downtown, how we are going to get everyone through there.”

Coincidentally, city councilmembers are scheduled to get a comprehensive update this afternoon on where the planning stands for Viaduct replacement — all sections and related projects, not just the “Central Waterfront.” As of this writing, we’re planning to cover the briefing, since the 99 corridor is such a crucial connection for West Seattle.

8 Replies to "Timely topic: Councilmember pushing for bridge change"

  • Scott J. March 3, 2008 (1:43 pm)

    Sounds great. Now if they can just get the trains to stop blocking the streets on the other side of the bridge during rush hours, we’re all set.

  • miws March 3, 2008 (2:05 pm)

    Heh, this (including Scott’s comment) is like flashing back 30 years! :P


    When the plans were being made for the new high-rise, after the ship hit the span, it was originally planned to refurbish the remaining, original bascule bridge, once the high-rise was fully completed.


    The Port cried “No! We want a widened and/or deeper channel for ships to pass through!” However, and I don’t remember if this is fact, or my opinon at the time, that the Port was too cheap to fork over more of it’s share of the cost, to build the new low-level as a four laner.



  • LiouxLioux March 3, 2008 (2:39 pm)

    Aside from pure laziness, this is a major reason I don’t ride my bike to work. You can take your chances and make your way down to the 1st Ave bridge, but you have to dodge even more semis getting there and back along W Marge, not to mention that the route is paved in glass shards.

  • Pete March 3, 2008 (3:13 pm)

    I spoke to Grace Crunican about two weeks ago about this very subject. I asked her for a copy of the letter that was sent to the Cost Guard but have not received it yet. If this is too happen many West Seattle folks are going to have to write letters to make the point that this is a huge problem.

  • WSB March 3, 2008 (3:46 pm)

    I’ll add those docs later – should have linked for starters – working remotely now (at council viaduct mtg, more later on that) and don’t have full access.

  • JE March 3, 2008 (4:11 pm)

    A perfect example of why grade separation is a crucial consideration for transportation. When two modes have to share the same space, one has to wait. If they don’t share the space (they’re grade-separated) nobody has to wait. Same issue with the trains Scott’s talking about.

  • Al March 4, 2008 (9:17 am)

    I ride my bike every day for commuting and the bridge is rarely an issue. Maybe once every month or so I get caught – for some reason, more often in the summer (and then it’s not so bad – it’s an amazing view up there!). Plus, it’s not a long wait on bike since you can pass all the stopped traffic.

    I also find that along Alaska Way South the semis are not the problem, but the auto traffic that is dangerous – speeding, not yielding, blazing through red lights (not yellows, but RED lights at a high rate of speed – yes, yes some bikes do this too but they are not going to kill anyone but themselves, cars are another matter), dangerous passing (there is no ‘passing’ zone on Alaska, it’s a turn lane and a parking strip), etc. I don’t argue about the glass and other debris along the roadway though. There are good heavy-duty tires and liners that work wonders if you look into it…

  • Jason March 4, 2008 (11:11 am)

    This is a great idea. It wouldn’t be that annoying except it can take 20+ minutes to complete and totally screws up my commute.

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