City officially requests temporary PM restrictions on “low bridge”

(WSB photo from October 2009)
In ongoing reports about the convergence of various road projects and their effects on West Seattle drivers, we’ve been talking about the impending closure of the 1st Avenue South onramp to the westbound West Seattle Bridge as part of the Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project, and how that will affect traffic. In particular, it’s going to mean many more vehicles – including buses – using the “low bridge” during the afternoon/evening rush hour (detour map here), with no access to the “high bridge” between I-5 and 99. Knowing this was ahead, the city asked the Coast Guard two years ago to consider restricting openings of the “low bridge” during rush hours; the Coast Guard said no. Now, as anticipated, the city is trying again – and City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen‘s office has just provided us with the official letter, sent this week. Specifically, they’re asking for restrictions between 3 pm and 6 pm weekdays, starting May 17, when the ramp is scheduled to close permanently (late next year, a new 1st Avenue S. on/offramp will be open), and continuing into 2011. As you’ll see if you read the letter, the city includes an example of how they expect traffic to be affected, for those flowing into the Delridge/Chelan/Marginal intersection on the bridge’s west end: Delays are projected to quadruple, from 40-ish seconds to 3 minutes. As for potential disruption of marine traffic, the city’s letter cites a one-year period in which about 30 vessels that had to go out at high tide went out during PM rush hour, and says those openings could be scheduled well in advance, with advance warning to drivers to plan around the bridge openings. So what next? The city is asking the Coast Guard to expedite review of its request – the request made in 2008 took months to review, but only six weeks remain until the 1st Avenue South ramp closes.

10 Replies to "City officially requests temporary PM restrictions on "low bridge""

  • JBL April 2, 2010 (11:42 am)

    oh boy….I really hope this gets resolved. Gonna be huge problems if it doesn’t.

  • Skeeter April 2, 2010 (11:50 am)

    Sure hope this works.

    But what about mornings? As a commuter from W. Seattle to Harbor Island, it seems to me that mornings are a bigger problem for traffic backups due to the bridge openings. I would request no bridge openings from 7AM to 9AM as well.

  • ltfd April 2, 2010 (12:33 pm)

    Good luck. The primary duties of the USCG include:

    Non-homeland security missions:
    (A) Marine safety.
    (B) Search and rescue.
    (C) Aids to navigation.
    (D) Living marine resources (fisheries law).
    (E) Marine environmental protection.
    (F) Ice operations.

    Homeland security missions:
    (A) Ports, waterways and coastal security.
    (B) Drug interdiction.
    (C) Migrant interdiction.
    (D) Defense readiness.
    (E) Other law enforcement.


    Just as cities can’t force trains to operate on a certain schedule to facilitate traffic flow (since trains are under federal jurisdiction), the same goes for navigable waterways. Asking for a “temporary” adjustment to openings of the Spokane street bridge might fly, but the City of Seattle’s “temporary” request extends into 2011.

    Good luck.

  • Johnny Davies April 2, 2010 (12:37 pm)

    As a commuter, it seems that the high & low bridges are more stressed during the morning commute. Evening rush hour for some strange reason is better on most days. Why not do it for both rush-hours? Or morning only? I wonder if the people deciding have ever done the west seattle commute for themselves..

    • WSB April 2, 2010 (12:46 pm)

      Councilmember Rasmussen, who led the last effort and is part of this one even more since he chairs the Transportation Committee, lives in West Seattle and definitely knows the homeward bound commute. In this case, though, the case they are trying to make to USCG is that westward (pm) commute will be SERIOUSLY affected by the closure of the westbound ramp. Nothing is happening in the eastbound direction with similar impact. They did try to get restrictions for both directions in 2008.

  • sam April 2, 2010 (1:11 pm)

    I am not 100% sure as I’ve usually come upon the bridge closure while it is already in progress, but how long does the opening and closure take from start to finish? just curious.

  • Franci April 2, 2010 (1:19 pm)

    Its been a while since I timed it. I got there once just as it was closing to auto traffic. If memory serves me correctly it took about 20 min. from closing to reopening. This bridge takes a lot longer to open/close due to its unique design.

  • JEM April 2, 2010 (1:23 pm)

    Evenings makes sense since it is the Westbound ramp that is closing. We still will be using the high bridge to go Eastbound/onto 1st.

  • wisepunk April 2, 2010 (3:05 pm)

    I got caught on it on Monday eve commute, on Tuesday I was able to see it opening before making the turn on to spokane street and I worked my way to the upper bridge. Last night I was the last car across and the bells shocked me as the gates were coming down right behind me. These ships seem to be using the commute time to cross more often as of late. Probably want to get out to sea to make a bonus, or to get to the docks quickly so they don’t have to pay crews overtime.

    I think that when the 1st ave onramp closes I’m just going to go all the way down to michigan and take the high bridge. I have been that first car stuck at the bridge when 2 ships come through, and I have seen the bridge close only to open back up again. I value my free time too much to be stuck for an hour a half mile from home.

  • Spana April 2, 2010 (3:11 pm)

    I work in the SODO area and am dreading this. And I hate dreading things! Not like other people, who love it.

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