Spokane Street Viaduct updates: Truck trouble; ramp updates; old bridge deck, up close

(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.

19 Replies to "Spokane Street Viaduct updates: Truck trouble; ramp updates; old bridge deck, up close"

  • SageK April 15, 2012 (9:22 pm)

    Has there been any word on why the road is so uneven (it dips and rises) around the new 1st Ave Westbound On/Off ramp?

    Every time I drive over it I feels rather unsafe and I wonder if if was constructed wrong or if it will be filled in or what? You’d think that a road would be flat.

    • WSB April 15, 2012 (9:38 pm)

      Sage – I believe that has been explained as, once the whole thing is done, that will be the merging/exiting/shoulder area rather than part of the main drive lanes, so drivers won’t be hitting it exactly the way they do now while everyone is squeezed right to the edge.

  • JanS April 15, 2012 (9:23 pm)

    here’s a thought…put a police car at the place where semis are plowing through. Give the drivers a hefty ticket. A couple of those, and I bet they stop. Yes, it will screw up things to stop them and write a ticket…but sometimes one has to do what one has to do. And maybe SDOT should have been more forthright with the truckers about where they could go and not go during this time…ahead of time.

  • PSPS April 15, 2012 (10:16 pm)

    One reason the SSV needs “repaving” is because the asphalt that used to cover the concrete was removed when they installed the jersey barriers years ago and never replaced. It’s been bare concrete since then — something it was never designed for.

  • Barb April 15, 2012 (10:37 pm)

    Thank you, WSB, for ALL of the information you’ve posted about this project. This whole mess would have been so much MORE frustrating without your fantastic coverage.

  • Pibal April 15, 2012 (10:56 pm)

    Here’s a signage issue that needs to be dealt with…

    With access to the 4th Avenue Exit Ramp closed for now, you have to exit the SSV at 1st Avenue. The good news is that you can now continue past 1st on Spokane Street to get to 4th Ave. However, once you get to 4th Ave, left turns are prohibited! What?!?

    Let’s see… Follow the programmed detour to 4th Avenue and then you can only head southbound once you get there. It has to be an oversight. If it’s not, then more detour signage is needed on how to get to 4th Ave northbound without either an illegal left turn or a legal right turn followed by an illegal u-turn.

  • Eddie April 16, 2012 (6:19 am)

    Saw a double tank truck sitting at the verge on Saturday morning – on the verge of busting through the barriers, or getting detoured onto northbound 99. I’m sure he took his normal route, didn’t see or recognize whatever signs might have told him that access to I5 was detoured. He was really between a rock and a hard place at that point: blow through the barrier or figure out how to manoeuver off of 99 at Seneca and through downtown, at Western and through downtown, or illegally take flammable loads through the battery street tunnel.

    There was a trucker that clipped the historic pagoda in Pioneer Square (again) Friday and I’ll bet dollars to donuts he got surprised at the detour, chose the viaduct instead of blowing the barriers and wound up downtown with his semi.

  • CJ April 16, 2012 (8:42 am)

    Was my first morning with the new 4th avenue detour and I was very confused by the no left turn from Spokane. I took the illegal left (noticing the prohibiting signs too late) but would love to know what the correct detour route is.

  • angel April 16, 2012 (8:57 am)

    The 1st Ave exit when heading eastbound in the morning is a real choke point even on day ne of spring break … I wonder if lights can be adjusted at first ave while the 4th ave exit is closed??

  • Amber April 16, 2012 (9:11 am)

    Amen to Pibal! This must be an oversight.

    This morning I followed the SDOT instructions at http://onthemove.seattle.gov/2012/04/11/traffic-shift-for-eastbound-traffic-on-spokane-street-viaduct-tomorrow/ that says “Motorists who would normally use this exit [4th Ave] are instead asked to take the First Avenue S off-ramp and then proceed east on lower Spokane Street to Fourth Avenue S.”

    The only way to continue downtown was to make an illegal left turn. Which I did, though not happily.

  • KBear April 16, 2012 (9:56 am)

    Left turns from eastbound Spokane onto 4th have always been illegal, I think. The correct way is to proceed past 4th and turn left onto the U-turn route. Then you can turn right (north) and head into downtown. Anyone know if that route is still open?

  • Fred Johnson April 16, 2012 (10:10 am)

    “Bottom line, they still don’t know enough to estimate the project completion date with something more specific than “late summer”.”

    Me thinks SDOT is being “untruthful”. Per SDOT project specifications, the contractor is required to provide short interval schedules and a overall master schedule that must be regularly updated. Additionally, in my public works experience, the owner – in this case SDOT – typically also maintains their own version of an overall master schedule. I can tell you with all confidence that there is a real predicted substantial completion date. That date may move based on the duration of preceding activities.

  • Rumbles April 16, 2012 (11:49 pm)

    If the truckers are so bold as to run over these plastic barriers, how about closing the onramp (with jersey barriers or a police car) for a week or so. I suspect that will give them enough time to figure out an alternate route.

  • MB April 17, 2012 (8:01 am)

    I’m still confused WHY we aren’t being allowed to merge there, truckers and drivers alike. Is work even being done on that section during rush hour? I don’t get it. Seems like the kind of thing that should be closed at night or at least during off peak commuting hours. Not whining…I’ve already found my alternate route until this is over…but I honestly don’t understand the closure. Can someone “in the know” explain??

  • sw April 17, 2012 (9:24 am)

    We need to have SPD put a patrol car out for a few days, methinks. Witnessed a guy in a maroon Escalade blatantly drive over the yellow pegs this morning – nearly broadsiding me in the process. I’m certain this is fairly common, as many of said yellow pegs are at half mast.

    Part of the confusion with the ramp from below is that there are still two lanes that remain open to the merge point – I see many confused faces when they get to the top of the ramp and see that the exit they sought is not an option. You can tell that they are weighing the option of driving across.

    The biggest thing that would help is to get the section of outer barrier above the First Ave ramp finished so both lanes of that exit could be used.

  • KBear April 17, 2012 (11:48 am)

    Spike strips.

  • sam-c April 17, 2012 (11:59 am)

    spike strips sound like a great idea, until they work and then the spokane viaduct is down to one lane because a giant truck has 18 flat tires . lol (I know it wouldn’t get all 18 but I was just imaging the sight)

  • miws April 17, 2012 (12:53 pm)

    Saw a tanker rig heading south on First Av, presumably having exited 99N at Seneca, heading into Pioneer Square yesterday, shortly after first reading this article.



  • momkat April 17, 2012 (9:39 pm)

    Please get a traffic officer to monitor the barriers. A semi crossed in front of me this morning – very scary. Once I got to work and calmed down I called the non-emergency number to give the license. Hope there will be some consequence for the truck driver.

Sorry, comment time is over.