Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project: Touring the work zone

Photos and story by Patrick Sand and Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog co-publishers

Curving over 1st Avenue South, that’s the ramp West Seattleites have been waiting for since SDOT closed and demolished its predecessor two years ago, as part of the Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project. The new combination on-and-off-ramp for the westbound SSV isn’t expected to be ready for you to use until summer’s end – one year longer than estimated back in 2010 – but it’s getting closer:

That’s the view we had from halfway up the ramp during a tour with the project team on Friday afternoon. We saw what’s happening now and talked about what’s happening next – including the reason why the westbound SSV is now (as of 6 pm Saturday 6/9) CLOSED for the remainder of the weekend. Read on for details, including 18 more photos from our tour:

The tour was technically a meeting – for the informal community task force set up earlier this year, after a bridge-closure-communication snafu led SDOT to realize they needed to be more in touch with how construction closures/changes affect people who use the bridge. Our guides included SSV project manager Stuart Goldsmith and engineer Darin Stephens; we set out from the project office next to the SSV on 4th, first walking along the still-closed all-new westbound lower Spokane Street:

When we reached the almost-done new 1st Avenue South ramp, before turning to reach its entrance so we could walk up it – remember, it will no longer be a turn onto Spokane and up a ramp; the ramp starts/ends further north – we saw a worker removing forms that were in place for the concrete pour on the on-ramp side:

Atop the on-ramp side, a different view of the new concrete:

That side is further along than the offramp side to the south (together, they join the bridge as a “Y”), where the green rebar is very much in view:

A rep from Nucor was along for the tour and noted that the rebar we saw was made by his company, right here in West Seattle, from recycled steel. How could he tell, aside from direct project/contract knowledge? He pointed to an “S” you’ll see if you get a close-up look:

As mentioned previously, the westbound offramp at 1st Avenue S. may open to the public before the onramp, because it doesn’t require extra space for merging, which won’t be available until the entirety of the project is done. But you may see emergency vehicles use the onramp soon, since, as much of a hardship as it’s been for everyone trying to get back to West Seattle without access to the westbound bridge between I-5 and 99, there’s been even more at stake in case of emergencies – major fire responses bring crews from the other side of the bridge.

We walked back down the new ramp – which will be a one-way-each-direction straightaway to and from 1st – and beneath the SSV, where we looked at some of the work on the eastbound side of the lower roadway:

Turning up the 1st Avenue South offramp from the eastbound side, currently closed but expected to reopen by the morning of June 19th, we took a look at why it needs renovation work too:

The project team says that about 100 feet of the ramp will be redone in concrete, not just resurfaced – its ruts are visible courtesy of the rainwater that collected from showers before our tour. Up on the surface of the old SSV – now getting a concrete overlay up to 2 1/2 inches thick – we got a look at how much it had eroded:

(The Nucor rep, by the way, said the old rebar was NOT theirs.) We learned some new terminology, too. Like “slip form”:

That’s how the new raised barriers on the south side of the elevated roadway are being formed and set – and then the “slip form” moves on to the next section. On Friday, though, the major action involved a concrete pour:

A sizable crew was there, each with a specific role, such as making sure the truck was over a special fabric so it didn’t get oil/grease on the new concrete, or raking the newly poured concrete, or pushing the aggregate ahead to make sure it sealed properly atop the old surface:

There was one more sight to see atop the eastbound side of the SSV, and for that, we had to walk under Highway 99, the noisiest stretch:

We learned that this faded sign will finally be replaced, thanks to a deal between the city and the state – since it’s for I-5, it’s a state sign, though the SSV is a city roadway; the labor to replace it will be part of the city’s work.

Speaking of work, the project team has asked previously that drivers be reminded there’s a good reason to follow those lower speed limits in the construction zone – there’s just not much between the workers and the traffic. While up there – in hard hat, orange vest, and hard-tipped shoes – we got a firsthand look at that:

And then it was back toward the eastbound 1st Avenue South offramp to end the tour.

Close to the project office, a view of the north side of the all-new westbound SSV:

That’s the side closed this weekend, while yet more of the old surface gets the “hydrodemolition” treatment to prepare the old surface for repairs and new concrete. Since you will be driving/riding over that area when it reopens by Monday morning, it will be bumpier for about a week, the project team warns – but the resurfacing work is scheduled soon.

Here’s the full list of changes and closures for the next week or so.

One complication – though NOT directly related to the SSV project, the coming week also brings some overnight closures on nearby southbound 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct, so it’ll be a tricky week for nighttime drivers (and then next weekend, as listed on that same page, 99 closes both ways).

If you’d like to get updates directly from the project team, you can sign up for e-mail alerts with the box at the top of the SSV Widening Project home page.

17 Replies to "Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project: Touring the work zone"

  • Mark June 9, 2012 (7:59 pm)

    SDOT should subcontract all major work out and stick to filling potholes. One year late on a one year project?

  • cjboffoli June 9, 2012 (8:29 pm)

    Nicely reported!

  • old timer June 9, 2012 (8:44 pm)

    Thanks WSB!

  • anon June 9, 2012 (9:23 pm)

    Nice report, thanks for a great update!

  • Dave June 9, 2012 (9:37 pm)

    The majority of drivers on the SSV DO NOT obey the 25 mph posted speed limit. I do not understand why the city does not patrol this area for speeders. People need to SLOW DOWN!

  • miws June 9, 2012 (10:15 pm)

    …engineer Darin Stephens…


    C’mon, Darin, let your wife Sam twitch her nose, just this once, to get this project finished up right away! ;-)



    • WSB June 9, 2012 (10:28 pm)

      Aw, Mike. First time we met Darin, in fact, a couple task-force meetings ago, when I asked him his name, he said “Like ‘Bewitched'” – although I don’t believe he’s old enough to have seen that back when it was new. Unlike some of us. (And if anyone reading this has NO idea what we’re talking about (so funny to read the dispassionate Wikipedia description):

  • NW Momma June 9, 2012 (10:21 pm)

    Thanks for the report! Great that they’re using Nucor rebar! And glad you didn’t find a boozy scene like on 520…

  • Question June 9, 2012 (10:27 pm)

    I was thinking the same thing, a year late! Good lord what have they been doing all day? But hey at least we have variable speed limit signs on i-5.

  • susan dennis June 10, 2012 (8:19 am)

    This is an amazing report. Thank you!! I had a million questions and you answered every one of them. I live in Pioneer Square, not West Seattle, and, yet, find the WSB a critical piece of my personal daily news digestion.

    Thanks for all your great work every day. You make my life easier, better and far more interesting.

  • denise June 10, 2012 (8:53 am)

    Thank you WSB! Hey, maybe you should be in charge of SDOT!!

    • WSB June 10, 2012 (9:58 am)

      Couldn’t do that work in a million years. Not just the physical work of building it, but the plans and drawings and schematics it takes – during research, I sometimes wind up with a sheaf of those documents, with hundreds and thousands of tiny notations about measurements and materials and … makes your head spin. In this story, I point out the elongated time frame not to bash them but just, well, it’s a fact – the projection was originally 16 months and if the September reopening comes to pass, it will be 28 months. There were a few major speed-bumps along the way, including the girder steel – note the photos showing the curvature of the ramp, one reason, they say, that was a difficult situation:
      And before that, the mistake that caused a contractor to tear down a section and start over again:
      Estimates slip for almost every kind of project … people opening new restaurants or bars say they hope to be open by XX, and then it turns out to be one month, or two months, or three months later, or more, for a variety of reasons – often including permits – that aren’t necessarily in their control. (Happens to me too. At least once a month, you might catch me writing “we’ll have that story up by evening” and then it takes another day or two or three, or maybe never.) Not to say everything here is explainable or absolvable, but just some context.

  • timeslid June 10, 2012 (9:55 am)

    I would just like to add to the chorus of accolades for this report by saying that WSB is my number one go to resource for all aspects of life here on the peninsula. Thanks for filling in the details of what’s important and interesting.

  • Wetone June 10, 2012 (11:46 am)

    Great project, created some jobs for a few people. Most of them from out of this area. But in the end the traffic out of West Seattle will be the same as it was before they started this project. There is only one lane to get onto I-5 N/S and that is what causes the traffic issues. If anything it will make traffic worse as the city is using this (and tax revenue) for allowing all the up zoning in this area as they the city says we will have better access in and out of W/S. Wait and see with all the new projects starting and areas getting rezoned it will take 1/2 hour to get to I-5 at most peoples go to work time. Oh it already does.

  • Harry Reems June 10, 2012 (12:22 pm)

    Wetone is spot on. Until there are 2 lanes going onto I-5 N/S, the bottleneck on the West Seattle Bridge will exist.

  • Brett June 10, 2012 (6:47 pm)

    I doubt that a second lane on the I-5 onramp would help much. The northbound I-5 volume is so high that you would have 2 heavily backed up lanes vs. one.

  • WorldCitizen June 10, 2012 (6:52 pm)


    Man, I hate to admit it, but I think you’re absolutely right about this.


    At least the access to SODO should be improved, and there’s less of a chance drivers will die from an earthquake collapse. So not a total loss or anything, but still…bummer.

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