Light at end of the tunnel – rather, bridge – for new 1st Av. S. ramp

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project is unmistakably into its end stage – and “it may look done to the public” – but it’s not done, and there’s still a lot going on, according to the project team.

We heard from them at noontime today during the final meeting of a community task force set up to address communications challenges after the February closure that caught many by surprise.

So there’s still no date for the opening of the new 1st Avenue South on-/offramp, but project manager Stuart Goldsmith told the task force he expects they’ll be able to establish one “in 10 days or so.” Once they know the date the ramp will be ready, they’ll plan a ribboncutting for that date and get it open to the public ASAP, promises SDOT.

So why is this opening so much later than originally estimated? We asked that question, and Goldsmith gave a detailed reply. Believe it or not, the project is under budget and the contractor is still within the amount of “working days” in the contract – the explanation, ahead:

We first reported on the impending project in May 2008. But that, Goldsmith began, was more than a year before they awarded the main contract for it – here’s our report from September 2009, at which time SDOT said the project was expected to be “substantially complete” by the end of 2011 – a status which it now is expected to achieve sometime next month.

The point that has brought the most pain for West Seattleites, however, has been the lack of a westbound onramp to the bridge. The old 1st Avenue South onramp closed for demolition in May of 2010, at which time SDOT expected the new ramp to take as little as 16 months to build – the current almost-complete process has stretched a year beyond that.

To be fair, Goldsmith points out that another key part of the project, the 4th Avenue offramp on the eastbound side, finished “three or four months” early. (It opened in August 2010.) One reason for that, says Goldsmith – “we didn’t have to worry about coordinating with the railroad,” which has been a factor for the other side of the project. 4th Avenue was also in an area where “we could seal off and build,” and it wasn’t a retrofit, so it was “much easier to forecast.”

The widening project, including the new 1st Avenue on/offramp, though, “got off to a bad start,” he acknowledged. “There was a dispute among bidders the first time we advertised the contract,” and the rebidding process pushed the “notice to proceed” back 4 months past the original schedule.

The volume of work has changed too, he said – they’ve added some work along the way “based on things we saw that should be improved” and that added another six weeks or so to the “actual schedule time.” In addition, their original projections were “off a little bit,” he says: “Part of it was the difficulty in retrofitting an existing structure and controlling traffic above and down below – we just could not close things off the way we wanted to for the most efficient construction.”

That slowed the work down in terms of your calendar and mine – but “From the perspective of the contract, they’re not late, believe it or not,” Goldsmith insisted. “They have a set amount of ‘working days’ based on the project, not calendar days, and not every day during the project is a working day – bad weather could push the calendar out, change orders – and we did have a lot of change orders on this project, as we anticipated. Again, it’s a retrofit. We didn’t know what the problems were until we dug in.”

That included the early digging – for the shafts supporting the new construction – though Goldsmith says that went fairly well, despite running into “some obstructions.” But overall, “the calendar (started) to drift from all these little things. The contractor right now has until October 3rd to finish the project. Beyond that, we start charging liquidated damages.”

He doesn’t expect that to be necessary. However, project engineer Darin Stephens cautioned that October 3rd isn’t the last day you’ll see work in the area – “substantial completion” doesn’t mean every last thing is done. They’ll still have “punchlist problems.”

Since Goldsmith didn’t mention it in his extended answer to our “why later than projected” question, we asked about the 1st Avenue ramp’s specific problems along the way – the concrete that had to be torn out, the steel girders that took a long time to arrive. Those were subcontractor problems, he noted, with one revelation: At one point, the 1st ramp had been on the “critical path” – a core group of items to be done in a certain order – but “because of the slippages, it came off the critical path, and we started working around it and went on,” though that “delayed the efficiency of the contractor’s work.”

The contractor built in some cushion, expecting to originally finish “well in advance of (using up their) working days,” according to Goldsmith, while now they are pushing right up against the allotment.

It’s expected to finish under the $163 million project budget, he says, though he didn’t want to estimate how much under. The total itself is a downward revision made along the way (our past coverage indicates it was a $169 million estimate at one early point).

Key points in what happens next, while they continue working to a point where they can pick a date to open the 1st Avenue on-/off-ramp:

*Next week, Wednesday night 8/15 and Thursday night 8/16, the eastbound SSV will close 10 pm-5 am. Then on Friday morning 8/17, the eastbound Harbor Island onramp to the SSV will reopen to traffic.

*Monday night 8/20 and Tuesday night 8/21, the westbound SSV will close overnight, 10 pm- am.

*Monday 8/20 also marks the start of a closure of up to five weeks for the eastbound 1st Avenue South offramp (the 4th ramp will remain open) and the eastbound surface roadway between E. Marginal and 1st So.

*Wednesday 8/22 and Thursday 8/23, the eastbound SSV will close 10 pm-5 am.

Again, by then, if the projection offered today bears out, we should at least have a date for the grand opening of the new 1st Avenue on-/off-ramp on the westbound side – after more than 2 years of no access to the westbound bridge between I-5 and 99.

Our 4-plus-year archive of coverage of this project can be browsed here, newest-to-oldest.

24 Replies to "Light at end of the tunnel - rather, bridge - for new 1st Av. S. ramp"

  • DB August 10, 2012 (1:27 pm)

    Yay! There is nothing more frustrating than getting caught behind a “building” train on the way to the lower bridge.

  • coffee August 10, 2012 (3:22 pm)

    Just wondering why the repaved areas are now having sections cut up and replaced before traffic is even driving on it. I noticed this while slowly driving yesterday.

  • Harry Reems August 10, 2012 (4:08 pm)

    My favorite memories involve being stuck behind a “building train” for a 1/2 hour and then getting stuck in a lower bridge opening for another 20 minutes.

    It’s amazing what we will endure to live in the best part of Seattle.

  • rw August 10, 2012 (4:26 pm)

    One question I’ve had is why they didn’t repave the eastbound First Ave. offramp when it was closed for a few weeks. It’s a suspension-jarring mess. In fact one day when I was on the offrramp and waiting for the First Ave. light to change the panhandler there was scooping up gravel and rocks to patch one of the worst potholes at the bottom of the offramp. I gave him a few bucks for his thoughtfulness and industry.

    • WSB August 10, 2012 (4:47 pm)

      That, I believe, is what it happening in the subsequent closure. They promised us during our walking tour a month or two back that it was part of the project.

  • Mack August 10, 2012 (7:06 pm)

    A ribbon-cutting ceremony? Don’t pat yourself on the back for this cluster * and just open the darn ramp!

  • boy August 10, 2012 (7:40 pm)

    Are the contractors getting penalized for taking longer then they said it would take?

  • Yikes August 10, 2012 (8:07 pm)

    Since they are way over the time the on ramp was suppose to open, how about they skip the ribbon cutting and just open the damn thing. Or do the ribbon cutting at 3 am and the politicians can still get their photo op.

  • Lola P August 11, 2012 (2:53 am)

    And in the meanwhile, WashDOT has taken down part of the viaduct, built a parallel roadway that’s open and functional, gotten 3/4 of the way into opening the viaduct alternative, and retrofit the existing portions of the viaduct (more than once). All while dealing with the Port and the railroads. Something is seriously missing in SDOT’s explanations.

  • Jack August 11, 2012 (9:24 am)

    They also had to tear down the ramp that was nearly complete because they measured it wrong. I didn’t see that key issue called out in his very long list of excuses. They need to just get the ramp opened ASAP, I have not seen a person working on that portion for weeks.

    • WSB August 11, 2012 (9:29 am)

      That is mentioned and linked in the story.

  • CandrewB August 11, 2012 (7:25 pm)

    Lola P,thank you. The deficiency between WDOT and SDOT has been striking with these projects.

    Coffee, I was wondering the exact same thing. Why cut out squares in newly poured surface?

    • WSB August 11, 2012 (7:51 pm)

      Someone e-mailed me last night asking about the squares thing – I will ask the project team on Monday – it wasn’t discussed at yesterday’s meeting, though I was 15 minutes late and might have missed it in a status update.

  • D. Allen August 11, 2012 (11:37 pm)

    Mack, while i agree with your sentiment to open quickly, a ribbon cutting ceremony is hardly something to take issue with. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of men and women that have worked dilligent and hard on this project. Many of whom have likely worked long hours and in bad weather for the last few years. While there may be some frustration with the project management and the unforseen delays, you should not take away or take exception to a brief moment for these hard-working people to celebrate thier years of sweat. These men and women deserve a small ribbon cutting to recognize thier work. And the community should come to show it’s support for them.

  • Angie August 12, 2012 (9:26 am)

    2 years is a ridiculous amount of time to be without this important on ramp. It sounds like it was deemed important enough to be on the original “critical path” of the project but because they couldn’t do it, it gets quietly taken off and de-prioritized? That doesn’t make sense to me. I feel like the commute needs of West Seattle get ignored. Everyone wants a glorious waterfront that I guess we can look at while we sit in traffic jams.

  • w king August 12, 2012 (10:57 am)

    Seems everyone forgets to factor in the Railroad or dismisses the railroads. True at the Safeco Field for sure requiring an expensive overpass and rerouting of traffic. haven’t heard much regarding the Waterfront Tunnel and the railroad either but there’s a tunnel, tracks and right or ways to deal with. That SDOT hadn’t factored the railroad into their critical construction time line is dumb.

  • Harry Reems August 12, 2012 (4:45 pm)

    Forget a photo-op ribbon cutting for ineffective politicians to show off their “accomplishment”.

    And, the workers who toiled on this behind schedule project were very well paid, they have been thanked many times over.

  • Hey lady August 13, 2012 (6:41 am)

    Get it right. Make it safe. I can wait.

  • Charlie August 13, 2012 (10:13 am)

    Who’s the genius that has the 1st Ave Eastbound exit labeled as “Exit Only”? I have seen several hurried and unnecessary switches to the next lane due to this incorrect signage.

  • Teresa Rodriguez August 13, 2012 (12:02 pm)

    The First Ave. onramp IS on the critical path of most West Seattle commuters. We have endured months if not years of chaos commuting, per poster Harry Reems.

  • Steve Howard August 13, 2012 (6:24 pm)

    What happened to the comments regarding the steel fabricator? Did anyone contact them? Are we getting the whole story on delays? Why was there a reference on “seismic” issues?

  • Mark August 14, 2012 (10:03 am)

    Hey WSB when I drove across the bridge this morning the new eastbound lane (the one lane closed) was more than just a few squares… it almost looked like they were starting over… any word on if this was planned and what’s up?

    • WSB August 14, 2012 (10:14 am)

      Yes, I’m working on that story – supposed to get some photos from SDOT so was hoping to have those first – TR

  • Mark August 14, 2012 (11:14 am)


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