WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: New info revealed in briefing preview, including low-bridge needs

(WSB photo, Thursday)

As noted here earlier today, the City Council will get a briefing Monday morning on what’s newly dubbed the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge Safety Project – to address the cracking problem that led to the bridge’s sudden closure four days ago. Tonight, we have a preview, via the slide deck published on the city website:

(Or see it here in PDF.) Among the new information the slide deck reveals:

-Further details on the monitoring of cracks dating back to 2013

-One month ago, “Engineering consultant recommends reducing traffic load” so SDOT began “preparing for discussions with City leaders and community outreach”

-After an inspection on Monday morning, “Public and private sector engineers agreed that the bridge was no longer reasonably safe for ordinary travel” so the closure decision was made and announced “within hours”

No repair plan timeline or estimate, but it DOES appear they think it can be fixed. The presentation includes:

• Seek interim repairs with a goal of restoring some traffic
• Accelerate major maintenance/repair to extend bridge life by 10+ years

Also revealed: The low bridge needs some work: it’s described as the “deteriorating primary alternate
route” to the high bridge, with the recommendations:

• Continue weekly inspection and monitoring
• Complete load rating project
• Complete ped gate replacement
• Complete controls upgrade project
• Complete rehabilitation of the Pier
6 and Pier 7 lift cylinders

The slide deck also has an org chart of key members of the project team. West Seattle-residing Heather Marx, who most recently has served as “downtown mobility director” amid a construction crush, is listed as the project chief. (That wasn’t mentioned during our phone interview with her for this Wednesday night followup.) And the presentation’s last page, listing “next steps,” includes this one: “Conduct study to determine the structure’s remaining useful life (start fall 2020).”

90 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: New info revealed in briefing preview, including low-bridge needs"

  • Derek March 27, 2020 (7:57 pm)

    No way this doesn’t take a year or so. God I’m dumb for buying in West Seattle in 2020. 

    • Pilsner March 27, 2020 (8:58 pm)

      Dont feel bad. I regret buying here in 2010.

      • NotOnHolden March 27, 2020 (9:21 pm)

        Nonsense, your property value is probably awesome compared to your purchase price.

      • Smh March 28, 2020 (1:15 am)

        I feel bad for buying here in 1999.

      • Regret March 28, 2020 (4:24 am)

        I regret that you all bought in West Seattle when you did, too.  

        • Steve March 28, 2020 (11:12 am)

          I’m with you. 

      • Fitz March 28, 2020 (10:57 am)

        And I feel like the smartest guy in the world for getting out in 2018.  I’m still in love with 1990 West Seattle but that place has been gone for years.

        • Jim March 28, 2020 (3:14 pm)

          Low to no inventory, record low interest rates, and people not moving during this health crisis, has most West Seattle house prices still in the sellers market. Possibly still up this summer…. We still live in a highly desirable area! hang in there, don’t let fear get the best of you!

  • psps March 27, 2020 (8:56 pm)

    I wonder what role the charlatan Zimbabwe will play in this.

    • W March 27, 2020 (9:29 pm)

      Hopefully none. Hopefully he’s fired 

    • W March 27, 2020 (10:14 pm)

      Hopefully none. 

  • Andy March 27, 2020 (9:14 pm)

    I would love to see the bridge converted to bicycle only traffic during the repair. With all of the inexpensive e-bikes available, it could be a real alternative especially for the summer. What is the process to pursue this?

    • WSB March 27, 2020 (9:21 pm)

      I would suspect that for now, it’s not considered safe for anyone, no matter how light the load. But you can certainly make the suggestion. Hit everybody – councilmembers, the mayor, SDOT. Work with West Seattle Bike Connections (if you’re not already a member) and see if they want to agitate for it.

      • C March 27, 2020 (9:57 pm)

        Did you mean advocate?

        • WSB March 27, 2020 (10:23 pm)

          agitate. 1[intransitive, transitive] to argue strongly for something you want, especially for changes in a law, in social conditions, etc. synonym campaign agitate (for/against something) political groups agitating for social change agitate to do something Her family is agitating to have her released from custody.

          • Alan Singer March 28, 2020 (11:15 am)

            WSB is the best blog, with the best journalists, with integrity. Just a reminder all to show some appreciation for this amazing blog. Thank you WSB! 

    • Janelle March 27, 2020 (9:48 pm)

      I like this idea! If the engineers think it’s safe for bike traffic, I’m up for the adventure, count me in :)

      WSB, thank you for sharing the latest information!

      • Janelle March 27, 2020 (9:50 pm)

        Also, any news of our beloved turkey today?

        • WSB March 27, 2020 (10:24 pm)

          It showed up in High Point and then 35th/Edmunds.

          • Janelle March 27, 2020 (10:42 pm)

            Thanks :)

    • M March 27, 2020 (10:07 pm)

      I am a cyclist. The lower bridge bike lane is more than sufficient and safer. If you rode the upper bridge, you would have to exit on 1st or 4th Avenue into traffic versus you have a bike path to and on east Marginal Way.

    • bolo March 27, 2020 (10:54 pm)

      BTDT and have no desire to do it again. Trust me, you do not want to bike the high bridge, no matter how nifty the idea appears to you.

      While the low bridge cycle route is not ideal, it is way better and safer.

      • Janelle March 28, 2020 (7:38 am)

        Without driving on the bridge recently, hard to envision what the ride would be like, aside from the awesome view… Is it a steep ride? I do think it sounds fun, and with more people potentially bike commuting soon, and while trying to keep a distance from one another, possibly opening this up to bikes made sense to me from that perspective.

        I appreciate the creative idea, thanks Andy… we need people bringing forth ideas and solutions at a time like this.

      • Tsurly March 28, 2020 (7:44 am)


    • Eddie March 28, 2020 (7:37 am)

      Avid bike rider here, and no way (OK, once for fun) do I want to ride over that huge hill! Avalon is bad enough of a climb up from the beach, the bridge is much steeper.

    • Also John March 28, 2020 (9:51 am)

      I would love to see this happen….

  • Dmann March 27, 2020 (9:34 pm)

    I bought in 1979 and we waited 5 years for this bridge. I do not regret it at all.  No one is sure how long it will take for any repairs.   One year after starting  extended busses  the cracks  started.   A couple other factors come my mind including  all the cement trucks in and the  dump trucks  hauling out the  dirt to have a place to put that concrete.  More loads of rebar from the steel plant.  Truckloads of building supplies too.  And, what about all those backups during viaduct closure.  Maybe even the  pounding along the river for the new  deeper dock for the container ships. Hey even those containers on Harbor Island  were never piled the high.  But, I still love living here.

    • Silva March 28, 2020 (8:37 am)

      FYI, 80% of the bridge weight during traffic is the bridge itself.

  • Susan March 27, 2020 (9:35 pm)

    Not everyone in West Seattle works downtown or has light rail and/or bus options.  

    • Jenn March 28, 2020 (9:05 am)

      Exactly.  Many of us work on the east side.  Biking is NOT AN OPTION!!!!!!

      • Tsurly March 28, 2020 (11:22 am)

        I bike commuted from West Seattle to Bellevue every workday for six years; yeah it’s doable if your willing to put in the effort.

        • Fredrik March 29, 2020 (10:49 am)

          Cool I work in Everett.

          • Tsurly March 29, 2020 (12:22 pm)

            Your choice to do that commute.

      • Steven Lorenza March 30, 2020 (8:06 am)

        Commuting to the east side from West Seattle is a mistake.  Always has been.

  • dsa March 27, 2020 (9:55 pm)

    Has SDOT stated who their “private” engineers are?  Or are those engineers just friends of SDOT?  By now they should have hired a reputable *large* outside structural engineering firm.

    • WSB March 27, 2020 (10:24 pm)

      WSP is the consulting firm mentioned when I asked in the Wed. night interview, and that’s whose logo is on the visual used in that night’s story.

    • dsa March 27, 2020 (10:55 pm)

      Thank you, I did not know WSP is in fact Parsons Brinckerhoff.  They were trustworthy when I dealt with them.

      • WSB March 28, 2020 (12:53 am)

        Interestingly, Parsons Brinckerhoff was on the bridge’s design team, according to an old trade-journal article I just happened onto.

  • WTF March 27, 2020 (10:04 pm)

    A well planned and orchestrated event! Don’t believe their bulls–t!

    • Kimberly Valadez March 28, 2020 (12:19 am)

      That was my first thought too….

    • LK March 28, 2020 (10:12 am)


  • Mj March 27, 2020 (10:41 pm)

    WSP is a big boy/girl Engineering Firm.

    It’s so irritating the City’s continued failure to prioritize maintainence.  Hopefully after things get back to a semblance of normal the people will start electing people who will prioritize the boring basics.

    With car ownership you can either change the oil at the proper intervals and reduce the risk of engine failure or you can choose to use the oil change money and go out to dinner and risk a costly engine repair. City politicians chose the latter and now a costly repair and huge impact to WS residents has now incurred.

    • WS since 2000 March 28, 2020 (7:52 am)

      They didn’t choose’ the latter. They have limited funds because we have a ridiculous tax system, and can’t do everything.  If one had just enough money for rent and groceries, they might not change the oil on the car. And yes that would have consequences, but at least they had a roof and food. 

      • chemist March 28, 2020 (5:34 pm)

        The city passed a new tax on rideshares to help fund a downtown streetcar that’s blowing budgets like crazy.  SCCInsight’s report  on Inslee limiting government to essential actions because of open meeting issues during covid19 remote-ing makes it sound like the council might not be able to get a STBD replacement on the ballot by August.  SDOT needs to cancel the shopping shuttle ASAP and switch to maintenance mode.

        • Tsurly March 28, 2020 (8:43 pm)

          Take a break from chemistry and educate yourself of how federal transportation funding works. It’s not that easy to backtrack on funds you have applied for and accepted.

  • Westtie March 27, 2020 (10:45 pm)

    Conduct study to determine the structure’s remaining useful life (start fall 2020).”^^^^Does it mean the repair process will begin after the fall? 

    • WSB March 27, 2020 (11:18 pm)

      No if you look at the full page for next steps, they are:

      “•Expedite design and repair contracts
      •Implement initial steps to mitigate traffic impacts and
      identify further mitigations
      •Distribute communications and media materials
      •Conduct study to determine the structure’s remaining useful life (start fall 2020)”

    • Azimuth March 28, 2020 (12:09 am)

      Westtie, That made me go “huh?” too at first but I think it was meant to mean study the life after post-emergency repair. At least I hope so! 

      • Westtie March 28, 2020 (7:34 am)

        Yeah, I feel like my brain stop working properly after the covid-19 that make my husband lost both jobs, I lost one, apartment lease is about to end, then the bridge is closed which I have to put more miles and gas to my car since I work in the north end of Seattle. I sometimes don’t understand simple English anymore. So much information to take in one day. Hahaha

        • Janelle March 28, 2020 (11:01 am)

          Hear you Westtie… hang in there!

          I think all of our brains are a bit 🤯 right now

  • Brandon March 27, 2020 (11:29 pm)

    I’m curious about what the end of life plan is considering that it doesn’t appear to be that far away.   Brand new bridge?

  • AWS March 28, 2020 (12:45 am)

    Any chance the repair/replace work will tie into the light rail expansion?

    • WSB March 28, 2020 (12:49 am)

      Repairs, no, as light rail construction is five years away (assuming 976 doesn’t kill the funding).

  • Theresa March 28, 2020 (1:01 am)

    Why can buses and 1st responders only use lower bridge.Why can’t we “essentials” have access during this horribly  stressful already time!

    • AMD March 28, 2020 (4:23 am)

      Everybody that’s coming or going from West Seattle is “essential” in theory, since we’re not supposed to be out visiting friends and only going to the grocery store or essential jobs.  Opening the low bridge to “essential” workers would be opening the low bridge to everyone.

    • KingWallaWalla March 28, 2020 (6:50 am)

      If you think only buses, freight and 1st responders are using the lower bridge, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.  I drove the C line Wednesday and it was clogged with cars as well.  No one is enforcing this.

  • Beth March 28, 2020 (5:35 am)

    This is what’s called an incident within an incident. This is a main arterial and there is ZERO time to waste getting the West Seattle bridge repaired. Not spend months talking about but actually DO something.There should be some pressure placed on SDOT and 4th Ave. to do what’s right by the people. The madness that this will (is) part of their push their light rail / bus transportation / road diet agenda is not lost on (most) of us.

  • Beth March 28, 2020 (5:38 am)

    This is what’s called an incident within an incident. This is a main arterial and there is ZERO time to waste getting the West Seattle bridge repaired. Not spend months talking about but actually DO something NOW! Do not let them off the hook because they’re distracted by COVID-19! Do not allow them to drag their feet using the health crisis as an excuse to drag their get!There should be some pressure placed on SDOT and 4th Ave. to do what’s right by the people. The madness that this will (is) part of their push their light rail / bus transportation / road diet agenda is not lost on (most) of us.

    • LK March 28, 2020 (10:20 am)

      I agree on keeping pressure on SDOT but your suggestion that this is a conspiratorial plot by SDOT and the city is just plain ridiculous. You’re entitled to your opinion but it’s based on…..what exactly? Look at the cracking and how it’s rapidly changed over the last few months. 

  • Scott March 28, 2020 (8:12 am)

    I agree that “first responders” should include POVs for first responders going to and from work. Their personal risk and long hours should not be made worse during this crisis by adding up to an hour to their commute. 

  • Andrew March 28, 2020 (8:16 am)

    They should have started repairs on this situation when the cracks first appeared. Cracks under load have a tendency to propagate (grow) especially under vibration.

    • Tsurly March 28, 2020 (10:38 am)

      This also would have resulted in a closure, which would have all the fist shakers on here complaining that the city was overreacting.

      • Whenitrainsitpours March 28, 2020 (1:38 pm)

        I agree with Andrew.  At the very least SDOT could have begun the planning of emergency repairs and also planning a permanent repair at the same time they were monitoring the damage.  The fact that we have to wait for this planning to be done now,  then we will have to wait for the emergency repair,  and then we will have to wait for a long term solution clearly shows how little SDOT put into planning to mitigate a known risk.  The real extent of the traffic nightmare will be more visible when Covid passes but we should not wait until then to demand better. 

        • chemist March 28, 2020 (2:53 pm)

          I think SDOT doesn’t have specialized bridge engineers on staff, especially when it comes to damaged bridges.  They had to hire outside consulting engineers for that expertise (apparently after August 2019’s inspection they stepped things up, possibly even hired WSP).  I’m still upset that SDOT did so without alerting anyone at the city council/mayor’s office as the city was doing its budget work from July-November about this potential extra liability.

    • EngineerFred March 30, 2020 (9:38 pm)

      Certain levels of cracking are normal and benign for concrete bridge structures.  DOTs don’t have the kind of money necessary to conduct bridge repairs for any kind of cracking. You could argue that the history of widening shear cracks could have been addressed sooner, but from the little detail on those slides, it sounds like they developed a new structural model just weeks ago that better explained the damage. It’s not always easy to model what’s going on inside a unique, 36-year-old bridge. This damage in the year 2020 could be the result of an unknown design flaw in 1983 or a construction issue in 1984. Engineers three and a half decades later have to piece together the clues. 

  • LK March 28, 2020 (8:44 am)

    Not included, but hopefully part of the plan is sacking those responsible for creating this mess.  For what we’re all paying in taxes there’s absolutely no excuse for letting this critical and most used piece of infrastructure in the state to get to this point of deterioration. 

  • Admiral Mom March 28, 2020 (9:33 am)

    I really hope that they allow doctors, nurses, paramedics, etc who are off duty and trying to get to and from work to use the lower bridge. They are already working long hours and risking their lives for us right now. I don’t want to burden them at all. I know my husband is an essential worker for construction sites like hospitals, but we would both rather go around the long way and save the lower bridge for people who are directly on the front lines. 

  • C March 28, 2020 (9:48 am)

    Did anyone notice that the original design was for THREE lanes, not FOUR?

    • Brian March 30, 2020 (6:26 am)


  • Chad March 28, 2020 (10:31 am)

    So the slide deck only talks about short term plan.  Mentions once the life of the bridge 10+ years.  Where is the long term plan?  If the repairs will only extend the life 10 years, then what’s the plan after?  Might be better to bite the bullet now and start talking about a tear down and rebuild.  They should be exploring all options. 

  • AndiZ March 28, 2020 (10:43 am)

    So when will repairs start? 

  • J March 28, 2020 (11:02 am)

    Yes. Firing someone often helps to regain a feeling of control when in a helpless situation. It might do some psychological good. I would recommend reading Rust by Walkman for some perspective. In hospice I have seen the psychological power of “firing” people. We all want to feel powerful when we are at the mercy of physics, chemistry, and biology.  Loosing a feeling of control is worse than death for many people. Go ahead fire someone, whatever.

  • dsa March 28, 2020 (11:50 am)

    To quote from SDOTAccelerate major maintenance/repair to extend bridge life by 10+ years What does this mean?  The young bridge is at 36 years now.  Do they mean it might make it to 46 with the proposed maintenance/repair? Will it be allowed to operate with the extra added seventh lane and overweight vehicles?


  • 1984 March 28, 2020 (12:45 pm)

    Maybe,  everybody just needs more hugs. Firing people that show gross incompetence, has been a standard practice in the private business sector forever.  If you think it’s a conspiracy theory…. that the city isn’t doing some kind of “emergency” cash grab from the federal government on this, doesn’t understand politics.  Or  that they are trying to create yet again another RTA? Then you haven’t lived in this city long enough. Shore up the bridge with extra structure from the ground, or added structure under the bridge.  Girders, beams, trusses, pillars, build it and they will come. Allow limited traffic  over the bridge. And have gate guards that can close when the UW seismic sensors show earthquake activity. The bridge isn’t  going to fall down today or tomorrow, but either in an abundance of caution or strict adherence to new federal guidelines, and yes, more cracking, whatever it may be, after some strengthening, travel the bridge under your own risk, if you’re worried use first Avenue.  West Seattle should not be held hostage at least not for long. We were use to traveling on a damaged viaduct for decades and apparently we’ve learned nothing, do you think the city was magically supporting that structure? Interesting how our city is following this particular new federal guideline!?! If this was a different time they’d be cutting steel…. not closing bridge.waiting for the troll response for this! Remember, it is only an opinion, just as credible as your own. Haters gotta hate!

  • Clinker March 28, 2020 (4:01 pm)

    It’s going to be closed for 18 months. Anything sooner is unrealistic.Figure out plans/contracts: 3 monthsPlan shoring structures: 3 monthsBuild shoring structure: 6 monthsDo temporary repairs: 6 months

    • Derek March 29, 2020 (1:24 am)

      Better not take that long. Better be up by summer’s end. 

      • Brian March 30, 2020 (6:28 am)

        Or else what? Nothing, that’s what. Deal with it, we are all in the same boat.

  • ABridgeTooFar March 28, 2020 (4:14 pm)

    10+ years will go by in the blink of an eye. I also believe a longer-term plan is essential.

  • P. March 28, 2020 (5:32 pm)

    There are more essential workers than just medical personnel. People that work with the homeless and disabled are also on the front lines caring for a highly vulnerable population. Not all of us wear scrubs.

  • Felix Grounds March 28, 2020 (11:40 pm)

    Did anyone notice the picture in the slide deck of the bridge under construction.Half of the main span is cantilevered and fully supported on the eastern uprights… I don’t think the bridge is in danger of eminent collapse. 

  • Andrew March 29, 2020 (7:13 am)

    This bridge deck support is held by post-stretched concrete arches. It is not a simple cut-and-splice situation. The contractor chosen is world-renown and tackles the most complex constructions of huge projects. They have been around the block and have the reputation to perform. I don’t doubt that they can do the job, but the time required is unknown. The choice to use them is unquestionable.

  • A March 29, 2020 (9:56 am)

    This is a s–t show. I’m using the PDF presentation on this page.

     1. “Rapid and unexpected growth in
    cracks, over the course of days” — how is this possible for a major infrastructure and only bridge that connects West Seattle? Do the bridges connecting North and East Seattle ever have this issue?

    2. 84,000 vehicles (2019) use the bridge and you plan to re-direct to Holden St & 1st Ave? There would be outrage and backlash if it wasn’t for the coronavirus lockdown.

    3. Immediate full closure decided within 3/19 – 3/23. The “Next Steps” page show you have no real mitigation plan at all at the time of closure.

     Why is everything deteriorating in Seattle – the roads are shit, bridges near collapse, and new infrastructure are also subpar.

     I also regret f—ing buying in West Seattle. 

    • bolo March 29, 2020 (12:43 pm)

      To answer your question “Why is everything deteriorating in Seattle – the roads are shit, bridges near collapse, and new infrastructure are also subpar.”

      Because nobody wants to pay (think taxes) for it.

  • Lynn March 29, 2020 (11:11 am)

    Maybe I missed this part but are pedestrians able to walk under the bridge to West Seattle?

    • WSB March 29, 2020 (11:53 am)

      No walking/riding routes have been closed that we’ve seen. We’ve been up to the Marginal Place access point a couple times since the high-bridge closure.

  • Aerial Observer March 29, 2020 (12:40 pm)

    First, many thanks to WSB for excellent coverage of this critical situation, and for keeping comments in line. Panic, anger, and lashing out at SDOT, or at the leaders we all have elected, serves no useful purpose.

    Second, SDOT’s primary concern right now is keeping the high bridge from collapsing. If it takes out the low bridge, then we go from nine lanes of bridge to zero. Once the high bridge has been stabilized, we can plan on repairs. The best-case scenario is a ‘quick’ fix, which gets the high bridge back in operation sometime this Summer.  (The ‘good’ news is that we who are non-essential workers, or who work for essential employers but can work from home, need to plan on remaining homebound against Covid-19 until July at the earliest — with September a better plan. Our case numbers are still doubling every ~ 5 days, so we’ll have to curtail movement for quite some time to keep within our hospital capacity.)

    Third, if the useful life of the current high bridge is in the range of ten years, then planning for replacement must start NOW. Snark about “Seattle process” if you must, but the next high bridge will define West Seattle for decades. We’re past the idea we can just keep adding general-purpose lanes to “fix” traffic. We need to decide what mix of transit-only lanes, truck-only lanes, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and possibly reversible lanes we’ll want. (We could even have different access points — e. g., perhaps entrance/exits for Pigeon Hill?) Again, the ‘good’ news is we have plenty of time to think and converse about our options, costs, and possible plans forward.

    And once more, thanks to WSB for such great work!

  • Thomas M March 29, 2020 (2:56 pm)

    Fix the existing bridge… for its remaining useful life…  While using the repaired bridge, bring back Bertha and punch a tunnel under the whole shebang.    It was done in Istanbul under the Bosporus and Dardanelles.  The Brits and French have had the Chunnel forever.  Why would a Dumamish Chunnel be difficult?  At 5.4 kilometers the Istabul tunnel connects Europe and Asia.  Tunnel footage starts at 04:30.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSPFZRXfOTY  

  • Bob April 9, 2020 (11:41 pm)

    the bridge is already crowded enough please don’t use this as a excuse to take away another lane for a bike lane or expand bus lanes to squeeze traffic even more.  If you do, you should add lane and road maintenance to the transit annual budget for the portion cars aren’t able to drive on. As a non transit driver I am tired of paying for transit as a punishment for driving. If you build a tunnel make it a bus tunnel. Kick buses off the surface streets. 

    • WSB April 10, 2020 (12:13 am)

      “Punishment”? Do you understand how much worse traffic would be if the 17,000+ daily transit riders were all driving instead?

  • Andrew Krom April 10, 2020 (6:25 am)

    It would be good to know what the estimated structural load plus the safety margin that the bridge would support.  Back in the 1980’s there was maybe 1/3 of the traffic as now. Every morning the traffic is stuffed on the bridge deck for a good 3 hours. Then there is the additional load added from the 50-ton gross weight of trucks coming out of Nucor loaded with rebar.  I don’t believe the structural engineers could foresee the future expansion of West Seattle. The bridge isn’t strong enough to handle the worst-case service use.

Sorry, comment time is over.