WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Some answers, and some pictures. Plus, help for 1 overloaded intersection

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

New information from SDOT tonight about the cracks that closed the high-level West Seattle Bridge – and what’s being done, about them and about mobility while the bridge is closed.

It’s been two days since the sudden, shocking news of the shutdown. We have been requesting an interview with any available SDOT official; mobility director Heather Marx, a West Seattleite, was made available by phone a short time ago. They also have provided some imagery – above, where the cracks are – on both sides of the crest – and a look at them.

WHY SO SUDDEN: They’ve been watching cracks since 2013, but Marx says, every bridge they monitor has cracks, and they’re nothing to “panic” over. They were checked every year. Then in 2019, they noticed some growth, so they checked three times. In December, a lttle more growth, so they checked again this month. They checked the cracks on March 4th, March 6th, March 23rd, and that last check – this past Monday – showed such “exponential” growth that, Marx said, they realized “we really don’t have a choice – we have to shut it down, and we have to shut it down NOW.”

(Photo provided by SDOT)

The previous inspections had led to some caulking, Marx added – you might occasionally have noticed the bucket truck that hangs over the side of the bridge, with workers in it, doing that work. But this time, it was such “shockingly rapid deterioration” that closing the bridge was the only choice.

Why weren’t elected officials already in the loop? Marx said that just last week, SDOT was working on a briefing in which they would tell city leaders that the cracking problem would require traffic reduction on the bridge – and then the “acceleration” required the closure.

WHAT WILL BE DONE TO FIX IT? Right now they are working with consultants WSP to determine what kind of “immediate shoring” can be done “to be sure it doesn’t fall on the low bridge.” Whether that will mean they can reopen the bridge to some traffic, too soon to say. Then they will work on a design-build contract for whatever needs to be done long-term to save the bridge. Not fixing it is NOT an option, she reiterated, for those who are worried. It’s the busiest roadway in the city – 100,000 vehicles a day, 14,000 transit riders. “There’s no way we’re not going to fix it.” But it will be out of commission for weeks at the very least. Marx reiterated that 80 percent of the load on the bridge – a unique structure, in many ways – is its own weight. No idea yet how much the repairs will cost, short term and long term.

WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE GET AROUND IN THE MEANTIME? A temporary signal will be installed at Highland Park Way and Holden. This is not something that can be done overnight but Marx says it’ll be done soon enough to make a difference. Marx says they will still get to the rest of the Highland Park Way Safety Project but this is suddenly an emergency since so many more people will be using that intersection. Other plans such as Metro and Water Taxi changes are still under discussion.

WHAT ABOUT THE LOW BRIDGE? While police are being stationed at both ends during peak periods, Marx says the bridge will not have checkpoints – they want people to voluntarily reserve it for freight, emergency vehicles, and transit. For those who have asked, freight does NOT include package deliveries – they would like that traffic to use other routes.

More questions remain for more interviews, especially more technical insight into the cracking problem itself; SDOT is also planning an online update tonight, which we’ll link and excerpt when available. Again – no timeline for how long the closure will last, but it’ll be at least a matter of weeks, not days.

ADDED 8:06 PM: In a new online update, Councilmember Lisa Herbold mentions the SDOT briefing at City Council – mentioned during the original announcement/media briefing on Monday – is expected next Monday at 9:30 am. You should be able to watch via Seattle Channel.

ADDED MIDNIGHT: SDOT’s promised post hasn’t shown up yet, but we did find that the “West Seattle Bridge Safety Project” now has its own page on the SDOT website.

3:27 PM THURSDAY: SDOT’s promised post is up, with a bit more information on the pre-closure timeline.

146 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Some answers, and some pictures. Plus, help for 1 overloaded intersection"

  • JeffK March 25, 2020 (6:52 pm)

    Thank you WSB for following up!

    • Chris March 26, 2020 (9:25 am)

      Great follow up! Makes me less frustrated.

  • Theresa - Highland Park March 25, 2020 (7:01 pm)

    Highland Park Way & Holden is finally getting a signal! I can’t wait. Hopefully they replace with a permanent one. 

    • Kc March 25, 2020 (8:38 pm)

      Nothing more permanent then a temporary something😁 

  • Yikes March 25, 2020 (7:03 pm)

    I hope this quiets some of the critics who were screaming about incompetence or some kind of cover-up. That kind of rapid deterioration is frightening. Very cool to see the inside of the bridge!

    • Charlie March 26, 2020 (9:44 am)

      This proves the critics correct.  SDOT should have been fixing this all along.  Seattle government is the worst.

      • Another Charlie March 27, 2020 (3:07 pm)

        “Should have been fixing this all along”  implies knowledge of some unexecuted repair was ignored.  There is no available repair in place of such a structural component.   Accelerated  monitoring, (depicted in the photos),  determinedthe flaw was advancing and pulled the bridge out of service  BEFORE catastrophic failure occurred.  Perhaps you withold your particular knowledge that: #1 DOT failed to develop replacement opportunities in parallel to monitoring; and/or #2 DOT failed to use engineering sciences and proven best practices to conservatively determine the balance point to maintain utilization of hugely important infrastructure versus public safety. You either:- Owe the community access to this knowedge of incompetence  — so we can purge the organization for our safety or – Sit tight and let  emotional finger-pointing settle quietly within insult recipients’ peaceful grace and patient accommodation.Yes this will be costly and painful. We should not follow the sequence of :– READY– FIRE– AIM

  • Commuter513 March 25, 2020 (7:08 pm)

    So…this just proves they KNEW it was an issue as early as August last year and did nothing. They could have begun repair work back then and avoided this whole mess. Someone needs to be fired immediately. 

    • CAM March 25, 2020 (8:03 pm)

      I think you missed this part: “The previous inspections had led to some caulking, Marx added – you might occasionally have noticed the bucket truck that hangs over the side of the bridge, with workers in it, doing that work.”

      • Commuter513 March 25, 2020 (8:32 pm)

        They recognized growing cracks and their solution was to put caulking on it? Yeah…THAT’S a load of horse crap. A bridge this important doesn’t get the Macgyver fix. It gets a long-term resolution, which they could have started last year. Instead they essentially slapped some duct tape on a leaky pipe. This caulking was as useful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sank. They KNEW trouble was coming and chose to delay repairs until the last possible moment  

      • Bob March 26, 2020 (8:04 am)

        Because everyone knows caulking fixes structural issues. 🙄

        • Brian March 26, 2020 (12:33 pm)

          Newsflash: concrete cracks. Small cracks do not necessarily mean a structural issue. However, a fairly rapid growth in the size of an existing crack is something to pay attention to. 

    • WR March 25, 2020 (8:13 pm)


      • WR March 25, 2020 (8:29 pm)

        I mean EXACTLY they need to be fired. 

    • IfYouWon'tThink March 25, 2020 (8:55 pm)

      Crack growth does not necessarily mean a problem. All cracks will occasionally grow; given that most bridges have some cracks, losing one’s head over a single instance of growth would permanently remove all bridges from service. The emergency here is that, having taken notice of damage and increasing monitoring like responsible public servants, they recorded multiple instances of accelerating growth in a short timespan, suggesting that the bridge is currently unstable and unsafe. If they’d moved to repair the bridge earlier, when it wasn’t necessarily critical, they would have A) been focused on long-term solutions that would probably have closed the bridge anyway (which, if you’re keeping track, solves none of your complaints), and B) had to take funding from other ongoing projects (which would delay everything and spark a year of complaints and abuse from a frequently obtuse populace) for no pressing reason.

  • Islander March 25, 2020 (7:12 pm)

    Busiest roadway in the city had an ongoing issue (SINCE 2013) and SDOT didn’t take steps to warn City Council OR include the need for work in their 2018 Levy workplan report ?? Absolutely inexcusable

    • chemist March 25, 2020 (10:50 pm)

      I’m going to speculate that the shopping shuttle 1st ave streetcar review going on in mid 2018 through mid-2019 might have made some folks hesitant to announce another bridge potentially needing $$$$ for repairs.  It’s easier to dismiss one bridge in Magnolia when there’s some pretty significant other bridges.  I think West Seattle is a tad bit more isolated without the high bridge compared to Magnolia.

    • Mark47n March 26, 2020 (4:44 am)

      Perhaps if you read more carefully there was no substantial growth in the cracks between 2013 and 2019 when they notice growth and aggressively stepped up the monitoring prior to closure.Bridges get cracks. Ferries, which I presume you ride daily on your way to cross Seattle’s bridge, get water in their bilges which doesn’t indicate a problem unless it happens to fast. Houses, when old enough, develop cracks in foundations.Pearly clutching and whining (a trait which is so prevalent in this region) about this isn’t productive and willfully ignores that if they’d closed the bridge a few months ago, or when the normal and acceptable cracks had first surfaced, it would still lead to the same traffic issues that are now being experienced.So, I recommend that people make their peace with being inconvenienced or move to a different area where they won’t have to cross this bridge everyday.     

  • Pilsner March 25, 2020 (7:16 pm)

    Ok,  I got this. Bolt in a few mending plates. Install a suspension system for the center deck segment. DONE. Also, did the City of Seattle get the extended warranty package?

  • Hannah G. March 25, 2020 (7:20 pm)

    If this were China they’d have a bridge retrofit in place in about 48 hours. But alas, we live in the “greatest country in the world.”  

    • CAM March 25, 2020 (7:59 pm)

      There’s lots of reasons dictatorships can pull off those kinds of feats and you wouldn’t like to live with any of them.

      • old timer March 25, 2020 (8:41 pm)

        Jeanette Williams and Scoop Jackson got us that bridge in real quick time when the lower one was rammed.  It’s just too bad that the quality of our “public servants” has degraded so severely over the decades.

        • KBear March 25, 2020 (8:54 pm)

          Um, the bridge that is now falling apart 

        • Sehome March 27, 2020 (9:28 pm)

          I thought it was Williams and Warren Magnuson.

      • Alkiron March 25, 2020 (8:50 pm)

        you must be kidding. construction projects in Germany take fore ever!

        • Gregory Cooper March 25, 2020 (9:51 pm)

          Lol it’s like no one is ever happy. I don’t really care what led to this. The fact someone had enough balls to close the busiest bridge in town indefinitely tells me it’s serious. It’ll get fixed quit bitchin about it. Fix it before it’s needed and it’s just another waste. Fix it when it needs it and it’s why didn’t you fix it earlier. Here’s an idea, apply for the job that determines what gets fixed when and see how fun it is to allocate 50mil a year for 300mil a year maintenance. Bridges all have cracks, it’s normal stress relief. When the crack starts growing faster than normal then the tension is lost in the slab and that’s when it becomes deadly. 

          • Kevin March 26, 2020 (7:07 am)

            1st educated answer yet, thank you

      • Friend O'Dinghus March 25, 2020 (9:11 pm)

        Like that Chinese designed super fast pedestrian overpass at Florida Atlantic University?

      • Derek March 25, 2020 (9:29 pm)

        Link? I’d like to see proof. 

  • Jonathan March 25, 2020 (7:23 pm)

    how about Metro putting a bus stop at the light on Harbor Island to help out those of us who actually work on the island?  That way we can take public transportation to at least get us close to work

  • bolo March 25, 2020 (7:33 pm)

    We know that salt corrodes, deteriorates, and damages concrete and steel structures. Did SDOT do the necessary cost/benefit analysis for its liberal usage of salt on the bridge over recent years?

    • CAM March 25, 2020 (8:01 pm)

      Cost: possible deterioration of concrete (which isn’t even confirmed) Benefit: people not dying in massive multi car pileups. 

    • Brayton March 25, 2020 (8:08 pm)

      Salt damage was my first thought, too. Surely there are alternate materials to use. 

      • Rumbles March 25, 2020 (8:39 pm)

        Alternative to salt?  Good idea, ask some of the Midwest states what they use…

    • wsresident March 25, 2020 (8:13 pm)

      Maybe the sand only approach from 2008 wasn’t so bad after all.

      • Chemist March 25, 2020 (8:21 pm)

        I have been amazed at how after every bridge inspection closure there was still significant debris and plants growing in the rain drainage grates along the bridge.  It’s like nobody was cleaning them.  

    • S - in West Seattle March 25, 2020 (8:36 pm)

      The lower bridge need to be open to Nurses snd Dotors during tjis Corona time. We cannot have them tangled up in traffic during this time. 

    • Sue H March 25, 2020 (9:22 pm)

      The New York City area has a ton of bridges and they use WAY more salt on the roads than they’ve ever used here – their bridges are not deteriorating at this rate. It may not have helped the situation, but salt alone didn’t do this.

      • Matt P March 25, 2020 (9:58 pm)

        Their bridges are also metal and not concrete.

        • SB March 26, 2020 (8:59 am)

          True, but elevated roadways such as the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the FDR, portions of the WestSide Highway, not to mention all the on/off ramps to those metal bridges? Concrete.

  • Roms March 25, 2020 (7:35 pm)

    Could the pile driving for Harbor Island and the resulting vibrations be a factor for the quickly growing cracks?

    • justme March 26, 2020 (1:35 pm)

      Insightful comment. I hope this angle is being pursued- the Port (or their insurer) could be a funding source for the fix.

  • Angry March 25, 2020 (7:42 pm)

    This interview has CYA all over it.   The cracks grew “exponentially”.   Someone was asleep at the wheel obviously.   The mayor needs to get a handle on this problem and then clean house.   These people are incompetent and can’t be trusted to keep our bridges operational and safe.Can’t the city open the lower bridge to regular traffic during low-traffic hours, say between 8pm and 530am?   That would allow the early birds to get off the peninsula and shouldn’t interfere too much with bus/truck/emergency traffic.  At least try it?

  • beanie March 25, 2020 (7:46 pm)

    I know the situation is awful, but I’m grateful they are taking this seriously and maybe prevented an even worse disaster. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision.

  • Mike T March 25, 2020 (7:56 pm)

    From Post: “In December, a lttle more growth, so they checked again this month. They checked the cracks on March 4th, March 6th, March 23rd, and that last check – this past Monday – showed such “exponential” growth that, Marx said, they realized “we really don’t have a choice – we have to shut it down, and we have to shut it down NOW.”

    This event is not normal, and we were all taken back by the abrupt announcement. Could testing have been done sooner and more frequent? Sure. Would we want to pay for that frequent testing? Likely, no. I’m just glad SDOT caught it in state where we are talking “repairs” as opposed to “replacement.”

    • J March 25, 2020 (8:41 pm)

      Full analysis and planning is not done. We could be looking at replacement.  Closing right now just means it didn’t collapse at rush hour, killing hundreds of commuters.

  • UnderAchiever March 25, 2020 (8:02 pm)

    so the traffic signal can’t be done immediately.  why not have a traffic officer in place to direct traffic?  that could be done immediately.

  • Joe March 25, 2020 (8:04 pm)

    Any update on Lisa Herbold’s idea of letting health care workers use the lower bridge?            

  • andrea helman March 25, 2020 (8:10 pm)

    How about some really specific suggestions for those of us who know but one way! the bridge!

    • Curtis March 26, 2020 (1:36 am)

      Google Maps

      • EH March 26, 2020 (11:32 am)

        I use Waze App. It’s extremely useful and gets updated with all the road closures and traffic jams.  

  • Failure March 25, 2020 (8:11 pm)

    The fact that a bridge which serves 100,000 people has been developing cracks since 2013 and has not had a proposed fix in place by SDOT, the city council, or the mayor is absolutely inexcusable. This is disgusting.

    • Yes, an apt moniker March 25, 2020 (9:09 pm)

      If you would like to personally fund the additional expense to solve a ubiquitous and not particularly hazardous problem, go ahead. If you would like the city to throw away its limited funds rebuilding infrastructure that doesn’t need rebuilding, you can stick your head into your bank and tell them to donate your life savings to the city.

      • Angry March 26, 2020 (9:36 am)

        “Limited funds”?   This is a city that is spending $150M+ on a streetcar downtown that will receive limited use.    I’m amazed by the number of people who defend the actions of our elected officials and SDOT.    The city’s residents are suffering from a combination of misplaced priorities and incompetence, but many of them don’t seem to realize that.

  • Janelle March 25, 2020 (8:11 pm)

    Thank you WSB for the info and your timely reporting! There has been so much recently… hope you get some good rest!

  • Person March 25, 2020 (8:12 pm)

    Will taxis be able to take the low bridge or just buses?

    • Que March 26, 2020 (10:25 pm)

      Pretty sure that transit refers to buses not to things like taxis or Uber/Lyft.  

  • Kyle March 25, 2020 (8:22 pm)

    Clearly they were cracks to panic about. Saying that everything was failing is not an excuse for ignoring them. This is a failure and a full root cause ( and consequences) should be completed. However, given we are where we are, they need to be working 24/7 on the fix. It seems everyone is still stopping work at 5pm, “we’ll get to it when we get to it”. Heck we don’t even have all the answers to simple questions yet, while the government tries to play CYA.

    • WSB March 26, 2020 (12:26 am)

      Why do you think everyone’s stopping work at 5 pm? This interview for example happened just before 6. The last followup exchange I had related to it was at 8:17 pm.

  • Jim March 25, 2020 (8:24 pm)

    It’s easy for la-z-boy structural engineers to second guess the professionals who have spent decades developing their expertise.

  • Jethro Marx March 25, 2020 (8:30 pm)

    The relatively uniform direction of the cracking, and the location near the center pour which joined east and west spans, makes this backyard engineer wonder if residual stresses built into the bridge during final alignment are simply coming home to roost after all these years. The consultant’s paper someone linked earlier mentioned a few design changes, and described a rather interesting concrete block loading scheme to bring the two sides together at the end. Concrete will not have forgotten that. At any rate, I cannot believe this is any of the reasons many have suggested in trying to pile on the city: poor maintenance, shoddy design, or outright conspiracy. (Or SALT? REALLY? come on, man!) It probably just got built slightly wrong and would not have been done that way today. If SDOT had not been constantly monitoring it and also had the gumption to shut it down when that was needed this could have been an epic catastrophe. And not the “it used to take me ten minutes to get to work but now it takes me FORTY” kind of catastrophe. Get some perspective, Seattlites- SDOT got it right this time and we should appreciate the work these engineers put in to keep us safe.

    • 22blades March 25, 2020 (9:06 pm)

      I agree with JMarx.  SDOT did not design or even build this bridge. It is a 40 year old design built to probably wildly different standards. Infrastructure isn’t sexy so money gets steered to a multitude of ballparks & other “sexy” things that have the allure of revenue. I am very thankful they were able to even catch this issue. Many municipalities would have stuck their head in the sand until a disaster & there have been some stunning civil engineering failures in recent years. Maybe people should think about how lucky we were next time you enjoy a ballgame. Was SDOT perfect? Probably not but I still appreciate them putting the hammer down before something happens.

    • Jay jay March 25, 2020 (9:35 pm)

      Well stated. The pile on isn’t particularly helpful. There was a problem, it was identified, monitored, and swift action taken when it began to pose a risk. None of us are pleased, but there was always going to be resulting inconvenience and no one was injured.

    • Bucket 'o Beef March 25, 2020 (10:47 pm)

      The problem is, that this always happens to Seattle. Its one thing after another. Things do happen; design flaws and contingencies outside of SDOTs control. But SDOT had the bridge plans since it was built, and could have reviewed them upon inspection and finding the cracks. The bridge had a lifespan expectancy of 70 years I read, but even if it was only 40 years, its still premature aging and SDOT like any transportation authority is responsible for maintaining ut and finding a suitable replacement. I am an engineer, not a backyard one.

      • Mark47n March 26, 2020 (4:56 am)

        It’s. Not. Just. Seattle.

      • Greg March 28, 2020 (9:56 pm)

        My question is designing a bridge where the weight of the bridge is 80% of the design load normal? It would seem that with all the traffic, buses etc. you would be getting awfully close to 100% of the design load. That would shorten the life of the structure.

  • trickycoolj March 25, 2020 (8:32 pm)

    That rapid deterioration is frightening.  How have they been so asleep at the wheel on this?  I’m really loving how many of the elected officials live over here though, share the pain with us.  Oh and when life returns to normal… can we get a water taxi up and down the Duwamish to Tukwila? I’d love to be dropped off on the riverbank at work!

    • RaiseTaxes March 25, 2020 (9:31 pm)

      Unfortunately nature sometimes does things like this. Watch the garden all winter and not a growing weed will you find, but one week in April will see them everywhere. Does that mean you’ve been asleep at the wheel, or is that just what happens? Yes, there were cracks in 2013. Were they dangerous? No, we design things to withstand some damage. Were they noticed? Yes. Were they regularly monitored to ensure they weren’t becoming a problem? It is decidedly so. Did that monitoring catch when they might actually develop into a problem? Without a doubt! Are you salty because you have minimal comprehension of the situation or engineering principles in general? Signs point to yes.

      • Curate March 25, 2020 (11:26 pm)

        People are probably also salty because this is but the latest “bit” (ha!) of bad news this month. Context matters!

    • Mark47n March 26, 2020 (4:58 am)

      They were not asleep at the wheel The cracks were noted in 2014 and there was no further growth notes until December of 2019. There are great color photos that indicate this and a clear explanation of the timeline.

      • chemist March 26, 2020 (9:02 pm)

        I think you’ve misjudged the markings.  Someone probably decided to initiate the paint markings in August 2019 and subsequent steps marked how cracks advanced since that point.

  • michael ford March 25, 2020 (8:48 pm)

    it is just sad that they have put in all of these new apts here in west seattle and like i’ve told my wife with basiclly the one way in and out that is now a hunk of junk!!!!! so how long and how much money is it going to take to rebuild as we have the viaduct all over again just waiting to happen.  are people to die or be injuried because of this

  • Hammer in Hand March 25, 2020 (9:14 pm)

    This would be like a contractor telling you since 2013 that your house is fine…. has some cracks… no worries just some crack and for 7 years nothing to worry aboutTHEN in a 3week period an then a 4hour notice it went to a code blue shut it down CYAOr the contractor gives you a 4hr notice to move out of your house because it could Collapse. If SDOT was a private entity it would have been out of business long agothe house cleaning should have happened when Kubuly left  totally un acceptable But Heather lives in west seattle so she is in the same  boat if Durkins needs a broom I can provide one

  • dsa March 25, 2020 (9:18 pm)

    I am shocked at what SDOT is saying.  They have been tracking and caulking cracks since 2013 and never thought that the bridge might be in jeopardy.  Instead it has been allowed to have overweight vehicles regularly and it has seven lanes when it was only designed for six lane loading.  What were they thinking?

    • Bucket 'o Beef March 25, 2020 (10:41 pm)

      Look around, its Seattle. I cant stand how this city is managed; taxpayer money is squandered on nonessential expenses like bike lanes that benefit only a portion of the community. Roads are neglected, and for any improvement projects that are approved, blue ribbon panels, litigation, impact studies and cost overruns prohibit any progress from happening. 

      • Nigel Tufnel March 26, 2020 (7:14 am)

        You just described every major city, not just Seattle. 

  • Joe Z March 25, 2020 (9:20 pm)

    Anyone else planning on buying an e-bike if this lasts all summer (or longer)? No way I’m driving that detour when normal commuting resumes.

    • Tsurly March 26, 2020 (7:22 am)

      Good for you, taking reasonable measures to deal with an unfortunate situation. If you need any help getting started (what kind of bike/where to get it, clothing, routing from where you live to where you work) Mr. Surly and the rest of the WS biking community are here to help.

    • sf March 26, 2020 (8:05 am)


  • DrM March 25, 2020 (9:24 pm)

    My suggestions:

    1) Significantly increase the hours and number of King County Water Taxis.

    2) Reroute as many as possible Southworth/Vashon ferries to Coleman.

    3) Add ferry routes from Fauntleroy to Coleman.

    • JCW March 26, 2020 (1:02 pm)

      Fauntleroy to Coleman Dock would be a dream!!

    • Trudy March 26, 2020 (3:44 pm)

      I was thinking along the samelines.1.A direct boat from Vashon to downtown.2.A direct boat from Flaunteroy to downtown3.A water taxi from Alki to Belltown or even south Ballard. Would allow people to access downtown from the northend as well as continue on to Ballard or Lake Union on tranist

  • Aaron March 25, 2020 (9:32 pm)

    It is disappointing to hear so many West Seattle folks self-centered complaining at a time like this. Are you willing to be responsible for someones death just to shave a few minutes off your commute? That is what WILL happen if regular traffic is allowed on the low bridge at this time. It seems many of these armchair complainers have zero concept of what is important right now. Emergency services really should take priority over everything else right now.I work outside West Seattle too, and am deemed “essential services”, so the bridge closure adds a lot to my day, but is my inconvenience more important than a fire truck? An Ambulance? Get a grip folks. Please don’t forget that all the workers that will be trying to fix the problem are also worried about their families and trying not to catch the virus and possibly kill their love ones- just like you.  Pandemic is more important than your inconvenience. Hang on tight its only gonna get worse from here.

    • Derek March 25, 2020 (9:58 pm)

      Can we just know the darn schedule? Is that a big deal? I just want to know the plan and when it’s supposed to be fixed. That’s all. 

      • WSB March 25, 2020 (11:56 pm)

        Yes, it is a big deal. There is no plan or schedule yet. SDOT says that’s what they’re working on. As noted above, they have to figure out what shoring will avoid bridge collapse in the short run, and then design/build the longer-term solution.

        • Heron March 30, 2020 (12:47 pm)

          Yes, this is a complex engineering problem- to design temporary shoring and then schedule for repairs and then design a permanent solution and schedule for repairs.  Not to mention, materials and labor.  We shouldn’t expect them to rush this and we wouldn’t want them to.

      • datamuse March 26, 2020 (7:34 am)

        Sure, but I don’t think giving them some time to figure out the exact scope of the problem and how to fix it is unreasonable, you know?

      • Bob Lang March 26, 2020 (9:12 am)

        Google maps has it closed till June 2020.  If that ends up being accurate they knew more than they were willing to share

  • The King March 25, 2020 (9:36 pm)

    So the consensus on the viaduct was “tear it down, it’s not safe, we need a 4 billion dollar tunnel”, but the West Seattle freeway looks unsafe as hell and it’s “FIX IT NOW !!!”. 

  • Patrick March 25, 2020 (9:48 pm)

    I’m assuming bicycles can still use the lower bridge?

    • WSB March 25, 2020 (9:51 pm)

      Yes, bicycles and pedestrians.

      • sna March 26, 2020 (12:01 am)

        In your write up, it notes preventing the low bridge being struck by the high bridge. Makes me wonder if they have a scenario where the low bridge is closed too. 

        • Hammer in Hand March 26, 2020 (6:12 am)

          SDOT does not have the ability to think that far aheadthey will give a 4hr notice after knowing it could happen for 7years.  Stay tuned

  • West Seattle Lurker March 25, 2020 (9:49 pm)

    It’s interesting that as traffic decreased in the past month, the cracking in the bridge accelerated. I live pretty close to this bridge and I haven’t heard the pile driving recently, I think they finished up before the bridge really started falling apart, although I like where your head’s at. Ruling out other factors, extreme tides occurred last month, and wind stands out as the other major force. Oh well, what can you do?Finger pointing is passive at best. Let’s all be glad no one was hurt.     

  • buglarbustindad March 25, 2020 (9:51 pm)

    If I remember accurately it was a Kiewit project.https://www.seattle.gov/cityarchives/exhibits-and-education/seattle-segments/west-seattle-bridge

  • Mj March 25, 2020 (10:06 pm)

    Allowing doctor’s and RN’s to use the low level bridge is appropriate and is within the capacity of it.  This could be done via assigning a placard to qualifying health care professionals.  

    • sf March 26, 2020 (7:56 am)

      Where is the line of qualifying health care professionals?  Doctors and Nurses?  Pharmacists/techs to get the meds up to the floor?  Respiratory Techs for those with significant nebulizer needs?  Lab techs to test for everything?  Dietary so people have food?  Custodial staff to clean down the room/walls/facility with the vital deep cleans?  A hospital is a full organism that relies on every person in every role to deliver care to the patient at the bedside.  

      Every extra car on the lower bridge will diminish its efficacy for transit, freight and emergency vehicles.
      I believe the guidance set forth is fine – if it is enforced.
      Everything else is mitigation of inconvenience and me/my/mine.

  • Sna March 25, 2020 (10:23 pm)

    I’m really struggling to understand how a “carbon wrap” would solve this or what that would even do.  The “exponential” crack acceleration (to me) suggests the internal tension cables might be failing.  The direction of the cracks makes it look like the center section is trying to fall down. The “we don’t want it to hit the lower bridge” comment is particularly alarming.

    • dsa March 26, 2020 (11:03 am)

      I agree with you SNA.  SDOT also said they might be able to bolt a steel patch on the outside of the girders.  But as you say it looks like the bridge has already started to fail.  I think SDOT is preparing to declare it must be replaced.  A repair job, would be temporary at best and I bet less lanes, with severe weight restrictions.

  • 11epees March 25, 2020 (10:29 pm)

    Is it just me to want a, heads up, from whomever, to communicate “Until further notice, the WS Seattle bridge will be closed for repairs.  These are your options.,.  Yes, I want the box of chocolates!

  • Curate March 25, 2020 (11:23 pm)

    If I hear one more thing about “exponential” growth rates of any other sudden, bad thing this month I’m going to lose my freakin mind. 

    • Jethro Marx March 26, 2020 (6:19 am)

      It’s spring and I have some bad news for you about the rabbit population.

      • datamuse March 26, 2020 (7:35 am)

        Okay, that made me laugh. Thanks, Jethro Marx.

  • JDM March 25, 2020 (11:50 pm)

    Someone needs to explain this quote in this article concerning the design of this bridge. This 80 percent figure could be the contributing factor to this problem? Not the load of the traffic from a mathematical perspective? 80% load to 20% load? Hurry someone, find me a slide rule.

    “Marx reiterated that 80 percent of the load on the bridge – a unique structure, in many ways – is its own weight.”

    • WSB March 26, 2020 (12:18 am)

      This was noted in the briefing on Monday, mostly to address the question of whether the bridge could be kept open with a reduction in traffic – 80 percent of the load borne by the bridge, is the bridge itself.

  • Tyler Printz March 26, 2020 (2:02 am)

    So today I learned that the bridge has an interior. Interesting.

  • BG March 26, 2020 (3:19 am)

    I am one of just a very few people, maybe like 20 or so that was on that bridge during the nisqually earthquake in 2001. Cresting the very top in a moving vehicle was a very terrifying experience. I can’t believe the bridge could move and flex as much as it did then without suffering damage and noticeable cracking. I thought for certain it was going to fall down that day and I was going to die. Could it be some of these cracks are from that event and are just now starting to show up. I don’t think we’ll ever know for certain But at least someone shut it down before it falls into the water and kills people. 

  • WiseWoman March 26, 2020 (6:04 am)

    Concrete expands and contracts some too so when and what weather were the comparisons of the same cracks done? Yes Seattle in such a hurry to get federal money but they throw good money after bad. Remember Viadoom what horrible design and planning that’s still a nightmare!!

  • 22blades March 26, 2020 (6:06 am)

    What loss of life or property would you be referring to that would characterize this as an emergency to the average citizen. My Rx’s have to be picked up downtown. My elderly parent that I care for is downtown. PIA? Yep. “Emergency”? Nope. I’ll deal with it…

    Now, if you’re driving a car on the Low Span, you could very well create an “Emergency”.

  • 22blades March 26, 2020 (6:13 am)

    Folks, I was stuck in that mess on the south end of West Marginal Way where the motorhome caught fire & made a huge mess of things. Imagine that thing on the Low Span. THEN “Houston, we have a problem”.  Let’s all stay off that Low Span.

  • Baumer March 26, 2020 (8:09 am)

    Is anybody else concerned that when it finally does reopen it’s going to be a toll bridge?

  • Nick March 26, 2020 (8:22 am)

    My retired structural engineer father last night after I sent him this article:

    “Those kinds of cracks are bad.”

  • C March 26, 2020 (8:29 am)

    So many graduates of armchair university in here. Who’d have thought everyone on the peninsula is an expert in concrete deterioration? Thanks WSB for the insight into the problem! I haven’t ever seen the inside of the bridge before. 

  • Sandra March 26, 2020 (9:02 am)

    My husband is from South America, and he said Thank god they’ve been checking on it for a long time. In his country they would not have checked ever!!  Infrastructure has been neglected all over the world.  We’re thankful for WSB’s reporting on this and that this unsafe structure is closed so people don’t get killed in a bridge collapse.

  • chemist March 26, 2020 (9:06 am)

    The WSP consultant photos are outlining pre-Aug 2019 cracks, cracks between aug and december, then december to march 6, and then march 6 – 23.  Which of those tracking marks were made by SDOT’s folks vs the WSP consultants evaluating the bridge might tell us when someone decided this was serious enough to hire consultants (I couldn’t find a City of Seattle RFP for bridge consultant so I guess the budget wasn’t particularly high).  I think a cracking West Seattle Bridge would have been a news item that would certainly have impacted how folks would feel about the City Center Connector streetcar overbudget project going forward during July-August budget season.

  • Perplexed March 26, 2020 (9:46 am)

    Can we all just agree that the bridge needed to be fixed?  What better time to fix it than when the world is sheltering in place.  Fewer disruptions.  They could have fixed it 6 months ago and impaired our commute immensely.  They could have waited until this summer when people may be back to work and needing to use the bridge.  Kudos to SDOT for picking this time to address the issue and resolve it.  

  • Mj March 26, 2020 (9:57 am)

    As a PE and taking base structural classes back in the day, arched concrete structures put concrete in compression a good thing.  Look at the Roman viaducts of similar design many still are standing today.Stating this the concrete is held together via steel reinforcing and I have no expertise beyond this on this matter.  However I do know that protecting the innards, the steel reinforcement, requires diligent maintenance that is where the City has failed.I hope that a fix can be developed quickly.  Some bridges are kept open with a load maximum, aka heavy vehicles are not allowed to use them.  Whether this option exists I do not know.

    • justme March 26, 2020 (2:00 pm)

      I have a similar broad background in structural and materials classes. The fact that the prior cracks were “fixed” with caulk suggests your interpretation is correct- the cracks aren’t a structural problem per se because the concrete carries the load in compression, not tension. So as long as the two chunks of bridge are pressing firmly against each other, it can continue to support the load. Caulk is used to prevent water intrusion and eventual corrosion of the steel core. 

  • alki_guy March 26, 2020 (10:29 am)

    Three (3)   Fix suggestions:  (Tongue & Groove … I mean Tongue in Cheek omitted)

  • WSCitizen March 26, 2020 (11:02 am)

    Seattle times just posted that WSDOT is suspending “most construction work” for the next two weeks. Any idea if this includes WS bridge work?

  • CMK March 26, 2020 (11:11 am)

    Clearly a large part of the issue, which I did not see In Lisa’s Herbold mention in
    her email’ reference to the “load”, is the amount of people (and thus cars) they are stuffing
    into our neighborhoods. 100,000 cars a day, not to mention buses and transit. Those of us who have lived here for a long time
    have had regular discussions about the fact that the bridge was not built to handle
    the amount of people/cars that are cramming into what was a suburban residential
    neighborhood. And that now as they are trying to make WS an extension of downtown, and “rebranding”
    by calling it an “Urban Village”, the problem arises. Of course. West Seattle was never meant to accommodate
    the amount of people that the city council is jamming in here. This
    bridge situation is caused by the City Council’s POOR planning, as usual. 

    • WSB March 26, 2020 (11:40 am)

      Just a clarification there. The “urban village” designation is not a “rebranding,” nor is it even remotely new. it goes back more than 20 years, as does the midrise zoning of the heart of The Junction. Here’s one sample story from the time:

      It WAS the City Council, and mayor … of the mid-’90s.

    • Nolan March 26, 2020 (1:04 pm)

      “The bridge is cracking because we haven’t preserved our neighborhood character” is a galaxy brain take if I’ve ever seen one.

    • ColumbiaChris March 26, 2020 (5:49 pm)

      Maybe you should stop expecting minimal traffic and single family suburban-style living within the limits of one of the fastest growing major cities in the US.  If you still want all that, feel free to move to the actual suburbs.

  • Deb March 26, 2020 (11:43 am)

    Great visuals Alki Guy. Guessing the balloons are a bit over the top?I just want to add a big THANK YOU to the WEST SEATTLE BLOG for your extensive  bridge coverage with 24/7 delivery. We couldn’t do this without you…..

  • JillB March 26, 2020 (12:46 pm)

    To all you who are angry that the city did not act sooner…  Think of this like a chip in your windshield. You get hit by a pebble and it puts a ding in your windshield. You notice it. That’s all. Then there is tiny crack. Maybe a few months later the crack has grown an inch. And a few later, maybe 2 inches. Then suddenly it goes to 2 feet and you call the windshield replacement company.  It really doesn’t make sense to replace the window with a ping – it could be like that for years. And besides noting the changes, you probably don’t get it fixed until it is big enough to worry you. So lighten up. They are doing a good job and even though our driving patterns will be disrupted, we are all safe and alive. Letting it go further could have been a catastrophe. So thank goodness we have people looking out for bridge maintenance!! 

  • Dan March 26, 2020 (1:20 pm)

    I’m afraid the fix will be not easy or swift.  Thank you WSB for your great reporting on this subject.

  • Chris March 26, 2020 (1:45 pm)

    OMG – The number of SELF RIGHTEOUS KNOW-IT-ALLS and HATERS on this blog is remarkable!  Publish this thing widely and it will solve your “overcrowding” problems… No one will want you as neighbors.

    • CMT March 26, 2020 (2:45 pm)

      I’m hard pressed to imagine any community that would not react with shock, outrage and anger at being given only 4 hours notice that the primary means to get to their jobs and really, almost anywhere else, is being closed indefinitely. 

  • drahcir61 March 26, 2020 (1:52 pm)

    Bridge?  What bridge??? Sorry, I’ve been self-quarantining for so long I forgot we had a bridge. 

    • TWST March 26, 2020 (9:31 pm)

      ;) ha!

  • Martin Westerman March 26, 2020 (2:17 pm)

    Thanks WSB for great coverage, and thanks to others for their engineering insights.  First thought:  what a great opportunity for people to walk or bicycle over the bridge — great views of Rainier & downtown from the top, great photo ops.  But if it may collapse from its own weight, forget that.  Second thought:   let’s build aerial transit to stadiums-I.D.  A three-cable system that isn’t slope challenged, can turn corners, run with short headways, and get delivered in five years runs about $64 million / mile, vs. about $500 million / mile for light rail.  At 87% less cost than light rail, we could build a six-mile aerial system running from near the Junction to stadiums-I.D. for less than it costs to build one mile of light rail.  It’s worth a look.  Great tourist attraction, too.  https://www.theurbanist.org/2020/03/12/gondolas-rise-above-west-seattle-st3-controversy/

    • KM March 26, 2020 (3:14 pm)

      I was wondering now long it would take for you to chime in with the gondola idea, but I didn’t expect for you to link your own op-ed–so you surprised me there!

    • MF March 27, 2020 (11:50 am)

      I like this idea!

  • Silver lining March 26, 2020 (2:52 pm)

    Couldn’t be a better time to close the bridge! With everyone staying home, we are avoiding a major traffic nightmare on the secondary routes! Can we all just take a moment to celebrate time NOT lost to traffic in recent weeks?  : )

  • WSB March 26, 2020 (3:30 pm)

    For those interested – also linked above – SDOT’s promised post is up. No new info about the repair plan but a little more about the pre-closure inspection timeline, and photos.


  • Trudy March 26, 2020 (3:55 pm)

    With so many companies making working from home, well, work, is it possible to appeal to Seattle employer’s to allow this continue? Even if employess who can,  work from home even one or two days a week it would really reduce traffic on our roadways.

  • Neal Chism March 26, 2020 (5:26 pm)

    There is a lot that can be done here. Speaking as a really old Engineer with a lot of cracks in the structure too..
    First the bridge. SDOT will have to measure (probably already doing so) and try to figure out exactly what is changing; Is it the larger amount of traffic pounding the bridge down in to the fill and muck which, please  remember, that EVVVVerything here is built upon? Is it some bit of pile driving going on over at T5?, Is it whatever… The big structure can be shored up if done correctly. I have a metal pipe running down my Tibia holding my leg together still.  Works ok. One in the arm too, come to think about it… TSA just loves me at the airport..
    Second; the immediate problem at hand going on down below the big bridge.Gonna need to get us some parking lots on either side of the swing bridge for whoever wants to, or needs to, can adapt to this situation. Maybe open up traffic for an hour or so for only Peds. and Bikes across the full width of the swing bridge.  Think walk-ons at the other big green and white ferry things.Next, time to consider an emergency water crossing on the Duwamish somewhere like at Idaho Street, with a barge or some other nautical based ferry contraption. In case the worst case happens and the big bridge comes down on the low bridge. If the worst happens there just won’t be a whole lot of shipping going in and out of the waterway anyway.  Army Corp. of engineers are right there, so ACE people get your busy on please. Pretty sure they have backup plans already.
    And next let us all get through the first slow moving mega disaster we are, ah, in…., and hope the our local economy here can lift itself up off it’s local lips soon. Which is where our local economy is on right now… My 2 cents…  

  • Neal Chism March 26, 2020 (5:34 pm)

    its’ local lips..

  • Thomas M March 27, 2020 (11:00 am)

    Think the Army Corps or maybe the Seabees could cook up a temporary span from vertical support to vertical support?   Acrow Bridge?  Bailey Bridge?

  • Cindy April 9, 2020 (10:33 am)

    They can’t even get the roads on 35th fixed and now this?! Come on Seattle, what are you doing with all the toll money?!?! Tax money?!? In the meantime, can WSDOT at least fix our detour routes in West Seattle? I sat at the light on Delridge and 16th for 15+ minutes the other day. At least the city can do is improve traffic lights and give us more options to get around. We are more isolated than ever!!! 

    • WSB April 9, 2020 (10:34 am)

      Seattle has no “toll money.” If you mean the tunnel, that’s a state facility, not city. Separate governments. As for what the city spends the money on, if you really want to know, there’s tons of information available on the budget website, department by department.

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