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.”
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.