WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Councilmembers get a view from below

(WSB photos. From left, SDOT’s Sam Zimbabwe and Matt Donahue, Councllmembers Alex Pedersen and Lisa Herbold)

11:56 PM: What was amnounced as a West Seattle Bridge “tour” with two city councilmembers and SDOT today was more of a visit and Q&A. We listened in as Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Alex Pedersen talked with SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe and roadway-structures director Matt Donahue.

They looked at the underside of the bridge and its piers from two spots, near the entrance to the Jim Clark Marina parking lot, and a short distance west. A steady stream of trucks from Harbor Island provided enough constant noise that, at a safe social distance, we didn’t catch every word, but here are the highlights of what we could hear:

The discussion centered on the complexity of the task of determining how to stabilize and then repair the bridge. Donahue went into detail of the modeling that’s being used to analyze the cracks, which – as Zimbabwe told us in our April 2nd interview – continue to grow, though not at the rate that led to the bridge’s sudden shutdown 22 days ago. Cracking isn’t the only concern – parts of the bridge aren’t “sliding the way they’re supposed to.” (There’s more elaboration on the added concerns in this report by SCC Insight, which details a “locked lateral bearing” on Pier 18, the one in the next photo with a pipe running down it:)

He also explained that thoroughly understanding the problem is vital in designing the solution, because they have to take care that the stabilizing – including “shoring” – doesn’t get in the way of the ensuing repairs. All the while, they’re in a “race against time.”

What clues has the bridge’s past provided? Donahue noted he was in elementary school when the bridge was designed, but SDOT has “14 file cabinets” stuffed with documentation. The emphasis of current efforts, though, is the work being done by a “team of highly specialized (engineers),” consulting firm WSP, which has a deep portfolio of bridge work.

It was reiterated that the stabilization/shoring has to be done to make the bridge safe for major repairs – to get the cracks to stop growing.

So no new revelations, but the councilmembers do have a new perspective for when SDOT presents that moved-up briefing next Monday, which will mark four weeks to the day since the shutdown.

ADDED 11:02 AM WEDNESDAY: And we’ll get more new info even sooner – the mayor and various transportation officials plan a media briefing at 3:30 pm today.

38 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Councilmembers get a view from below"

  • Jim April 15, 2020 (7:49 am)

    It is one thing to see the telephoto picture of caulking on the bottom of the bridge, quite another to see the close-up photo of the open cracks from 2013 (SCC Insight report). I live on the Southern end of the peninsula and don’t use the bridge much anyway, but had I seen that photo in 2013, I would probably have found a reason not to use the high level bridge at all!

    • Elton April 15, 2020 (9:32 am)

      Sure, but as noted by SCC Insights:”Was SDOT proactive enough throughout this seven-year process? Probably.
      The consultants they brought in consistently told them that the bottom
      cracking was not a structural concern,”So while scary to an average person, it doesn’t seem like it was a red flag quite yet.Pretty awesome that WSB was able to be present at this meeting to report on it. Props to WSB for being on top of this and to the public officials involved for transparency on this. I know that transparency is sort of part of public service, but it doesn’t mean that public servants always follow through on it.  

  • sgs April 15, 2020 (9:00 am)

    Let’s get the VERY BEST engineers on this.

    • RT April 15, 2020 (9:40 am)

      You want Trump to work on the bridge?

      • stranged April 15, 2020 (12:36 pm)

        If Trump was on it it would be finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

        • CAM April 15, 2020 (1:37 pm)

          It would only be under budget because he’d outsource the labor to foreign contractors paying below minimum wage and then not pay his bills. 

        • Aaron April 15, 2020 (1:48 pm)

          ..and Mexico would pay for it too, right. ;)

        • Trevor April 16, 2020 (12:25 am)

          And then he would add a toll, and then give all of the toll money to his rich friends, and then when it collapses because he never hired the proper engineers, he would blame the ‘deep state’ for undermining the design. In essence, I’d rather spend the rest of my life driving around down south than trust that narcissistic, gready, ego-maniac, wannabe dictator with the competence of a wet log.

        • Drew April 16, 2020 (6:51 am)

          Comedy gold.

    • WSJ April 15, 2020 (11:27 am)

      They are. WSP is one of the best in the world.

  • vlado April 15, 2020 (9:40 am)

    A useful tool would be measuring range of movement that the bridge is being subjected to under the live loads of traffic and wind.   When the bridge was designed, assumptions on deflection would have been made and it would be  helpful to know if they were accurate.  If they weren’t, that would explain the stress fractures that developed over time.  This could be done using laser devices placed at different locations on the bridge… but the problem is that it is now too late to measure the effect of vehicle load.  It should have been done a month ago.

  • Mike April 15, 2020 (9:51 am)

    Reassuring to see council members interested in understanding rather than grandstanding this complex challenge.  And WSB’s articulate report on the nature of the challenge.  

    • WSB April 15, 2020 (11:06 am)

      More new info later today – the mayor and various transportation officials are having a media briefing at 3:30 pm.

  • Scooter Commuter April 15, 2020 (11:15 am)

    Does anyone know the rules about taking a moped <50 cc on the lower bridge as a non emergency worker. I regularly commuted on the lower bridge via my scoot and am legally not allowed to drive on the alternative options to get off of West Seattle (does not meet minimum speed standards). I know scooter commuters are rare these days, but I feel they are getting left out of the conversation entirely. Not everyone can afford a car. 

    • Boop April 15, 2020 (11:57 am)

      Is your scooter not legal speed limit wise over the South Park Bridge?

    • Jethro Marx April 15, 2020 (11:58 am)

      Just pretend it’s an e-bike; those have basically become kinda weak electric motorcycles at this point, but with a higher “green” feeling for their owners.

    • sw April 15, 2020 (2:54 pm)

      If it were me on the scooter, I’d turn it off and push it over the low bridge.  Then fire it up on the other side and off you go.

    • Kelsey April 15, 2020 (5:04 pm)

      If you’re not an emergency vehicle or freight, no. You’re not special. Find another route or catch a bus.

  • BC April 15, 2020 (11:18 am)

      Sam Zimbabwe states:   SDOT has “14 file cabinets” stuffed with documentation.  Is he directing his staff to organize the documents in those 14 cabinets so that the “team of highly specialized (engineers),” consulting firm WSP can reference the design and construction practices, as they work towards the solution ?  Where is the sense of urgency on the part of SDOT ?  Where is the sense of urgency on the part of the Mayor’s office and the Seattle City Council ?  There are a lot of voters that live on the West Seattle peninsula.  We are greatly impacted and are watching closely how those that represent us respond and fix this significant problem.This should be a hair on fire response.  I’m not seeing any urgency.  Why ?

    • WSB April 15, 2020 (11:22 am)

      Actually, Matt Donahue said that, not Sam Zimbabwe. I’ll check to be sure I’ve properly attributed. Meantime, stay tuned for an update – the mayor and various transportation officials have announced a media briefing for 3:30 pm today. – TR

    • WSJ April 15, 2020 (11:30 am)

      What would urgency look like to you? People on the bridge? Daily updates from someone saying “yeah, we’re working on it!”. You’re not “seeing” it because you have absolutely no idea how these kinds of projects are managed, and you’re bored, annoyed, and feeling impotent rage. 

    • SH April 15, 2020 (12:59 pm)

      I completely agree.  Its been over a month and we still dont have any idea how they will shore it up let alone fix it.  I understand this is a complex matter but this should be a PRIORITY for the city.   This will have a huge impact not only on West Seattle but other neighborhoods nearby.  By the day it was closed they should have already been getting ready with options how to repairs the cracks in the future.  Seems like no preemptive measures were taken to ensure we dont get into the worst case scenario which we are in now.  I hope they have some answered today, just holding another press conference to talk about a “problem” is not helpful.  Get to work and come up with a solution instead of wasting everyone’s time on appearances.   

      • AMD April 15, 2020 (1:54 pm)

        Twenty-two days is not over a month.  

        • Rumbles April 15, 2020 (3:14 pm)

          Totally!! Ha ha!

      • WSJ April 15, 2020 (2:28 pm)

        Sorry to be blunt, but you DONT know what you’re talking about and you DONT understand how complex it is. The fact that they don’t have an answer for how to fix it is completely reasonable given the magnitude, complexity, and risk of getting it wrong. I’m sick of the absolutely clueless, angry comments from neophytes who act like this is a backyard patio addition or bathroom remodel where they can just yell at their contractor and get them to pick up some new parts at Home Depot. 

      • sw April 15, 2020 (2:59 pm)

        Hilarious.  People demand press conferences and to be informed on every last detail, but only want to hear someone talk if they have all the answers.  People, this isn’t going to be solved in a day, a week or a month.  Probably not less than a year.  Get used to this idea.

  • BC April 15, 2020 (11:29 am)

    Yes, you are right.  It was Matt Donahue that said that, thank you.  Are Matt Donahue and/or Sam Zimbabwe getting those files organized in those 14 cabinets ?  They need to be taking many actions towards getting the solutions.  They need to be telling us what they are doing to get this remedied quickly.  Describing cabinets stuffed full of documents doesn’t encourage me to think those files are easily accessible to the engineers at WSP.  

  • short final April 15, 2020 (11:36 am)

    When ceiling tiles fell from old Kingdome the repair bill for only few more years of operations nearly equaled original construction cost and we demo’d it before that bill was paid off.  Any repair scenario cost  of high bridge will be significant ratio of original project cost and require “social traffic distancing” when returned to limited use for a limited time before full replacement. Strong leadership will be required to stake out a position as follows; Seattle is better off to cut our loses, demo existing structure, build new and don’t invest repair budget on project that will never recapture its value.

  • IslandLife April 15, 2020 (11:44 am)

    I agree with BC. I don’t get that there’s enough urgency here or a recognition that this closure is having some significantly adverse effects on the lives of a lot West Seattle residents, especially those that still have to commute like first responders, medical staff and other essential workers. My friend is an oncology nurse and on top of working in COVID conditions for 12-hr shifts she now has to worry about this. Watching this response is a bit like watching the federal reaction to the pandemic. We know that when the majority of the population is let out of quarantine, we will face an impossible situation with traffic that will render the detours essentially useless. Even now I’m adding almost an hour to my drive. Imagine when everyone goes back to work. From the first week there should have been a standing update from Herbold, like Constantine and Inslee have done with local media, even if it’s just reaching out via the hyper-local outlets. She should have also created a task force that looks at transportation options like opening the lower bridge during “off” hours to residents, opening the lower bridge to medical and essential workers at all times, creating transportations options like added busses or ferries, and creating greater efficiency on the existing roadways so busses can navigate the additional traffic. This problem needs real leadership, especially since all signs point to this lasting months if not years.  Please get it together. 

    • Mark47n April 15, 2020 (1:06 pm)

      A few points:Doctors, nurses, etc, when commuting, are no different than anyone else and are stuck coping with the rest of us. They deserve no special treatment simply for doing the job that they choose to do regardless of the risks associated with the job.  As to other essential workers, well, have you seen that list?!As noted above, what, exactly, does ‘urgency’ look like to you? This is going to take time and it’s not going to be highly visible for some time. It’s going to place in offices, conference rooms and, maybe, some testing labs. The cause needs to be ascertained before you can develop a reasonable fix and then that fix needs to happen.This was bound to happen someday and there is no way that anyone would be happy about it. It would still require closing the bridge for an extended period and the grousing, pearl clutching and breast beating would happen anyway. Yes, closing the bridge is a drag. A serious drag since my favorite sushi place is in Wallingford. But it’s now inescapable. It’s a fact of life. Instead of whining about it come up with a solution that works for you. Ride your bike or buy an E-bike. Commute earlier or later. flex your hours, work from home more or just gut it out if you have hours that aren’t flexible because there’s just no other option.

  • Aerial Observer April 15, 2020 (1:13 pm)

    “I don’t get that there’s enough urgency here or a recognition that this closure is having some significantly adverse effects on the lives of a lot West Seattle …”

    How much time, on average, do City Council Members spend on personally inspecting our public infrastructure? I’m  guessing that average weekly value is a nice, round number. So, having two of them out there doing it suggests “urgency,” at least to this citizen.

    From the first week there should have been a standing update from Herbold,”

    Having her tell us every week that nothing has changed would have improved this situation how, exactly?

    … opening the lower bridge during “off” hours to residents…’

    We’re already doing this. The lower bridge is open to all residents during each and every hour when we’re absolutely certain no one in West Seattle will need to take an ambulance to First Hill.

  • NoLongerPatsFanPNW April 15, 2020 (2:37 pm)

    We should mount an #operationgridlock to protest the lack of urgency and to help get the replacement going.  Won’t even require any planning or forethought – just lift the Stay at Home order.

    • WSJ April 15, 2020 (3:18 pm)

      A new entry in the dumbest comment ever on the blog!

  • BC April 15, 2020 (2:44 pm)

    What does urgency look like ?  Urgency is the Mayor and City Council approving overtime for SDOT engineers and for the consulting firm WSP.  Urgency is telling us what determinations have been made about the existing structure.  Urgency is telling us what other assessments or tests need to be performed on the structure, in order to begin/complete the engineering of the shoring and to begin/complete the engineering of the permanent fix.  Urgency is providing the timeline to complete assessments/tests.  Urgency is telling us what percentage of the shoring design has been engineered.  Urgency is telling us the likely timetable to complete the engineering of the shoring design.  Urgency is telling us what percentage of the engineering of the permanent fix has been completed.  Urgency is telling us the likely timetable to complete the engineering of the permanent fix.   This is basic project management.  Until we receive these projected timelines of the engineering, NOTHING WILL HAPPEN.

    • WSB April 15, 2020 (2:56 pm)

      Check back in half an hour.

  • short final April 15, 2020 (5:12 pm)

    We’ve just been inoculated with forthright briefing. I believe salient talking points call out that 2 yr repair if possible w/cost unknown which might provide 10 yr use window and almost certainly lighter loading will lend great weight to argument of cut our losses now and build new. 

  • Collin Bustanoby April 16, 2020 (8:36 am)

    Has anyone on the council been able to contact the original consultants? This article states that they closely monitored the construction.  They caught a mistake in concrete mixtures that apparently could have been a huge problem.  Surely they would be a very important source of insight! https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6819908-JL-84-July-August-Segmental-Box-Girders-for-the.html

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