WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Next council briefing moved up a week, Herbold tells Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Hours before she gets a firsthand look at the West Seattle Bridge danger zone with SDOT, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold provided an update tonight to the Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council. The neighborhood closest to the bridge’s crest held its every-other-month meeting by videoconference/phone, and we dialed in.

One major headline: After SDOT briefed the council on the bridge situation one week ago, it was expected they’d be back on April 27th. Herbold told PPNC that SDOT had asked to move the briefing up a week, to next Monday (April 20th), “I’m hoping there’ll be some news for us” about a time frame and plan for “shoring” the bridge, a necessary step before any permanent repairs can be made.

She said the biggest question she’s getting asked is why the bridge cracked so badly that it had to be closed.

She said the “preliminary speculation” from SDOT’s team led by roadway structures director Matt Donahue is that a “combination of factors” is to blame – the bridge’s own weight, the weight of traffic over the years (with an extra eastbound lane added), “post-tension losses” from the bridge settling, seismic effects (the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001), the uneven effects of heating and cooling, the brdge’s unique design …. “all of these things working together.”

And yes, she feels “really strongly” that the council and community should have gotten a heads-up from SDOT much sooner that the bridge was being watched closely – at the very least, in February when the city’s consultant said they would likely need to reduce traffic on the bridge, but better still if they had sounded the alarm when they decided to start monitoring the bridge more closely, It was a “failure of transparency” for that not to have happened, she said. She added that she’ll also be asking SDOT more questions about recommendations made back in 2014 and what was or wasn’t done at the time.

Is the bridge in danger of collapse? asked Pigeon Point neighborhood leader Pete Spalding. Herbold noted that a report on that risk is being prepared at the mayor’s request and should be ready within about a week. The cracks are still growing, according to the most recent SDOT report she’s received – same thing they told us a week and a half ago – but at a “much slower rate” than before the bridge’s March 23rd closure.

Is SDOT working with a sense of urgency? Herbold acknowledged that she is frustrated by not having information on how long the shoring/repair design will take; she says SDOT won’t set a timeline because “they want to make sure the work that’s done is the right work,” so setting a deadline might “result in inferior design.”

What’s being done to address where the money will come from? She says SDOT so far has suggested the budget for the interim shoring is not a problem, though she is trying to get clarification on whether that’s a reference to the shoring design or the design and implementation. As for the permanent repairs, she cited her least-favorite city transportation project, the Center City Connector streetcar, as one place from which funding could be diverted (it’s set for debt financing, she noted).;

She also discussed the traffic effects of being without the high bridge, including her ongoing request for SDOT to “consider relaxing restrictions on the low bridge, letting medical personnel use it, for example, and people commuting off-peak – maybe even “tiered access” for northern West Seattle residents. But she says SDOT is resolute in maintaining the restrictions until traffic volumes show more people are actually following them. And even if they did loosen the restrictions any time soon, she acknowledged, they’d likely have to be tightened up again when people return to their offices and other out-of-home workplaces.

Meantime, she and Transportation Committee chair Councilmember Alex Pedersen have participated in multiple group meetings to discuss traffic-management plans. She’s also receiving reports from SDOT on actions such as traffic-signal adjustments. If you have a suggestion, let her know – lisa.herbold@seattle.gov.

WHAT’S NEXT: Watch for a report on Herbold and Pedersen’s bridge visit later today (she told PPNC he’s shaping up as a “great ally” in keeping the pressure oN SDOT for bridge progress).

54 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Next council briefing moved up a week, Herbold tells Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council"

  • LG April 14, 2020 (7:07 am)

    Question – has anyone asked or provided information if the 1st Ave bridge will be able to support the additional traffic load once the stay at home order has been lifted and people begin commuting again?

    • NickH April 14, 2020 (7:57 am)

      But she says SDOT is resolute in maintaining the restrictions until traffic volumes show more people are actually following them. And even if they did loosen the restrictions any time soon, she acknowledged, they’d likely have to be tightened up again when people return to their offices and other out-of-home workplaces.”

  • M April 14, 2020 (7:18 am)

    All hearsay, but what I’ve heard from people with inside knowledge is that they don’t anticipate opening for probably two years. They’ll likely have to take down the worst section and replace. My guess is they aren’t ready to go public because they have no idea how they are going to accommodate the needs of West Seattle for that time period. 

    • JBG April 14, 2020 (11:45 am)

      My guess: two to five years of closed bridge.

    • Elton April 14, 2020 (12:15 pm)

      Given the extent of the cracking, I would agree, in my unqualified opinion, that an opening before 2022 is an unreasonable expectation. I know a lot of people are up in arms about how this is unacceptable and it should be done faster and they want heads to roll at SDOT, blah blah, but the fact of the matter is that this bridge is massive and the cracking seems to be quite extensive. Should they have been more transparent about the inspection frequency? Probably. Should they have thought about plans for this eventuality sooner? I don’t know – can you really plan for this situation without knowing how the cracking looks at this point in time? I don’t think this is a problem where they can move any faster. I’d rather have a fix to last 30+ years than a 5 year fix.    

  • Bronson April 14, 2020 (7:26 am)

    One thing I have not seen brought up is the impact to the proposed Duwamish crossing of the light rail bridge. Assuming I-976 is overturned (big assumption), the plan is to build a new light rail bridge right next to the existing bridge on the south side. I can’t see any way they allow a bridge to be built right next to the current one, particularly given the pile-driving that would likely need to occur. Would you want to be on the current bridge, given the known issues and likely temporary fixes, while they drive piles right next to it (never mind the T5 pile-driving everyone was so concerned about previously)?

    This issue is likely to demand a different crossing for light rail and probably brings back the tunnel under PP/Puget Ridge as the only viable option.

    • WSB April 14, 2020 (7:32 am)

      That came up last night. CM Herbold said, certainly this COULD affect that. Too soon ti tell.

      • Bronson April 14, 2020 (12:25 pm)

        Thanks WSB. I’m sure it’s on ST’s radar, but would be interested to hear about their thoughts, perhaps after the current bridge situation becomes clearer. 

  • miws April 14, 2020 (7:42 am)

    Q13 just gave proper credit to WSB in their reporting of this. —Mike

  • NotAnEditor April 14, 2020 (9:27 am)

    Typo: “medical persnnel”

    • WSB April 14, 2020 (9:51 am)

      Fixed; thank you.

  • vlado April 14, 2020 (9:43 am)

    I doubt that the exact cause of the structural failure will ever be known.  The issue is deep within the concrete structure and the only way to access the problem would be to deconstruct the entire area near the fractures, which seems unlikely as it would require a very lengthy bridge closure.  My guess is that it is more likely that some form of external structural bracing will be added to the problem areas to reinforce the existing bridge.It has been many years since I studied structural engineering as an architectural student, but I remember the first class on reinforced concrete structures.  In concept they are simple enough: they all function as a combination of concrete which acts in compression, and reinforcing steel acting in tension.  However, when you get to a complex structure like a bridge with a lengthy span and a heavy live load of traffic it gets very complicated. The issue with the bridge appears to me to be a stress failure that occurred over decades of slight movement that occurs in every structure.  Over time the reinforcing steel likely got stretched in very small increments, and as cracks developed that accelerated the process.  This may be the result of a design flaw that did not properly  account for long-term stress, or a construction defect related to how reinforcing steel was assembled before concrete was poured.  I doubt that the issue is the concrete, since it gets sampled and subjected to compressive testing as a project such as this is built, but I doubt that we will ever know for sure.  At this point, what is important is to reinforce the existing structure In as timely and effective manner as possible.

  • Mj April 14, 2020 (9:58 am)

    vlado – agreed and I wonder if the added bus lane EB exacerbated some of the stress loads that may not of accounted for the added lane?  reinforcing the existing structure as quickly as feasible is needed.  and once the corona restrictions are lifted, hopefully soon, Metro will need to add significant bus service to WS in particular to areas without midday and weekend service.

  • Mark Schletty April 14, 2020 (10:27 am)

    It appears that, from SDOT’s preliminary determination of causes for the bridge failure, all of the raised reasons are structural engineering failure to build for known foreseeable stresses.  If this is accurate, instead of SDOT just trying to cover its own rearend, I hope those of you who keep slamming everyone who asks a question for asking a question without being an engineer, will stop it. Your claims that only engineers know anything and that they are always right seems very suspect, given the SDOT claim.

    • WSJ April 14, 2020 (11:51 am)

      A stopped clock is right twice a day. 

  • Keden April 14, 2020 (10:30 am)

    Are there any plans to help traffic on Spokane and West Marginal? It’s already a mess coming into WS in the afternoon, even with fewer commuters. Can they at least change the timing on the stop lights?

  • Scott S. McMurray April 14, 2020 (11:29 am)

    SDOT should research the “fly ash” that was added to the WS bridge concrete mix during construction.   I am old enough to remember that it was a big issue for several weeks during construction.Other concerns about using fly ash in concrete include:

    • Slower strength gain
    • Seasonal limitation
    • Increased need for air-entraining admixtures
    • Increase of salt scaling produced by higher proportions of fly ash

  • Andy Havens April 14, 2020 (11:46 am)

    I blame the ghost of Rolf Neslund. He’s gonna bring down the next one, too.

    • miws April 14, 2020 (1:17 pm)

      Andy, That thought crossed my mind the other day! 😂 —Mike

    • uncle loco April 14, 2020 (2:42 pm)

      Let’s face it. Between Galloping Gertie, the Hood Canal bridge and WS bridge back in the 70s, the sinking I-90 bridge, western WA just has bad luck with bridges. I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting about.

  • Bob Lang April 14, 2020 (11:52 am)

    Instead of wasting tax dollars with 4 police officers blocking lanes for the lower bridge, put an officer in the middle of the street to direct traffic.  The 5 way stop light is sooooo inefficient.  I counted the other day and some cycles wasted 30 seconds, per direction, per cycle.  That’s possibly 2min 30 sec wasted per cycle.This is simple stuff.  Come on guys.  SDOT step it up.  So far very impressive response to this debacle.

    • WSJ April 14, 2020 (12:13 pm)

      managing intersections with an offocer, especially one that complex, is never more efficient. People will be much more hesitant with an officer directing (as they should be), so even if things appear to be slower because of timing, it’s still better than a live officer directing.

    • Oldeephus April 14, 2020 (6:25 pm)

      Perhaps re timing the lights would help just as much. They are poorly timed for the current flow of traffic.

    • Bryan April 14, 2020 (6:39 pm)

      The left lane at the light of westbound W Marginal should also be left turn only, onto to Delridge. There should fines for people cutting across the railroad tracks just to come back to cut the line as well.

  • Mj April 14, 2020 (12:06 pm)

    Keden – I agree the Spokane at WMW operation needs to be enhanced.  My suggestion is to eliminate the WB to SB and EB to NB left turns and run EB and WB concurrently with more green time.  There is virtually no EB to NB left turns and the WB to SB left turn can be made via u turning and with large trucks u turning at Avalon.

  • sw April 14, 2020 (12:46 pm)

    Hard no on “tiered access.”  You think we have a problem now enforcing the lower bridge?  Introducing a “have/have not” stipulation would be sheer madness.

    • Rumbles April 14, 2020 (10:06 pm)

      Agreed.  This would create a bigger traffic problem to determine those with a “special pass” versus just keeping it to freight, transit and emergency vehicles.  

  • Aerial Observer April 14, 2020 (1:33 pm)

    “It appears that, from SDOT’s preliminary determination of causes for the bridge failure,”

    There has been no “bridge failure,” and SDOT has made no determination of any kind for the cause of accelerated crack propagation. If you don’t want to be criticized for asking questions, then please do not ask questions which contain contrafactual (or otherwise unwarranted) assumptions.

    No one is happy with this situation. The sudden closure of the bridge was a shock to everyone, including SDOT. We’re not going to have use of this high bridge for a long time, possibly ever, and we need to face those facts, no matter how much we don’t want to do so. Throwing baseless accusations at SDOT and making impossible demands might feel good, but ultimately accomplish nothing. SDOT and consultant engineers need to study the data from the bridge, and decide on the basis of that data. After they’ve made their study, they will report results to our elected leaders, and our leaders will decide on which of the unpalatable courses of action our city will take. This process cannot be rushed without causing more harm, and we all need to recognize and accept that unwelcome fact as well.

    • WSJ April 14, 2020 (2:12 pm)

      Thank you for this rare reasonable comment. The constant ignorant chorus of “FIRE SOMEOOONE!”, “The city doesn’t care about West Seattle!” and “they need to DO something now!” is tiresome.

    • wscommuter April 14, 2020 (3:22 pm)

      Your  comments are fair and reasonable.  The friendly amendment I’d make is that we – the residents of W. Seattle affected by this – have an obligation to keep political pressure on our electeds to make the solution happen as quickly as possible – fully within the confines of sound engineering analysis – but to treat this critical piece of infrastructure as something that must be fixed (repair or replaced) with as high a priority as any other emergency project.  And that work must take precedence over the optional/discretionary uses of SDOT money for things like road diets and bike lanes.  The fix for the bridge is no doubt going to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  And the city has other pressing transportation repair/maintenance needs that can’t be ignored either.  But what can be done is triaging our finite funding and prioritizing safety and functionality over other (perhaps laudable but non-required) goals.  

  • dsa April 14, 2020 (2:41 pm)

    ” will report results to our elected leaders, and our leaders will decide
    on which of the unpalatable courses of action our city will take”Yeah, sure

  • Cory April 14, 2020 (2:58 pm)

    Does anyone know if commuter buses will be allowed to use the lower bridge? Like the Amazon and Microsoft buses. 

    • Cara April 14, 2020 (6:44 pm)

      How about food delivery Vechiles or restaurants providing to go, take out or delivery?

      • Rumbles April 14, 2020 (10:09 pm)

        Are you ordering food from Harbor Island?!

  • Peter Jones April 14, 2020 (3:50 pm)

    My understanding is the high bridge was built to a load strength thought suitable at the time, but trucks and buses have evolved to be larger and heavier today than when the high bridge was constructed.  Now all those trucks and buses are being sent over the low bridge, which was constructed just shortly after the high bridge was completed.  My question is this – is the low bridge suited for the truck and bus traffic SDOT is now designating it for?  Or does the low bridge, designed and constructed in the same era as the high bridge, share similar load strength limitations with the high bridge?  Phrased slightly differently, is SDOT just destroying the low bridge by reserving it for trucks and buses?  I do not know the answer, but know it should be answered before SDOT stops the conversation on how traffic is going to flow.

    • dsa April 14, 2020 (4:28 pm)

      Hopefully they did a better job with the low bridge, but it too is a cantilever bridge.  And for the foreseeable future it will have much more heavy traffic then it has had up to now.  So IMO they need to consider it’s original design specs before deciding it’s long term use such as would happen if they banned heavy trucks and buses from the high level. 

  • short final April 14, 2020 (6:29 pm)

    Genoa bridge failed nearly bullseye time window of WSB cracks developing  such that in house concerns were being noted and kept in house, if ever there were a time to share with other departments and/or public that was it.Given the cracks exponential progress during normal pre-closure use and closing reduces load only 20% at best, it’s nearly a certainty that a slight load reduction hasn’t halted failure in progress and we’re playing Russian Roulette while public is being inoculated.Doesn’t matter how much repair work is performed or how much “social traffic distancing” on bridge returned to limited service, who’s going to feel safe enough to use high bridge or low bridge?My engineering credentials are very long in the tooth, only thing I’m sure of is this puts bit more distance from the ex.

  • Jethro Marx April 14, 2020 (8:15 pm)

    I’m going to assume you were dictating this to your phone while flying a biplane, so I’ll skip over the bulk of it and say, “nearly a certainty” is a phrase that makes engineers wince, and also that we have generally agreed that “WSB” must be used to refer to the West Seattle Blog, while the bridge is known as Jeanette.

    • WSB April 14, 2020 (8:19 pm)

      WSB was the bridge before we were around; also WestSide Baby and West Seattle Bowl. And a TV station in Atlanta!

  • dsa April 14, 2020 (8:27 pm)

    Actually they renamed it in order to lower speeds.  Jeanette was signed as West Seattle Fwy, but got changed to West Seattle Bridge.

    • WSB April 14, 2020 (8:30 pm)

      There’s a lot of old documentation online referring to it as the “West Seattle Freeway Bridge.”

  • M April 14, 2020 (8:59 pm)

    I wish they could work with sound transit to fix/replace and bridge in conjunction with the light rail. Put the entire thing on fast track. 

  • dsa April 14, 2020 (9:20 pm)

    Not saying you are wrong.  But the I-5 sign used to point to the West Seattle Fwy.  Fwy got stickered over to say Bridge.

  • Pete April 14, 2020 (9:25 pm)

    Also Councilmember Herbold pointed out that the cracks had continued to develop,  albeit at a slower pace, even after the bridge was closed. 

  • short final April 14, 2020 (9:39 pm)

    “nearly a certainty” aka “probabilities” are the only parameters that current engineers have in hand to qualitatively predict degree of hazard and quantitatively they can make no statement whatsoever at this time except for one fact set as follows; after exponential cracking rate increase, load was reduced by 20% on a structure with clearly developed stress fracture failure in progress. As quantitative analysis progresses, the summaries will still be couched with probability language aka “near certainties”. I hope for scenario of no loss of life as these issues get resolved.

  • Felix Hrounds April 14, 2020 (9:44 pm)

    Just stopping in to read all the commentary from armchair engineers.

    • sna April 14, 2020 (11:24 pm)

      This is what happens when you combine a quarantine with vague official explanations of the situation.  We have plenty of time for guessing if we have 6 months or 6 years of dismal traffic to get out of West Seattle. 

  • Ben April 14, 2020 (10:38 pm)

    Build the Great West Seattle Gondola, from watertower park down to 4th Ave!!

    • sna April 14, 2020 (11:25 pm)

      Getting downtown isn’t the problem. It’s if you need to go anywhere else.  Which many people do.

  • James April 14, 2020 (11:22 pm)

    The final out come here is a new Bridge. 3 to 4 yrs of traffic for westside resident.

  • West Seattle Local April 15, 2020 (1:49 pm)

    Here is the technique used to  repair concrete bridges with damage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSbpl9f0lO8
    Let’s get started!

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