WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Pier 18 explained; project funding suggested

Two more West Seattle Bridge notes, with hours to go until tonight’s town hall:

(WSB photo, last week)

PIER 18 EXPLAINED: If you haven’t already seen this via SDOT Blog, the project email list, or our mention in the morning comment thread – SDOT has published a detailed explanation of the problem it says needs to get fixed first, the Pier 18 bearing. (18 is the one in our photo above, at left, with a pipe running down it.) Writes SDOT’s Sara Davis, “This isn’t the sole cause of cracking on the bridge, but our bridge experts think it is a major part of the problem.” And: “We’re hoping that releasing the bearings helps stabilize the bridge. If it does, then repairing the bridge may be feasible. If it turns out that releasing the bearings does not slow the cracking of the bridge, it means that the factors contributing to the cracking are much more complicated than just those due to the bearing, and that the bridge structure could be irredeemably compromised.”

FUNDING SUGGESTED: Just getting to the point where the bridge is stabilized via shoring will cost an estimated $33 million, SDOT has said – repair or replacement is an as-yet-unknown addittonal cost. So where will the money come from? West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold has suggested one possibility is to divert funding from the Center City Streetcar, a project of which she’s been critical in the past. Today in a post opposing the latest “payroll tax” proposal before the council, Councilmember Alex Pedersen – who chairs the Transportation Committee – made the same suggestion, writing, “To accelerate vital infrastructure projects like the West Seattle Bridge, we can redirect funds away from money-losing projects like the Center City Connector streetcar through downtown.”

52 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CLOSURE: Pier 18 explained; project funding suggested"

  • chemist April 22, 2020 (1:36 pm)

    Considering the other end of the C3 streetcar being built was ongoing, higher operating costs and somewhat optimistic ridership growth just to have fare revenue offset that increased operating cost, pushing “pause” on the C3 streetcar seems prudent.  They’ll need the rideshare tax revenue elsewhere for the next few years.

    • ColumbiaChris April 22, 2020 (4:07 pm)

      Pausing streetcar construction risks losing the federal money from the FTA. That project is fairly locked-in as a result.

      • chemist April 22, 2020 (6:19 pm)

        I’m not sure it’s locked in, given what’s going on with covid19 and a September timeline, the remaining $25 million not being secured, and the thing going on with the SDOT audit made public in Dec 2019.  Per Seattle Times in July 2019 article “SDOT’s $9M request puts downtown Seattle streetcar debate back in the spotlight” –

        One source of funding for the project, $75 million in expected federal grants, remains up in the air. The city has secured $50 million, but that could lapse in September 2020, SDOT said. That means the city would have to get the $50 million reallocated by the feds, plus the additional $25 million.

  • Mj April 22, 2020 (1:56 pm)

    100,000 (minus one, Jort) people are needing the WSB fixed/replaced sooner rather than later.  Diverting the streetcar funding is a good start.  And the WSB fix needs to be prioritized over all other discretionary spending!

    • AMD April 22, 2020 (4:30 pm)

      What is SDoT prioritizing over the bridge?  I seriously feel like I missed a press conference somewhere.  Why does everyone keep hollering that they need to prioritize the bridge as if they’re not?

      • West Seattle since 1979 April 22, 2020 (5:56 pm)

        SDOT probably had other things prioritized before the bridge had to be closed. I think people are just saying that the bridge should now be prioritized over other things, such as the CCC streetcar. 

      • Lagartija Nick April 22, 2020 (6:17 pm)

        AMD, because Mj likes to hear himself holler?

        Seriously, Mj, you’ve repeated this claim ad nauseum for weeks now, it wasn’t true the first time you said it and it’s still not true now. What other city infrastructure project is getting a town hall meeting, weekly council briefings, twice weekly (at least) SDOT updates, international specialists and this much citywide attention? The answer is none. After covid19 this IS the city’s number one priority right now, no matter how much you believe it’s not.

  • WS Guy April 22, 2020 (2:23 pm)

    I’d like to hear SDOT admit that they failed to inspect and maintain the bearings, and that this failure fundamentally led to the cracking that doomed the bridge.  They just focused on caulking the cracking and missed the cause until the bridge consultants pointed it out.  Total incompetence. There need to be resignations and firings.

    • chemist April 22, 2020 (2:39 pm)

      The pier 15 and 18 bearings sure sound like what the reports were talking about when they said “At Pier 15 the lateral restrainers have extruded the PTFE sliding surface. Continue to observe” and “At Pier 18 the lateral restrainers have extruded the PTFE sliding surface. Continue to observe” in every inspection report (2013+) posted to SDOT’s blog site.  I’ve not got enough data/experience to be certain what the difference between “extruded” and “bulging”/locked is though.

  • No Deception Pass April 22, 2020 (2:25 pm)

    I’ve noticed a number of WSDOT trucks on the bridge daily
    doing inspections, the bridge CAN hold light traffic apparently.

    Why not open the lower bridge to ALL traffic and have the
    cops (currently busy writing tickets to people using lower bridge) move upper
    bridge barricades 24/7 to allow emergency vehicles through?
    The only reason given for restrictions on the lower bridge is for ’emergency vehicle use’ and transit, this should be remedied.

    • Bradley April 22, 2020 (2:36 pm)

      The lower bridge is traffic-restricted because it wasn’t designed to handle the volume of traffic that would pour over it if SDOT didn’t limit it. The high bridge is at risk of possibly collapsing on its own, according to many experts. There’s even a lower bridge evacuation plan being considered in case the high bridge starts to fail. Those SDOT and WSDOT workers up on the high bridge are risking their lives.

    • ColumbiaChris April 22, 2020 (2:52 pm)

      They’re not going to do that because transit and commercial traffic would get mired in the resulting backup, and it still would only replace a tiny fraction of the capacity of the high bridge. Suck it up and drive south like everyone else.

    • EchoMike April 22, 2020 (3:27 pm)

      They won’t. Whoever made the decision to close the lower bridge to normal traffic needs to be fired, and they need to seek out a new profession – either that or we make them commute via the First Ave bridge to downtown everyday from Alki.I don’t understand why we can’t just either toll it, or at the very least, offer decals to those of us that live right next to the bridges – so we don’t have to suffer an hour commute downtown every day.

      • WSJ April 22, 2020 (3:54 pm)

        “Whoever prioritized public safety over my convenience should be fired!” Says local man who only cares about himself and knows nothing about traffic engineering. 

      • sw April 22, 2020 (4:03 pm)

        And the decal counterfeit business would be in full swing.  The sheer amount of traffic that would try to use the lower bridge if even limited scope were permitted would completely paralyze the network of streets – rendering them obsolete.  There is no way to enforce variable use of the lower bridge, period.  Time to put that notion to rest.  As for “suffer an hour commute downtown every day” – I’d make that two hours to be safe.

      • Mark47n April 22, 2020 (4:23 pm)

        I swear, I’ve looked everywhere but I just can’t find my violin to play you my astonishing rendition of ‘Cry Me a River’. So you live near Alki and feel that you should be accorded privileges due to that is a pile of steaming ungulate feces.I feel confident saying that when they start the shoring they will close the lower bridge to traffic at least intermittently.Go around like the rest of us. You can bleat to yourself about how it’s not fair while in your car.

      • tsurly April 22, 2020 (4:32 pm)

        If you live right next to the bridge and commute downtown everyday, ride a bike over it or to the water taxi. Why do you feel entitled to bridge access just because you live next to it? 

      • Rumbles April 22, 2020 (4:40 pm)

        @ Echomike  Welcome to the West Seattle Blog!  You must be new here and don’t have the benefit of reading comments like yours that have been posted over and over again for weeks.  Point to ponder:  They aren’t going to let you use the low bridge, period.  Because if you have a medical problem and need to be rushed to Harborview it needs to be free of traffic.  Try and understand that.  As for your wish for people to be fired, well, that’s probably not going to happen either.  Consider yourself lucky that you or a loved one wasn’t on the high span in the middle of a collapse.  Funny how few people forget that there were no fatalities.   I’m thankful for that.

        • Jim April 22, 2020 (6:07 pm)

          I’m curious, did the high span collapse, did I miss that event. 

        • RayWest April 23, 2020 (1:51 pm)

          What bridge collapse was that?

      • ColumbiaChris April 22, 2020 (4:56 pm)

        EchoMike would clearly rather sit in traffic for 30 minutes to get over the low bridge than drive 30 minutes to the south.

  • Wallace Grommet April 22, 2020 (2:52 pm)

    Once traffic congestion forms on the lower bridge it would take hours to clear.  Drivers fail to leave buffer space while stopped to allow enough room for emergency responders to negotiate traffic jams.  Stop in traffic so that the tires of the car in front remain visible to you

  • Mj April 22, 2020 (3:04 pm)

    The City needs to make fixing/replacing the WSB the #1 priority.  The bridge serves over 100,000 City residents and getting the facility back up and operating needs to take precedent over any and all other discretionary spending.  It’s the City’s constant failure to properly fund maintainance that has led to this situation.  And it’s not about revenue, the City has ample revenue it’s about how the money is spent.  

    • sbv April 22, 2020 (5:05 pm)

      I would agree with you if it was still 2019.

      • alki_2008 April 22, 2020 (9:05 pm)

        Yeah, because in 2019 there were few concerns about crowding onto buses to get to work downtown. There is no way we should pack buses like we did in 2019, especially for vulnerable and elderly West Seattleites.

        So now, when taking public transit is less advisable (unless there’s an effective vaccine) it is being encouraged and promoted.

    • Jim April 22, 2020 (6:36 pm)

      I would agree, county, city, state, officials practice deferred maintenance, on all buildings, bridges, roads. They feel that they don’t need to maintain new structures, and with older structures, it’s always a Band-Aid approach. I worked for the State of Alaska as a contracting officer, and it was routine to not have any maintenance dollars budgeted for new structures. In fact, when I started with the state of Alaska in Juneau, the Capital Building had a leak, in the Senate Chambers ceiling, which that water could be coming from anywhere on that roof, and following a Joyce, rafter, before dripping. Instead of properly fixing the roof, meaning replace the whole roof, they simply had a contractor slap some hot tar over the part of the ceiling that was leaking. One other problem was the brick facia was peeling away from the outside of the building, from water, freezing year in and year out. That was 30 years ago. Two years ago, a chunk of the brick facia falls off the building falling 40 feet,  landing right next to a Senator, who was standing there on the steps of the capital building. Had that Senator been standing two feet to his left, he would have been killed. It was then, 30 years AFTER we knew of the leak, and the facia peeling away from the outer building. It took almost 4 million dollars to fix, the roof and repairing the cosmetic facia of the building. A restoration company here in Seattle won the contract, it turned out beautiful. The structural damage done to the rafters, and the wood ceiling structure was significant. I asked my friend who was on  the maintenance team for the Capital Building, he told me, every year they would just patch and paint the ceiling in the Senate Chambers. I no longer live in Alaska, I got lucky with my time in the military, and 25 years I was able to retire very early, 51, with an amazing pension. At 53, life’s great, except for the Corona virus. BTW, I grew up in West Seattle, lived there when the original bridge was hit by a ship and jammed in the up position, graduated from Chief Sealth. 

  • dcn April 22, 2020 (3:10 pm)

    I’ve been wondering too why the bearing issue with Pier 18 went unnoticed until now.

  • dsa April 22, 2020 (3:15 pm)

    WSDOT trucks would be a good thing if true.  I think you meant SDOT.

  • vlado April 22, 2020 (3:24 pm)

    This confirms my assumption (after the recent SDOT briefing) that the main issue is the failed bearing.  In this additional information I don’t see any mention of correlation of the bearing failure on the box girder structural system of the bridge.   It is a very significant issue, since a box girder system is an assembly designed to very specific loads.  With a failed bearing in one corner the whole system is affected in a variety of manners, including warping that would eventually result in the kind of stress fractures we are seeing on the bridge.  I don’t want to start pointing fingers as to who is responsible for what amounts to an incredibly expensive problem that could have been avoided.  I think that it is more important to conduct an institutional review of SDOT, including chronic underfunding and the politicization of critical infrastructure in Seattle.  That is the root problem of this mess. 

    • Frog April 22, 2020 (4:39 pm)

      Yes, clearly a decision was made not to proactively fix the bearing, which they have known about for at least as long as the cracks in the box, and probably longer.  Now that the truth is gradually being “extruded” from the spin, it would be interesting to know more about that decision process.  I am sure it wasn’t an easy call.  Proactively fixing the bearing 8 years ago would have probably required a multi-month shut-down of at least part of the bridge, which would have been a pain to the public and caused a lot of complaining.  Also, it would have cost in the eight figures of $$.  Considering that travel by private car has long ceased to be a political priority in Seattle, I am sure no one wanted to spend such money on a road used mostly by cars — a road not even suitable for bike lanes.

      • ColumbiaChris April 22, 2020 (8:16 pm)

        “Considering that travel by private car has long ceased to be a political priority in Seattle…”

        What alternate reality do you live in? I would like to live in this mythical Seattle where cars do not have near-absolute primacy.

        • Heath A Pierce April 23, 2020 (10:55 am)

          Getting us out of our cars has been a political priority for a long time.  Traffic diets, lane reductions (35th Ave.), reduced speed limits, reduced parking downtown and millions and millions spent on bike lanes (and I’m an avid cyclist commuting to Bellevue by bike).  Washington State and Seattle have been trying their best to get us out of our cars for a long, long time. 

  • Kalo April 22, 2020 (3:30 pm)

    This won’t be a popular comment, but, here goes:if memory serves, it’s been stated that the repair could last just 10 years. We’re already inconvenienced. Do we want to go through this inconvenience again in 10 years? Tear it down and replace it. Make it one and done!
    Also, how about a moratorium on building of these apodments/large rental buildings that have taken over the West side.  

    • Roms April 22, 2020 (3:51 pm)

      They could also start thinking about building another bridge between the high bridge and the 1st Ave one to have more options in the future in case of issues/replacements.

    • WS Resident April 22, 2020 (3:53 pm)

      That doesn’t seem crazy to me, start now and build a safer structure. 

      • Jim April 22, 2020 (6:47 pm)

        Here’s my thoughts, I grew up in West Seattle, and lived there when the original bridge was hit by the drunken captain jamming it in the up position. I don’t recall how long it took, from design, environment impact statements, to the actual building of it. At the time I remember saying to my dad, why don’t they just build a whole new bridge not just one span, and two, why don’t they build it with future traffic volumes in mind. Like the new 520 it’s not that much better than the first, currently it has an emergency lane, but if volumes were to pick up, that lane would probably become a general use lane. My point is they didn’t build it better, they didn’t think of traffic volumes, etc. It may be a good idea to get it open while the design, impact statements, are being done. Rather than just close it. 

    • sw April 22, 2020 (4:00 pm)

      Actually, “replace” rather than “repair” is a very popular idea, which has been mentioned by Lisa Herbold.  Would not surprise me at all to see the span replaced.  I love your second idea as well, however we know how much the city loves developers.

    • Mark47n April 22, 2020 (4:33 pm)

      Definitely easier said than done. Bridge design and permitting prior to construction can be a multiyear process. It has to take not only the planned and future usage into account, the soil – or mud – what the means of construction are going to be, how construction is going to impact marine traffic and more. The required elevation of the bridge certainly doesn’t simplify anything.The proposal that the bridge should be repaired allowing the required time to go through a proper design process isn’t so bad. Look what happened last time. A rushed design, sloppy quality control on the concrete, perhaps issues with post tensioned cables or who knows. At the end of the day there isn’t going to be anything inexpensive here.As to Bertha: Bertha has been buried under Seattle never to see light again.I shudder to think about how far away the tunnel would have to begin to go under the river and then come back up again…

  • Drew April 22, 2020 (3:55 pm)

    Good clear communication from SDOT on this particular issue, and solid idea to divert funding from the useless streetcar.  Thanks WSB for your continued fine reporting.

  • Brian April 22, 2020 (4:09 pm)

    Bring Bertha back!  The bridge should be replaced by a network of tunnels connecting WS, Bainbridge, and Vashon to the city.  No ferry noise makes for a better environment for the whales.

    • Rumbles April 22, 2020 (4:33 pm)

      @ Brian Hmmm, you obviously have never looked at a nautical map of the depth of Puget Sound if you think a tunnel would be that easy.  Do you have any idea how deep it is just west of Alki Point?  No, probably not.

      • Kelly April 22, 2020 (8:36 pm)

        You don’t need to go under Elliot Bay… Just under the duwamish. Connect 1st to 35th in 2, 3 places.

        • Boop April 23, 2020 (12:13 pm)

          @Kelly  Brian’s post stated that there should be “tunnels connecting WS, Bainbridge and Vashon.” 

          If you were going to connect the two islands (BI and V) with tunnels, you would need to go under Elliott Bay, or more technically, Puget Sound.

  • Mj April 22, 2020 (4:20 pm)

    Kalo in theory the Light Rail would be completed to WS in 10 years, thus 10 years is important.  If it is indeed the bearing on Pier 18 and they fix it maybe the bridge could be opened up with a weight restriction?

  • CandrewB April 22, 2020 (5:13 pm)

    I’ll be expecting a replace with light rail replacement funded by ST revenues and a likely average $15K property tax LID assessment…

  • microknit April 22, 2020 (6:48 pm)

    “To accelerate vital infrastructure projects like the West Seattle Bridge, we can redirect funds away from money-losing projects like the Center City Connector streetcar through downtown.”

    Maybe a nitpick, but this argument doesn’t really hold water – the West Seattle Bridge will also be a money-losing project. Why hold transit projects to a standard of profitability that doesn’t apply to road projects? A much sounder argument would be that there’s a greater need and number of people to be served by the WS Bridge project as opposed to the CCC streetcar.

    • ColumbiaChris April 22, 2020 (8:20 pm)

      No one likes to be reminded of how much the government subsidizes the use of their private cars.

      • alki_2008 April 22, 2020 (9:16 pm)

        No one likes to be reminded how difficult it is to get around without a private car once you get old. As if the elderly don’t already have coronavirus (and the flu) to worry about, both of which they’re more at risk of contracting when crammed onto public transit as they make their way downtown for medical appointments and treatments.

        • Ice April 23, 2020 (8:25 am)

          If you understandably don’t want to ride the bus, you can still get downtown, go to Highline or somewhere else to the south or even see a PCP/specialist in West Seattle. Believe it or not but without the bridge you are still better connected to medical services than nearly all of the rural US. 

          • AW April 23, 2020 (10:58 am)

            But we are not in a rural area.  It’s also not so easy to just change doctors,  especially if you have a long term relationship and treatment program.

  • Jamie Williams April 23, 2020 (1:47 am)

    As a two wheeler I love this idea (I hate street cars)

  • Bob Lang April 24, 2020 (10:44 am)

    When was this bearing issue first identified?  Date?

Sorry, comment time is over.