By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Bridge updates spanned much of this month’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting – the West Seattle high bridge and low bridge, and the 1st Avenue South Bridge. Last night’s online attendees also heard about an aerial alternative.
First, the bridge briefing:
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE & W. MARGINAL WAY: SDOT‘s Heather Marx first tackled West Marginal Way – where a stretch of two-way protected bicycle lane is proposed – noting that the feedback from last week’s open-house meeting was “all over the map.” (Here’s our coverage.)
A decision is due in April. You can comment via email at email@example.com or, if you have a business on West Marginal, take this survey.
Next, regarding low-bridge access: Marx recapped current policy:
She also mentioned the on-call medical workers exemption – part of the expanded access they will temporarily offer (as we first reported three weeks ago) :
Q&A followed. First: “Can the low bridge hours [for open access, currently 9 pm-5 am] be expanded?” They’re considering expanding it to 6 am, Marx said.
“When will the high bridge be repaired?’ An updated schedule is expected in the next few weeks; for now, they’re still expecting the repairs will be completed by “midyear 2022,” but Marx said traffic would be phased in “in a way that won’t put anybody at risk.”
Can it be fixed faster? “We’re doing everything we can to expedite the repair.”
Why is it taking so long? The repairs have to be designed, and in a way that will last.
Do Marx and other city officials have exemptions allowing them to use the low bridge? “Of course not.”
“Can the high bridge carry ambulances?” Marx: “No, there are holes in the deck.”
“Is the low bridge showing more wear and tear from all this [extra] use?” No.
How did the stabilized bridge respond to the recent cold temperatures and snow?
“Great!” enthused Marx. It responded exactly how the modeling showed it should, and that’s “good news.” She added, “Snow is very heavy.”
In response to the next question/comment, Marx insisted the bridge trouble that forced the closure wasn’t because of a lack of maintenance, but due to a flaw in the original design and materials, she stressed.
Another question: “The bridge failed early in its life – how are you ensuring similar mistakes aren’t being made?” Marx explained that a bridge like this, if designed today, would have additional strengthening from the start. SDOT’s consultants at WSP, who are designing the permanent repairs, believe there’s now an 84 percent chance the bridge will last for its full 45-year (as originally projected) remaining life.
Will low bridge restrictions continue when the high bridge reopens? Marx: No.
1ST AVENUE SOUTH BRIDGE: This is a state bridge, not a city bridge, so its upcoming southbound-side repair work was discussed by WSDOT‘s Tom Pearce. “A little headache now, to avoid big headaches later,” he said, while stressing “the bridge IS safe.” He also emphasized that people should plan ahead to avoid big backups – especially if you can take other routes like the South Park Bridge, or the East Marginal bridge. He explained the bearing-pad work (which you can read about here) that’ll be done during the closure. Anything else in the area coming up? asked WSTC board member Deb Barker. Southbound I-5 between I-90 and the West Seattle Bridge exit will have lane closures over 16 weekends in the future, he said.
P.S. SDOT told WSB today that it is preparing for the state-bridge work’s traffic impacts with plans including these:
*We are deploying additional Seattle Response Team (SRT) crews, especially in the areas around the low bridge to support the afternoon peak when we tend to see the most congestion.
*In addition to WSDOT posting messages on the trailer mounted electronic signs on both sides of the bridge, we are posting messages about the closure and lane reductions on our overhead electronic signs on routes approaching both bridges. This notification helps drivers make decisions earlier when they still have good options to choose alternate routes or travel at another time.
*During the closures and lane reductions, we will monitor travel patterns 24/7 and make changes to signal timing as needed.
*We have limited or restricted other construction activities along the detour route for the duration of this WSDOT project.
They’re also stepping up pothole repair on detour routes.
WEST SEATTLE SKY LINK: We featured the gondola concept here last month. Martin Pagel, one of the people with whom we spoke for that story, gave the presentation last night at WSTC. To recap – they propose a gondola system as an cheaper-and-faster-to-build alternative to light rail between downtown and West Seattle.
Q&A: What happens if there’s a power outage? The motor usually has backup power, Pagel said.
What about high wind? “Depending on the technology, gondola systems can handle up to 70 mph.” And winds over 65 mph have only happened on six days in the past 70 years, added WSTC board member and gondola advocate Marty Westerman.
Where did they get the cost estimates? Research ln other systems that have been operating for the past 30+ years.
How would it get over Pigeon Point? Could be over existing houses, but there’s “no need to tear any houses down” unlike light rail, replied Pagel. Added supporter Dennis Noland, “Gondolas are very quiet, so we’re eliminating the noise impact.” He also noted that light rail currently is looking at 150-foot-high guideways along SW Genesee, “higher than the high-level West Seattle Bridge.” Construction would take a lot less time, too, he said. Those passing over in gondolas are likely to look out rather than down, said SkyLink’s Joyce Hengesbach.
How have they performed in quake-prone cities? They are used in many such areas – from South America to Japan – Pagel said.
What’s next? They want Sound Transit to approve a study – “we’ve got three consulting firms that are ready to jump in,” said Westerman.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Take Metro‘s survey. Don’t just think about reviving old routes – consider new ones, suggested WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets on fourth Thursdays most months, 6:30 pm online. Watch westseattletc.org for updates.