WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE: Why did the bridge break? Why can’t it partly reopen now? Community Task Force hears answers to those and other questions

(WSB photo, last month: West Seattle Bridge seen from Harbor Avenue rooftop)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Answers to recurring questions were among the highlights of this month’s West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meeting, held online Thursday afternoon

The meeting was led by CTF co-chair Greg Nickels. Here’s the video, followed by our report on what happened:

MEMBERS’ OBSERVATIONS/QUESTIONS: The meeting usually begins with these, ever since one meeting that was stuffed full of presentations, with little time for CTF members to discuss anything. Liz Powell of West Seattle Bridge NOW brought up Seattle City Council Position 8 finalist Ken Wilson, a civil engineer, having been quoted by a Seattle Times columnist as contending that the bridge could/should be partly reopened immediately.

Powell suggested it would be helpful for an SDOT engineer or contractor rep to address this directly. SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe noted that the issue was scheduled to be discussed later on the agenda. So before getting to other CTF member questions/comments, let’s jump ahead to that – they even had a slide ready in the meeting deck:

Bridge project director Heather Marx said putting any traffic on the bridge now would “cause more cracking and further harm the condition of the bridge. … Additional work is needed to further strengthen the bridge” so traffic can be restored. “There are other things too,” Marx said – such as holes in the bridge deck from work/monitoring, past and present. “Mostly, it’s important to understand that it is not safe” and the bridge will not be reopened until it is.

Back to CTF member comments/questions at the start of the meeting: Deb Barker from the West Seattle Transportation Coalition brought up a question surfaced by WSB commenters recently – Is the Water Taxi going to go back to its weekday-only, commute-periods-only schedule in October as usual, though the bridge won’t be open yet, and commute traffic is picking up?

Short answer, yes, that’s the plan. Marx said Metro “is not funded to run the Water Taxi at its current service levels” beyond October. “And even if we found more money, there are additional issues.” King County’s Chris Arkills said those issues would include staffing, though even just getting the funding approved would be a tough sell with the County Council. Barker pressed the subject of whether there isn’t additional money somewhere; Shannon Braddock from County Executive Dow Constantine‘s staff said no. Co-chair Nickels asked how much money extending the schedule would cost; Arkills didn’t have that number handy. “It’s expensive to operate a full schedule.” Retorted Barker, “Yes, but we have a bridge that’s closed.” (Later, Marx pointed out that the Water Taxi hasn’t been running full – if it’s needed, show it by filling it up, she suggested. The usual WT vessel has a capacity of more than 270; one Saturday sailing topped out at 180+, and that, they said, has been the recent peak.) We also have requested the cost info and were told today that won’t be available any sooner than Monday; we’ll report it when we get it.

Continuing with CTF member comments, Dan Austin from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce brought up a truck-driver shortage that food-supply companies are experiencing, explaining that it’s affecting restaurant supplies, so low-bridge access is keeping small restaurants open. Kent is the only place they can get supplies right now. “It’s incredibly brutal,” Austin said. … Peter Goldman, a CTF member representing environmental/bicycling advocacy, offered positive feedback on bicycling increasing during the closure and SDOT’s support work. … Barker then had one more comment, summarizing her conversations with neighbors, who still want to know why they’re not seeing any work going on. “Once (repair work) starts, how are you going to show that it’s actually occurring?” – something “incredibly visual” is needed. Marx said they’re continuing to offer community briefings, and said that they’re actually working on the banner idea suggested in the last CTF meeting (WSB coverage here) by City Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

Next, a briefing on a project of note in one of the areas that’s taken on a sizable share of West Seattle Bridge closure detour traffic

SOUTH PARK DRAINAGE PROJECT: Some gravel streets are being rebuilt to be fully paved as part of this project addressing a longstanding flooding problem in South Park. These three slides had the project toplines:

Seattle Public Utilities is the lead agency on this project and is working with SDOT on this; the project website is here. Barker wondered how they were going to get the word out beyond those who have heard because they live/work in the area; Marx said the impact isn’t likely to go beyond those who routinely use the area, as these aren’t streets that people are using for detouring/short-cutting.

WHAT’S HAPPENING – AND HAPPENED – WITH THE BRIDGE: As we reported earlier this week, repair contractor Kraemer North America is working on updated estimates – “scope, schedule, budget” – and they have some “early works packages” in progress. Then in September, Marx said, they’ll have 90 percent design to give to Kraemer for a new estimate; that will be used for negotiating the “maximum allowable construction cost” before construction starts in November. “Work is happening on the bridge right now,” Marx said – some equipment replacement as well as the asbestos survey noted in our recent report. “It’s all happening inside the bridge.” Getting going with the early work packages awaits only a final agreement on federal funding. Marx added that things are “working really well” with repair designers WSP and contractor Kraemer NA.

Marx says they’re still working on answers for all 175 questions asked during last month’s community meeting (WSB coverage here; see the full list of those questions here).

Then she moved on to address the recurring question of what exactly went wrong with the bridge, leading to the cracking that required its emergency closure on March 23, 2020:

In short, “insufficient post-tensioning” was the problem, Marx summarized, “even though it was designed to the standards of the time.” The cracking occurred in all three spans; the center span has been stabilized “to prevent the bridge from falling down. That wasn’t any kind of restoration that was adequate to restoring traffic on the bridge.” Zimbabwe added that the cracking continued even after “live load” – traffic – was removed, since most of the bridge’s load is actually its own weight. (This is the point where they then moved on to the “why can’t the bridge be partially reopened?” question, addressed above.)

A Task Force member asked in chat (which is not visible in the stream), is the repair project still on track for mid-2022? Yes, said Marx. CTF member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) asked for clarification on this funding slide:

Marx said the bottom line is that the project is now “fully funded.” Zimbabwe elaborated that “there’s no funding impediment to keep us from moving forward.”

SW ANDOVER OVERPASS: Austin brought up the pedestrian/bicycle-bridge closure we covered earlier this week. Marx reiterated that “SPD Crime Prevention let us know there were all kinds of illegal activities” happening there, plus the trespassing issue. “We’re sorry we didn’t give more notice,” she said, and said they’re working on more public communication. The project, meantime, will start in September and last three months. What about opening it during weekday hours? No. (Councilmember Herbold’s office is pursuing this too, we confirmed today; we expect a followup early next week if not sooner.)

RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: Updates from program manager Sara Zora: As also reported here earlier this week, the temporary-signal work by the Duwamish Longhouse will start soon and will be weekends only. The Highland Park Way/West Marginal intersection work, also continuing on weekends only, will be finished next month. In late August, an “incentives” program will launch, to try to get more people to try alternative means of travel:

They’ll be spending more than $1 million to try to encourage alternative travel.

LOW BRIDGE ACCESS: Zora had a stats update:

If you want to apply for access starting in September, this Sunday is the deadline – go here. Colleen Desmond of Highland Park asked if they have stats about crashes on detour routes, after these stats:

They do but didn’t have it handy, and will bring it in the future. She also thanked SDOT for the added turn signal at 8th/Roxbury.

SAL THE SALMON VIDEO: Don Armeni Boat Ramp is a popular place for filming. Earlier this summer, an SDOT video was shot there, featuring the salmon puppet that’s used to promote travel alternatives. It’ll be part of the alternative-commute campaign. Meeting attendees got a preview (which you can see toward the end of the video above – starting at 1:18:45).

16TH SW: Barker asked about the status of speed-concerned neighbors. Zora said they’ve gathered data and would be having an internal meeting today (Friday), so there’ll be info to share with the community after that,

NEXT MEETING: Noon Wednesday, September 15th, noon.

49 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE: Why did the bridge break? Why can't it partly reopen now? Community Task Force hears answers to those and other questions"

  • sw August 13, 2021 (3:22 pm)

    If they do hang a banner off the bridge, perhaps they could do a “thermometer chart” or similar to visually show progress.  A bit hokey, yes – but would get the point across that progress is being made rather than a banner with text that says “STILL FIXING IT – DONE SOON.”

    • DRC August 13, 2021 (3:44 pm)

             Good Idea,The Other One Is Stupid

    • This August 13, 2021 (6:01 pm)

      Kind of a similar idea, but some might enjoy an estimated-days-left-until-bridge-reopens countdown display, somewhere is the community, might be encouraging.

  • k August 13, 2021 (3:36 pm)

    Low bridge access is critical for restaurants—so they can get supplies in Kent? 

    • alki_2008 August 15, 2021 (1:57 am)

      Yes. They need to get to I-5, so they can get to Kent, which is where the supplies are. They can’t just go to Safeway to buy things. Unless you’re in the restaurant industry, then I’m not sure why you are confused.

      • Auntie August 17, 2021 (2:47 pm)

        When I go to Kent, I go south on 509 to 519 or 599 to I-5/I-405. Why do they need the low bridge to get to I-5?

  • Jay August 13, 2021 (3:40 pm)

    Marx’s answer on the Andover bridge was pretty dismissive, especially given the magnitude of the community response.

    • Yup August 13, 2021 (4:45 pm)

      She gave the answer and where it came from what more do you want.  Sounds like you need to contact SPD Crime Prevention at SW Precinct to get the answer you need. 

      • Adam August 14, 2021 (8:21 am)

        That’s a weirdly emotional response to someone with a valid point. You don’t have to agree, but what a strange way for an adult to act. 

  • JohnW August 13, 2021 (4:08 pm)

    Thanks for the coverage WSB.”They’ll be spending more than $1 million to try to encourage alternative travel,”  is remarkable.—–Make that, “We’ll be spending more than $1 million to encourage alternative travel,” as that is our money!Isn’t that a bit like spending a million dollars at this time informing people that there is COVID?  Don’t virtually all  West Seattleites  experience encouragement of alternatives (or no travel at all) off the peninsula every day we attempt to drive?Perhaps that $1 million could better be spent returning the Water Taxi that is not funded to full service?

    • Trudy s August 13, 2021 (5:00 pm)

      Yes!!! Or free pass for the water taxi- one ride.

    • bill August 13, 2021 (10:38 pm)

      The article noted the water taxi is not being utilized at anywhere near full capacity, so what is the point of spending more money on it?

    • Sasquatch August 14, 2021 (8:38 am)

      It is really out of touch with what the community wants. You can try to “re-educate” me on alternative transportation but it’s a complete waist of money.  I was once younger and didn’t have kids, and I rode a bicycle or took the bus just about everywhere at any time of day/year. It’s like SDOT thinks the general public can ride bikes or take buses like we are all young and strong. So out of touch.    SDOT trying to force change without providing light rail, safe routes, reliable transport….I need to take my kids to see their grandma by car, I need to get to soccer practices with 4 girls three times a week by car, I need to see my doctor/dentist by car  – none of these routes have a reasonable, safe option. Come on SDOT! Get it together. Jeese. 

      • JenT August 17, 2021 (12:41 pm)

        Seriously.  I’ve been saying the same for this entire fiasco, since the first Town Hall in March 2020 when SDOT condescendingly told us we’d need to “figure it out” regarding getting on and off the peninsula.  Bikes and scooters are not an option for many of us.  And the bus?  I’m supposed to get to medical appointments on a 3-hour bus ride during COVID?  Give me a break.  And now they’re going to spend $1M on a campaign to tell people to bike and scooter, right before it turns cold and starts raining for 6 months?!  What a phenomenal waste. 

  • Flivver August 13, 2021 (4:16 pm)

    STILL believe SDOT’s bungled the whole high bridge debacle. But, they’ve become experts at whistling past the graveyard. Our tax dollars at work. 

    • Sasquatch August 14, 2021 (8:45 am)

      There needs to be a complete audit of SDOT on the federal level. They clearly have become a dysfunctional, insular bureaucracy that will only circle the wagon train to shoot down any criticism. 

  • 22blades August 13, 2021 (4:45 pm)

    Talking about the bridge is like talking to someone with dementia: an infinite loop of malaise. It is broken. They are trying to figure out how to fix it. They don’t know when it will be fixed because they are trying to figure out how to fix it. It is broken. They don’t know when it will be fixed because they are trying to figure out how to fix it. P.S.: Everyone involved with the fix goes home at night & gets paid at the end of the month.

  • namercury August 13, 2021 (4:48 pm)

    It is time to elect Ken Wilson to the City Council so we have an engineer with full access to the information as a check on SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe  and SDOT who have a strong bias against anything favorable to cars and similar vehicle transportation.  Yes, although we should do our best to reduce car traffic, a dramatic reduction is impractical.   I’m convinced Zimbabwe is “slow walking” the bridge repair as part of his secret “we hate cars” agenda.    

    • Jort August 13, 2021 (6:10 pm)

      If you think Seattle’s head of SDOT has a “we hate cars” agenda, I would hate to see what the budget and priority list would look like if he loved cars. Because right now cars get the overwhelming share of prioritization and transportation funding in Seattle. And it’s not even close. 

  • 1994 August 13, 2021 (4:55 pm)

    From WSBlog reporting above:Austin brought up the pedestrian/bicycle-bridge closure we covered earlier this weekMarx reiterated that “SPD Crime Prevention let us know there were all kinds of illegal activities” happening there, plus the trespassing issue. “We’re sorry we didn’t give more notice,”I say put SDOT in charge of the homeless crisis declared 4 or 5 years ago by mayor Ed.  All kinds of illegal camping, blocking sidewalks, littering….all over the city. Maybe SDOT can get on top of that which most would agree is a much higher priority than shutting down a vital transportation link for those NOT driving a motor vehicle!

  • Reality Chick August 13, 2021 (5:00 pm)

    The northwest part of West Seattle has the furthest
    distance to travel to get in/out with the bridge closed.
    The 50, the only all-day bus service, is a long slog that adds significant time
    to get where you need to go (esp. if you need to connect—inc. the C line, which
    has chronic over-crowding issues). It will not be able to compete with driving
    The 37 has been cancelled UFN (and was being starved to death even before the
    Relying on ridership data points for the water taxi when offices have not
    re-opened and UW and other schools have been on virtual classes is a
    non-response. Figures won’t lie, but …

    We will again be contacting SDOT and KC Metro but having
    lived through the ending of the all-day 56, the starvation of the 37, and
    everything since the bridge closed feel it is important that this message be
    communicated in every way it can be. We are being asked to “consider non-SOV
    alternatives” and “not drive through neighborhoods” so what is The Plan for us
    at this end of West Seattle? 

    • cheeseWS777 August 13, 2021 (8:57 pm)

      Yes, nobody can switch from driving to riding the bus if they keep cutting bus routes/schedules.and i wonder if all the work they have now started on these detours wl b finished b4 they even finish with the bridge. Prolly just adding to the trafik congestion.maybe ill find it cheepest to buyanother car, park on harbor island and just drive to bridge in morning and walk across to my other vehicle…

    • Carole August 13, 2021 (11:37 pm)

      From north of the Junction it takes at least 2 buses to get downtown: the 50 or 128 to the C, or the 50 to light rail at Lander. To get anywhere else, such as hospitals or clinics on Pill Hill, or to Bellevue, Issaquah, etc.,  is a third bus. Allowing extra time for missed transfers, and time to walk the several blocks between connections (assuming you’re not disabled or are healthy enough for that)  it can take 1.5 hrs or more. I can drive it faster, even if I have to pay for parking.  The 55 used to be a straight shot to downtown, faster than the transfers, and used to run all day.

      • Yeah August 14, 2021 (7:49 am)

        I used to work in Georgetown. 15 min driving my car or 30 min running there with a back pack. Bus was two transfers and like 1-1/2hrs. Lol!!! 

  • mark August 13, 2021 (5:10 pm)

    The bridge has a very low barrier on the sides.  Much too low.  I’ve seen that they have put a temporary railing in place for workers.  With nothing else going on, why not install a proper railing like they did to the Aurora bridge?        

    • cheeseWS777 August 13, 2021 (8:43 pm)

      Because everyone im pretty sure would just end up talking about it for a year to avoid having to do any sort of real work. So wait, actually why arent they proposing this lol

    • Question Authority August 13, 2021 (9:40 pm)

      The railing/barrier on the Aurora Bridge was installed as a suicide prevention method and has cut incidents down tremendously.  The WS High Bridge lacks a walkway so the need for such a barrier is not relevant, having one for trespassers is an entirely different topic.

  • Mj August 13, 2021 (5:28 pm)

    An Engineer on the Council would be good.  Remember Governor/Senator Dan Evans also an Engineer turned out to be very good!

    • Peter S. August 13, 2021 (5:46 pm)

      And he was, *gasp*, a Republican, too!

      • PotKettleBlack August 14, 2021 (9:05 am)

        Fritz Todt was an accomplished engineer that served in government. He was also “gasp” a Nazi.

  • Kingfisher August 13, 2021 (5:30 pm)

    I watched  Engineering Catastrophes earlier this week and they had a segment on the I-40 bridge collapse over the Arkansas River in 2002.   The bridge was struck by a tug boat pushing 2 barges and part of the bridge fell into the river.  It was rebuilt in 2.5 months. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-40_bridge_disaster

    • Noway August 13, 2021 (5:58 pm)

      Again, not the same type of bridge,  that was a replacement, of a few sections. Completely different.  If you compare,  at least a good comparison. 

      • onion August 13, 2021 (9:42 pm)

        Promoting alternative travel options while cutting. water taxi and bus service insults common sense.  You encourage people to use alternatives by PROVIDING THEM!

    • Jort August 13, 2021 (6:13 pm)

      Yeah, totally! After all, every bridge is the same and so Seattle should just do what they did in Missouri! Because the only possible reason it’s taking so long is because they’re just lazy! Maybe we can just have the folks over in Missouri fax us over their old plans and BAM we’re back in business, baby!!

    • Jon Wright August 13, 2021 (6:22 pm)

      2.5 months? That’s nothing. I watched an episode of Star Trek where it took Geordi, Wesley, and Data less than 6 hours to reconfigure the main deflector dish to emit phased tachyon pulses in order to move the Enterprise out of the collapsing Lexorian subspace grid!

  • Jort August 13, 2021 (6:17 pm)

    If “all kinds of illegal activities” and “vandalism” were just as much of a criteria for shutting down automobile bridges as they seem to be for a pedestrian bridge, then every bridge in Seattle would be closed for eternity. Somehow when somebody tags an automobile sign or bridge with graffiti we don’t seem to shut the entire freeway network down in retaliation. But, hey, I’d be down for that! This is the kind of anti-pedestrian mindset that plagues our city’s “leadership.” Open the Andover bridge and get over it.

  • Deb Barker August 13, 2021 (6:20 pm)

    @ Reality  Chick – At the WSBCTF meeting yesterday, I raised your question about Water Taxi continuing frequent service in October and got some pretty dismal news from King County folks. There is no funding for continued level of service without King County Council approval, and there is also a staffing problem since the larger crew is hired only for summer service. I asked about other funding sources, and Mayor Nickels asked what is the funding gap amount. Shannon Braddock with the KC Executives Office will check in with Councilmember McDermott’s office about this challenge. Both she and KC Metro’s Chris Arkills offered these replies to the Community Task Force ‘Chat’: From Shannon Braddock – ‘The Executive Office will continue to work with the Council, Metro, and CM McDermott specifically around options related to the Water Taxi.  Chris did a good job outlining some of the challenges.’ From Chris Arkills –  ‘I will be getting back to everyone regarding Water Taxi costs as soon as I can.’ I understand that the Water Taxi will be a topic at the next September CTF meeting September 15th. And I learned that the proposed ‘Transit Go’ incentives program will include the water taxi. Thank you again for bring up this question. It sure needs a better answer tho… 

  • namercury August 13, 2021 (8:14 pm)

      SDOT should not be doing the design.  SDOT should be in charge of administration of the bridge repair which would turn the design over to their consultant.  However, that would dramatically increase the pace of the project which is not in the interest of the SDOT “slow walk”!    

  • Wendell August 13, 2021 (9:27 pm)

    Maybe the banner should read 510 days without an accident on the West Seatttle Bridge. 

  • Mj August 13, 2021 (10:10 pm)

    In lieu of the maintaining the extended WT service how about more bus service in WS, in particular neighborhoods that historically had such service?

  • Joe Z August 14, 2021 (12:42 am)

    How many people ride the extra summer water taxi runs? I could ride the bus to downtown and back twice in the time it would take me to catch the water taxi shuttle to the water taxi and walk up to 3rd Ave. Outside of a few peak commute runs I suspect they would be better off shuttling everyone to the C line stop on Avalon. Plus the water taxi is absurdly expensive if you don’t have a transit pass. I know it’s not a fancy or exciting thing, but running more buses is the best way to help the most people. If I have to wait more than 6 or 7 minutes for a bus I start questioning why I didn’t just drive the detour route. 

    • Gull August 14, 2021 (5:10 am)

      Putting more buses into traffic doesn’t make good sense for traffic or the environment.Agree that the water taxi is not as financially accessible. Maybe this needs to change. If it was more affordable to ride, and ran more frequently, and from more locations, it could be a more utilized and convenient option for more people.The SkyLink gondola would be a game changer… If feasible, let’s fast track this.

      • Joe Z August 14, 2021 (1:06 pm)

        More buses would reduce traffic, not increase it. 

        • Gull August 14, 2021 (6:17 pm)

          Don’t think more buses would reduce traffic enough, unfortunately, and it’s a mode that shares roadway with cars, so isn’t as ideal for reducing traffic.

          It’s time to think outside the lanes.

          We might also think about what modes will actually encourage people to switch from driving to another mode. Buses have been around for a long time, and think there are many who just won’t convert to buses.

          More water taxi’s, and the SkyLink gondolas, could help encourage some new conversions from driving. The novelty, comfort, convenience, accessibility, enjoyment of ride and view, environmentally friendly, etc, some factors of these modes which could help.

  • 22blades August 14, 2021 (11:46 am)

    Uber Boats. (Yikes. Sounds like U-Boats…)

  • Sasquatch August 14, 2021 (12:34 pm)

    Perhaps we wouldn’t be in this problem if we tax big business the way that they should be. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and all of the other large employers downtown Get significant tax breaks. Perhaps if we raise the taxes on those businesses and others there would be money to fix the bridge and other required maintenance. If they don’t like it they can move to some state that will give them a tax benefit – thus reducing traffic anyway. Maybe the problem is that we have too many jobs downtown and too many employees commuting in from outside of Seattle. 

  • Lou August 14, 2021 (11:29 pm)

    SURELY teachers and other school employees should be given passes to take the low bridge. NOPE!!! Denied by the city. Teachers living in WS are quitting and opting for open positions in WS  because of the bridge. We don’t pay teachers enough to live “in the city,” so we move here (and we love West Seattle). But florists, beer distributors, etc. can use the lower bridge, but not teachers. Cool. Priorities checked again.

  • Dan August 15, 2021 (4:16 am)

    Pretty interesting that SDOT conducts it’s own investigation finds that it’s the original engineers fault, not theirs…… Maybe we should have murderers sit on the jury of their trials while we are at it. No mention of the failure to tighten any of these post tension cables ever? No mention of the unused access points left open to allow SDOT to tighten the cables? So pathetic

Sorry, comment time is over.