Low bridge, West Marginal, the distant future: Here’s what else West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force heard about this week

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After the update on impending high-bridge repairs – as reported hereSDOT briefed the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force on the low bridge, West Marginal work, and more.

LOW BRIDGE PROBLEM POSTMORTEM: The recent trouble forced SDOT to do pump work that was already on the schedule for just days after the breakdown, noted bridge-program director Heather Marx. She also said the pump problem affected maritime traffic much more than vehicle traffic, delaying barges with cargo including perishable groceries for Southeast Alaska. So they expedited to November 4-5 a pump replacement that originally had been scheduled for November 9th. They also discovered “a filter had broken” and that added extra work – 16 barrels of hydraulic fluid had to be drained and replaced. There’s one more project ahead, a cylinder replacement planned December 10th-13th:

There’s no impact expected to vehicle traffic but openings for marine traffic will be restricted. Meantime, separate from all this, the controls upgrade for the low bridge is currently set for mid-2022, after the high bridge reopens.

LOW BRIDGE ACCESS: SDOT’s Maureen Sheehan led these updates. Here’s how access is going:

Sheehan pointed out the increase in freight vehicles, sooner than anticipated, and the reminder that they’ll ask authorized users to shift trips to different dayparts when Terminal 5‘s first berth opens, further increasing low-bridge usage.

Task force co-chair Greg Nickels asked member Bob Watters of SSA Marine – T-5’s tenant – to talk about what’s being done to try to reduce worker trips. They’re looking at “flexing start times at the terminal” – so all the workers aren’t coming across at once. That’s going to help a lot, he said. Regarding previous discussions of a shuttle, Watters said they’re examining ways to shuttle “casual labor” to and from the ILWU hall. The logistics would depend on “dispatch schedule” – labor orders are placed the day before, and they don’t know how many casuals will be involved each day. “No solution yet, we’re still trying to work through it.” Daily workforce would be 25 to 30 percent casuals. Metro is involved in the discussions.

Sheehan also updated traffic volumes – note that the gray sections represent anticipated usage once T-5 opens.

RECONNECT WEST SEATTLE: SDOT’s Trevor Partap brought more collision information. The detour routes – except for West Marginal and South Michigan – have had lower collision rates, at least in terms of collisions reported to SPD.

The temporary Duwamish Longhouse-vicinity signal on West Marginal will be turned on in late November – if weather allows installation of crosswalk markings. Design for the permanent signal will be completed next year.

Partap outlined three other changes recently made – for one, the post-and-curb island on West Marginal just north of Front that “keeps everybody in the two southbound lanes” and, he said, was installed at the request of businesses. The second one was to discourage last-minute lane changes to get to the 1st Avenue S. Bridge. The third one is to make sure people don’t clog a lane intended for transit and authorized users.

Could the island technique be deployed in other stretches to keep people from using it as an unauthorized passing lane? Nickels added. Partap said yes, they’re thinking about other locations, but talking with SFD to be sure their routes aren’t hindered.

Progress on the “Flip Your Trip” alternative-travel program was presented too – 2,350 registrations so far. Too soon to observe “trends” among participants. They’re continuing to promote vanpooling.

HIGH-BRIDGE REPLACEMENT PLANNING: Though SDOT stresses that a new bridge is many decades away – the repaired bridge is expected to last until 2060 – they’ve continued to study it. As Wes Ducey put it, this is about “putting that time-travel hat on.” He spent a fair amount of time on context for the limits of the existing right of way:

The study looks at concepts both aligned with where the current bridge is, and elsewhere – north of it, south of it, a hybrid, even a tunnel. They focused on maintaining the capacity and access of the current bridge. Here’s how the concepts ranked – red to green was worst to best:

The idea of a tunnel didn’t do well, Ducey said, and has been basically ruled out entirely. At that point, CTF member Deb Barker asked him where the Sound Transit plan to cross the Duwamish for West Seattle light rail factors in – as he hadn’t mentioned it. “We’re coordinating with them all throughout this process,” he replied.

Construction of concepts outside the current right-of-way would take about eight years, he noted. They also would affect businesses and potentially the Pigeon Point neighborhood. For an online (same alignment as current bridge) replacement, they would take down the current bridge in halves, so it would remain half-open during the four or so years of construction. “Staying within the existing footprint reduces impacts,” he summarized. The online option would be shorter than the others – 2,300 linear feet, compared to, for example, 3,400 for a north option, and 15,000 linear feet for a tunnel. A “hybrid bridge” would also require about four years of closures but they’d be able to maintain “five or six lanes” – they’d build a north structure, keep the existing bridge open, then build a south structure for eastbound traffic.

Nickels noted at that point that the Spokane Street Viaduct east of the bridge will likely be in line for replacement by then. Barker wondered who all is working on this with SDOT; ‘a team of structural engineering and long-term-planning folks” hired as consultants, Ducey replied. Barker was asking about bridge width when Marx interjected, “This is just about where a bridge would fit.” CTF member Diane Sosne noted that there had been discussion some time back that this might be needed sooner. Marx said that estimate was from a time when they knew less about the current bridge repairs’ prospects, and they’ve since become more confident that replacement is truly only a “long-term project.” CTF member Anne Higuera of Ventana Construction (WSB sponsor) wondered about whether this will be an ongoing process for SDOT – or whether they’re “looking at this for six months” and then setting it aside? And how can people communicate ideas for the process? Marx stressed again that “we’re much more comfortable it’s going to be closer to the 40-year timeline” so they probably won’t start working in earnest until 10 years before that. What Ducey is working on now is really just “a line on a map” – what line the replacement someday should follow. You can send in other ideas but it’s “unlikely they will be well-preserved,” Marx said. The full report on all this is expected to be done by year’s end.

TASK FORCE’S FUTURE: In the wrapup, Nickels – a former two-term mayor – noted that Seattle has a new mayor-elect and there’s no certainty about whether Bruce Harrell will value the task force continuing to serve, since the group was created by outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan. So what happens after the next meeting – which might have “a special guest,” he said – is unclear.

NEXT MEETING: 4 pm December 9th, online.

VIDEO: Here’s the recording of this meeting, in its entirety:

24 Replies to "Low bridge, West Marginal, the distant future: Here's what else West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force heard about this week"

  • Chemist November 13, 2021 (8:47 pm)

    So they expedited to November 4-5 a pump replacement that originally had been scheduled for November 9th.

    Unstated by SDOT folks is if that pump replacement had been scheduled for the 9th as part of some routine maintenance or if it was scheduled after, say, noticing that the pump was leaking and making lots of odd noises when it operated when the system was last inspected in July.  Collisions along the Sylvan Way/Dumar/Olsen seem to have not been included in the study, even though that’s my most frequent detour route.

  • CarDriver November 13, 2021 (8:56 pm)

    So, will authorized users be required to not use the low bridge when term 5 opens or is SDOT just suggesting. If they are required will they be ticketed or lose their pass?? Wondering how they’ll enforce. Will SDOT promise Busses and emergency vehicles will not be impacted by freight trucks? 

  • bolo November 13, 2021 (9:27 pm)

    “a filter had broken”
    Good that they caught that. Could have really gummed up the works bigtime. Wonder if it’s under warrantee?

  • Hammer in Hand November 13, 2021 (9:47 pm)

    I find it interesting that Ms Marx passively remarks that with semis back all the way back and onto I-5 was not as bad as perishable goods in refrigerated containers not getting through. Until she and all of her cohorts make this bridge a major priority it will be more if the same. Just once I would like her to say “This really sucks” and then do something about it. Henny Penny the sky really is falling. Maybe with new leadership at the Mayor’s office he will address the many inadequacy in and around SDOT and clean house there too although Marx’s position is not Mayor appointed position. We will see if 24-7 work happens when the contract is signed and available for public viewingwe will see if the urgentsee plays out in action to get this done.   

    • Heather Marx November 15, 2021 (10:32 am)

      Hammer in Hand,  This really sucks – and I’m not being flip.  It really does.  And along with a large team of SDOT employees, consultants, and contractors,  I am working every single day to get us into construction and get the bridge fixed and back into working order.  I confess, in the case of the low bridge malfunction, I was equally worried about our regions traffic woes as I was about the people of SE Alaska staring at empty grocery shelves.

  • 22blades November 14, 2021 (5:00 am)

    On a lighter note… I saw a house for sale. It had one of those “West Seattle, never leaving” signs in the yard. For a bigger picture… West Seattle High Span:CLOSED. West Seattle Low Span: RESTRICTED/MARINE. 4th Avenue South: RESTRICTED. University Bridge: CLOSED/MARINE. Alaska Way Tunnel: TOLL. State 520 Bridge: TOLL. Ballard Bridge: MARINE. 1st Avenue South Bridge: MARINE Fremont Bridge: MARINE South Park Bridge: MARINE.

    • Peter November 14, 2021 (6:52 pm)

      Sounds like you would be much happier in an inland city since a major portion of our economy is such an inconvenience to you. 

  • HarborIslandworker November 14, 2021 (5:20 am)

    From the Original Spokane St., Corridor West Seattle Bridge environmental impact statement there’s 275 references to Harbor Island and it was determined then that harbor island workers should have access to the low level bridge…. Crickets from SDOT…. And the only reconnect West Seattle study that they have in place on Harbor Island is the Harbor  Island contingency plan which is a Freight study by the way and does not address anyone that works on Harbor Island that lives in West Seattle doesn’t sound very reconnect West Seattle to me The freight coming into Harbor Island an exiting Harbor Island from the east side is always terrible and always has been yet the 90 of us that work on Harbor Island that live in West Seattle are forced to go that way and impact freight more and impact people on the detour routes and impact emergency vehicles trying to get through that area but no common sense access approach from SDOT

    • bill November 14, 2021 (11:22 am)

      There’s a nearly unused Park & Ride lot under the west end of the bridge approach. A person could walk from there to Harbor Island, and after a week or so of light outdoor exercise might quit the petulant whining.

      • Teressa Blayney November 14, 2021 (11:23 pm)

        Bill, sure a person could use the park and ride and then walk but that’s not for us to decide.  We all have had to adjust.  Some have been able to adjust how they commute.  It does appear that the only approved user groups are those that had been represented by somebody. on the low bridge access committee.  I do believe SDOT could allow more trips.  I usually only used the low bridge as part of my snow route and I was able to leave early.  I don’t think your last comment was needed.

      • HarborIslandworker November 15, 2021 (4:23 am)

        bill….There’s a nearly unused a Low Bridge right under the west Seattle Bridge. And a parking lot over by the longshoreman union hall. A person could walk to T5 or T18 from there according to your logic. But that’s not the point of my post. Besides the fact that the low bridge opens up for marine traffic let’s ask ourselves what the low bridge was built for and what it’s main purpose is. It is literally to connect West Seattle to Harbor Island for local traffic only that’s why there were so many Harbor Island signs that SDOT Felt the need to take down. But I’m the one that’s whining right. While everybody else in West Seattle has a reason why they should use the low bridge that they never used/Hence the reason why the cameras were put up in the first place… i’m just putting out Information from the original environmental impact statement which should’ve been taken into consideration when they made their Low Bridge Access Policy‘s….. Anyway you have a great day bill

        • bolo November 17, 2021 (11:21 am)

          “…let’s ask ourselves what the low bridge was built for and what it’s main purpose is. It is literally to connect West Seattle to Harbor Island for local traffic only …”

          Wow I never knew that. Been using that bridge since before it was finished. Is that really true? Why would they put that limitation on it?

  • KB November 14, 2021 (8:31 am)

    The collision data seems like a potential case of correlation does not imply causation.  Not saying the bridge isn’t a factor, but the other far more likely factor driving the reduction in collisions is the massive office closures due to Covid.  The governor’s stay at home orders started in late March 2020, and since then, many offices have remained closed.  That factor cannot be ignored when analyzing collision data across 2020. A month over month view would be much more valuable for that reason.

    • Midi November 14, 2021 (11:43 am)

      Agree on this, dramatically fewer cars on the road = fewer collisions. Add in a couple traffic signals that should have been done years ago (right-hand signal on 16th to Holden and signal at Holden & Highland Park), it only shows that these traffic revisions should have been done years ago.

  • Mj November 14, 2021 (10:20 am)

    HarborIslandWorker – interesting find, this could provide a nexus for a legal action.

    For other WS residents my frustration is the failure of SDoT to provide transit service, viable/time efficient, to all areas of WS that historically had such service.  Residents in the north end are essentially trapped due to this failure.

  • Fair mount November 14, 2021 (12:11 pm)

    It really looks like from the data they could open the low bridge to traffic until at least 6 am and not get anywhere near their benchmark of problematic traffic volume. This Could be an easy way to throw the dogs a bone until the repairs are done.

  • Paula Bamburg November 14, 2021 (1:16 pm)

    First, I was stunned by this, stated in the discussion of the long term high level bridge replacement: “ You can send in other ideas but it’s “unlikely they will be well-preserved,” Marx said. ” Not very encouraging for interested parties who may have a better idea than any of those currently proposed. Then this: There was mentioned by Nichols that replacement of the Spokane Street Viaduct east of the high level bridge would need to be taken into consideration when making project decisions  for the bridge. How about the viaduct to the west of the bridge. By 2060 won’t it be in need of replacement too?

    • Chemist November 14, 2021 (8:53 pm)

      I agree that they were rather restrictive for a study that plans 40 years into the future.  Use the existing ramps/approaches, existing right of way, don’t think of relocating the electrical transmission wires, and focus on only the high-bridge portion instead of the whole system.  It was like they tweaked the study that was from back in the repair/replace options gathering instead of make a plan for how to replace the bridge 40 years in the future….  and planning to relocate transmission lines or acquire right of way to enable a full bridge replacement to the north.

  • zark00 November 14, 2021 (2:15 pm)

    Appealing property taxes due to ‘lack of access’. 

  • wetone November 14, 2021 (5:06 pm)

    So from what I read SDOT and Seattle’s government has given most all priority of swing bridge to Port of Seattle and bikes and this will be the new norm even after Highrise opens…. I see little changing in future to ingress/egress of WS given the choke point on Spokane viaduct and I-5. Great job Seattle government for T5 placement, such a large facility that depends on bridges and rail to access…Speaking of rail who is going to be responsible for cost of new rail bridge as current one is close to 100yrs old…. 

  • Westseadweller1 November 15, 2021 (1:12 pm)

    Does anyone have any reliable information about what traffic the High Bridge will allow after the repair is complete?  I have heard rumors that access will be restricted – perhaps by lane closures.   We know that the “plan” includes reducing auto traffic over the high rise by more than half.   Seattle Bicycle Master Plan 2020-2024 Implementation Plan   See page 27 of the Reconnect West Seattle Document.  I don’t think the city is being straight with us about how SDOT intends to do this.  And I wonder if it will be enforced by choking down lanes, etc.If there is a resource that tells us, please share.

    • WSB November 15, 2021 (1:56 pm)

      They addressed that at a past meeting. Will add the link when I find it.

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