2 years without the West Seattle Bridge: More Q&A about what’s next, including low bridge’s future

(SDOT traffic-camera image, this afternoon)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

In our first report noting the second anniversary of the West Seattle Bridge’s sudden closure on March 23, 2020, we looked at what’s happening right now with repair work.

Before the night’s out, here’s one more report – including what happens once it’s back open.

We talked again late today with SDOT’s Heather Marx, the West Seattleite who is in charge of what’s become the West Seattle Bridge Program, encompassing not just getting the high bridge fixed and reopened, but also repair/maintenance work on the low bridge, as well as offshoot programs to calm detour traffic and encourage commuting alternatives.

Our questions included some that recur in discussion of bridge stories, even though they’ve been asked and answered before. For one – when the bridge reopens, will it reopen gradually, or all lanes at once? “It’s still the plan to open all lanes at once,” Marx said, again. There will be a two-week-or-so testing period once contractor Kraemer North America says they’re done – a plan has already been drafted for that, she adds – and then, it’ll be fully reopened.

Will the low-bridge restrictions all go away once the high bridge is reopened? Yes, Marx said. Private vehicles will have full access again, and transit will return to the high bridge.

Speaking of the low bridge, we asked if those fears about truck traffic from reopened Terminal 5 have come true. Basically, no. She said that T-5 has been making use of its rail capabilities, and that’s lessened the truck volume. So they’re not going to have to cut back on low-bridge access as they warned for months might be necessary: “We wanted to be sure people were emotionally prepared for the worst-case scenario.” But they’re not going to relax restrictions, either – the current status quo will remain until the high bridge reopens.

Meantime, “a hundred little projects” for the low bridge are continuing, though the big work – carbon-fiber wrap and epoxy injection, like the high bridge – is on the back burner while the high bridge stays in the spotlight. The “hundred little projects” are moving ahead, Marx said, including rerouting control wires and cables through an underground tube.

And as mentioned in a past briefing, they’re also working on what you might call an “undo list” – things that need to be removed (think of all those detour signs) or changed once the high bridge reopens. Marx explains that requires more logistics than you might expect, ensuring that crews “have space on their summer calendar,” for example.

Yes, she said “summer.” So that brings us back to the concrete concern. As we reported earlier today, contractor Kraemer NA is now talking with supplier Cadman – one of the companies to which striking Teamsters Local 174 drivers said they’d return – about what’s needed for this project. In our conversation late today, we asked Marx for more specifics on those talks. She said they’re working on a “mix design,” aka recipe, for the “self-consolidating” concrete that’s needed for the post-tensioning (strengthening with steel cables). So what happened to the concern that even once the concrete was flowing again, the West Seattle Bridge wouldn’t be anywhere near the head of the line, because a relatively small amount is needed? Marx said it turns out “there’s not a very long line for this kind of concrete.” She also said Mayor Bruce Harrell has been “encouraging” Cadman to prioritize the bridge.

Here’s something that hasn’t changed: The estimated completion date can’t be calculated until the “last concrete pour” for the post-tensioning, Marx reiterated. And she’s not willing to estimate how long it’ll take Kraemer and Cadman to work out the details to get to the pouring point.

Two years ago today, in announcing the closure, SDOT warned repairs could take “months”; three weeks later, they warned the bridge might not be fixable, and even if it was, it wouldn’t reopen before 2022. Now, one-fourth of the way into that year, it’ll be a while longer before we know when in 2022.

22 Replies to "2 years without the West Seattle Bridge: More Q&A about what's next, including low bridge's future"

  • Crick March 23, 2022 (11:14 pm)

    Re. the concrete strike, Teamsters 174 is claiming unfair labor practices and low wages. I’ve read articles that claim the situation is literally ‘life and death’ dire. Prevailing wages for journeyman ready-mix truck drivers in King County (WA State L&L website) is $69.95/hour… That strikes me as pretty good money, even in Seattle. And I believe they were offered a 17% raise over the next 3 years, which I guess isn’t enough? The union is also demanding improved health benefits… for retirees.

    • Charlie March 25, 2022 (4:34 pm)

      $69/HR is the prevailing wage only when they work on publicly funded projects that are subject to prevailing wage requirements. On other projects, they make less than that. Average pay for the drivers is about $40/hr. The Urbanist had an article that talked about this.

  • uz2551 March 24, 2022 (3:40 am)

    ”She said they’re working on a “mix design,” aka recipe, for the “self-consolidating” concrete that’s needed for the post-tensioning (strengthening with steel cables).”—How can the Teamster’s strike affect the schedule when they aren’t even ready to order the concrete yet? If discussions of concrete mixtures require consultation with the drivers, they deserve a bigger raise than what they are striking for.

    • JVP March 24, 2022 (8:32 am)

      It’s likely that the original supplier of the special concrete mix is still on the strike list. So Cadman is now working up the mix based on the engineer’s specifications. These special mixes aren’t “stock” concrete.

  • Maggie Cuevas March 24, 2022 (9:04 am)

    UZ2551 This is par for the course. Whether it’s a pre-determined position about why a tunnel option wouldn’t work, or the persistently antagonistic tone Ms. Marx has taken when addressing tough questions from residents, or even easier questions about this concrete issue. Residents are left with non-answers while we continue to watch small businesses go under and lives significantly disrupted with quality-of-life-ruining commutes.  Let SDOT have their own hollow bridge opening celebration, but we need a separate one for the residents whose lives have been disrupted and to honor the neighbors and small businesses who couldn’t overcome the immense challenges posed by the bridge closure or the  manner in which it has been handled.

    • KM March 24, 2022 (2:26 pm)

      Which small businesses closed because of the high bridge and which ones closed because of the 2 year global pandemic?

    • CAM March 24, 2022 (3:19 pm)

      I’m not disputing that people’s lives have been disrupted or that businesses have lost income due to the bridge situation but I feel like you (and a lot of other people out there) are just looking to assign fault without any basis for making that assumption that anything could have been done differently that would have achieved better results. And not some pie in the sky notion that everyone gets to use the low bridge or that the bridge gets repaired without engineering studies or contrary to the recommendations from engineers. Businesses got priority access to the low bridge that no one else received. That isn’t enough to overcome the lost business from the bridge (and that COVID thing) but what exactly could have been done differently that aligns with expert recommendations? 

      • wscommuter March 24, 2022 (9:11 pm)

        @Cam … please don’t inject reason and facts.  It takes away from the chronic whining that so many commenters (who are apparently also bridge design experts) add to the discourse here.  

        • Bus Rider March 24, 2022 (10:10 pm)

          I could make a BINGO card or  drinking game from reading the same old tired comments on this blog.  I’m curious to what the demographic is of the commenters.  I feel like I don’t have anything in common with most commenters on the blog.  Is everyone a homeowner and driving a SUV- like a Subaru? Caucasian? Me, I’m one of the three.

        • Joe Z March 24, 2022 (10:53 pm)

          If we took the advice of the WS blog comments we would be riding a gondola through an immersed tube tunnel by now. 

  • HarborIslandworker March 24, 2022 (9:06 am)

    Speaking of the Low Bridge and being part of the regular flow of traffic in that corridor… Now that they know that more access wouldn’t cause an issue. They are still not going to grant access back to the original user group… seems as though they want bottlenecking and unnecessary traffic on the east side of Harbor Island. Why not alleviate some of that congestion and just give access back to West Seattle residence that work on Harbor Island. They already have the number of people that work down there that live in West Seattle from the survey they did…we would literally be the smallest user group out of any other user group. But no let’s just make them suffer like the rest of West Seattle for no particular reason.

  • Beto March 24, 2022 (2:52 pm)

    I think the city should give us citizens the deadlines they have by seasons. For instance, I’m sure the WSB will be ready  by late fall or early winter 2022.  I don’t think the bridge will be ready in the summer!

  • Colonel Mustard's Wrench March 24, 2022 (5:54 pm)

    Dow and Bruce got my attention describing their interest in studying an independent concrete supply for future projects. 
    If the concrete companies and union can’t manage to come up with a contract, maybe they just effectively cut themselves out of future work.

    Go Dow !  Go Bruce !

    • Yep March 24, 2022 (7:22 pm)

      It seems unlikely king county will start a concrete mixing business. It’s terrible for the environment so it could never get passed. 

      • Niet March 24, 2022 (8:18 pm)

        Agreed. The bridge being closed for more than two years is also bad for the environment. 

    • Charlie March 25, 2022 (4:47 pm)

      I like the idea of a municipal concrete operation, but why waste time trying to build it from scratch? Use eminent domain and take over one of the existing concrete companies?

  • CarDriver March 24, 2022 (6:56 pm)

    Col must wr.  Strike will be LOOOONG over before county/city would ever be able to go into the cement business and actually provide any deliverable product, let alone what it might actually cost us taxpayers.

    • Colonel Mustard's Wrench March 25, 2022 (7:28 pm)

      That’s right card river – I’m sure it would be much better to be held hostage for years by the cement industry impasse, than to try to brainstorm workarounds to move projects forward.

  • West Seattle Resident March 24, 2022 (8:35 pm)

    I generally support unions, but im happy to get a cdl and scab on the weekends to get this done. Strike all you want but don’t mess with the bridge.

    • CAM March 24, 2022 (10:58 pm)

      These are my favorite comments. Where people demean other people’s jobs/careers by suggesting that they could just step in and do it better/faster/more efficiently/for less money with no experience or training. There are few jobs in this world that you could do without having some training or previous skill set. 

      • Bronson March 25, 2022 (8:37 am)

        And replies like yours are my favorite. Let’s not act like driving a vehicle is some special skill warranting $70/hr. It requires a high school diploma/GED and a CDL license. This isn’t something that requires years of training to attain. If the drivers/companies want to hold up private construction, have it at. There should be no hesitancy in finding alternatives for major public infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, it won’t be long before these jobs are gone and the trucks will be driving themselves. 

  • Emotionally prepared March 26, 2022 (5:26 pm)

    Heather Marx was “emotionally preparing” people for massive traffic on the low bridge that never came. Why would she scare people like that? Pro Tip: Be fact based Heather and let adults manage their own emotions based on the facts. It is not your job to manage our emotions. Your job is to fix this bridge and make sure our other bridges don’t close due to your lack of maintenance. Ok? 

Sorry, comment time is over.