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.