By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
2:05 PM: The West Seattle Bridge is still on track to reopen in mid-September, and toward that, SDOT has just announced a “major milestone” in bridge repairs – the “post-tensioning” steel cables to strengthen the bridge have been tightened to 100 percent, and the bridge has reacted the way engineers’ calculations have predicted it should. We first learned this in a conversation just concluded with bridge project director Heather Marx, after requesting an interview for an update on the repair work. She says the milestone was reached over the weekend. It’s not the last significant part of the repair work – epoxy injection and carbon-fiber wrapping continues – but it’s a big one. The project remains on schedule for the bridge to reopen “the week of September 12th,” and Marx reiterates that when they have 30 days to go, they’ll announce a more specific date. More info – including other updates from our conversation – coming up.
ADDED 2:29 PM: A bit more technical explanation on the milestone – monitoring installed on the bridge include “instruments that tell us the shape of the bridge,” Marx explains, and engineers calculated what that shape should be when the post-tension is at 100 percent – so it was a big sigh of relief when they got to 100 percent and that shape is exactly what resulted. The tensioning is done with jacks that “pull (the steel cables) from both sides,” Marx explains. Email updates at the end of last week mentioned that they had reached 20 percent, and Marx says that was an important point along the way, to be sure it was going to work – “a quality-control moment.”
So what remains to be done to reopen the 28-months-closed bridge? After the aforementioned final epoxy injections and carbon-fiber wrapping – Phase 4, if you’re keeping track – the CFR has to cure, the work platforms will be removed, and load testing will happen – “running a truck at specific weight, specific speed, back and forth” on the bridge, along with other inspections. After all that, deck restoration – all those notches in the concrete for the work platforms, for example – and demobilization, getting the work crews and equipment off the bridge, will follow. (They’re already doing some concrete repairs now – 60 panels in the bridge deck are planned for replacement, and as of a week ago, Marx says, about 25 are completed.)
The fact they’ve passed the major milestone of full post-tensioning doesn’t mean it’s all coasting from here, Marx cautions – “at the end of the project, the (possibility) of something to go wrong unexpectedly stays at the same rate, so it’s an anxious time.” But aside from the concrete delay, they haven’t experienced any other major holdups lately, she said – there is a cement shortage right now but they’ve been able to work around it with suppliers.
We’d heard recently that SDOT was not giving permission for a run/walk/ride on the bridge, one of the ideas that a community coalition had been pursuing, so we asked about that. Marx said they just didn’t want to run the risk that an event would be planned and the bridge would be ready to open sooner but they’d have to hold the closure for an event – SDOT had long said that once it’s ready to open, they would not let anything delay it for a moment. So, we asked, is there a chance that you might announce at the 30-day point “the bridge will open September X’ and then discover as September X approaches that it’s ready to go a day (or more) earlier? Marx said that’s a possibility, but they expect the 30-days-notice date to be as precise as possible. But “the general vibe is (to open) as soon as the bridge is available.”
All this is not to say there won’t be some kind of event related to the reopening; Marx says SDOT is planning one to thank the community for what it’s endured. Free food that the city will buy from local restaurants, and she’ll be there helping serve it. It’s not a celebration of SDOT, she stresses, as they realize “the bridge is ours and it’s broken.”
We talked with Marx about the low-bridge work; more on that separately later.