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West Seattle Bridge will be closed through 2021, or forever

Traffic on the West Seattle Bridge. (WSDOT)

The West Seattle Bridge will remain closed to traffic through 2021, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

“We will need to replace the West Seattle High Bridge, the question is when,” SDOT said in a news release on Wednesday.

The city of Seattle plans to shore up the bridge and hopes to re-open it to traffic, but it’s not sure if it is technically feasible or makes financial sense.

SDOT has been monitoring cracks on the bridge since 2013. It has accelerated exponentially in 2020. New cracking was discovered on the bridge on March 23, which SDOT said confirmed that growth had quickly increased over the previous two weeks. The bridge was closed to traffic that night.

The rate of cracking slowed once traffic was removed, but has not stopped entirely. Crews have been inspecting the bridge daily since the closure, said SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe.

There is a bearing at Pier 18 that connects to the bridge and is not currently moving as it should. This transfers some of the stress through the bridge, and likely has exacerbated the cracking, Zimbabwe explained.

A process of shoring the bridge so it could safely support the weight of vehicles again would then happen after the pier repair, which, if feasible, is not expected to begin until late 2021.

SDOT says the next steps are to continue to assess repair feasibility, a timeline, and costs. If repair is feasible, SDOT said it could provide up to 10 years of additional use.

“This affects everybody who lives in West Seattle,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

Durkan acknowledged that there is never a good time to discover that a critical piece of infrastructure is failing, but it’s especially difficult during a pandemic.

Prior to the current coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders, more than 100,000 vehicles and 25,000 transit riders used the bridge each day. There are 80,000 residents in West Seattle.

At this time, the Spokane Street Low Bridge is restricted to transit, freight, and emergency vehicles only. A path is open for people to walk and bike. A new traffic signal was installed at Highland Park Way SW and SW Holden Street.

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