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West Seattle Bridge
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West Seattle Bridge problems have city planning for chance of lower bridge evacuation

West Seattle Bridge. (Seattle DOT flickr)

There is enough concern that the West Seattle Bridge could fail under its own weight, that the city is drawing up emergency plans for evacuating the area underneath and around the 36-year-old span. Those plans include shutting down the Lower Spokane Street Bridge, which would cut off the 8,000 to 15,000 vehicles a day that are still using it.

Residents face ‘scary’ prospect of losing West Seattle Bridge for good

“We need to plan for every contingency with this bridge,” Seattle Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe told Seattle City Council on Monday. “We are working now to model those potential cracking scenarios and preparing our contingency plans in the event that we do think the bridge is in imminent risk of failure.”

Right now, engineers do not believe it is in imminent risk of collapse, but let’s not forget the engineers didn’t expect to see the cracking take off like it has this year.

The discussion of a possible bridge collapse transitioned into a discussion over money. It’s going to cost at least $33 million dollars to shore up the bridge to even find out if it can be fixed.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold asked Zimbabwe if that money might better be spent working on a replacement right now. She says her constituents in West Seattle aren’t sold that the city should spend that much with the possibility of getting nothing in return.

“Do we have to do the shore and construction or not?” Herbold asked Zimbabwe.

“We have to make sure the bridge is stable, and it’s a public safety issue,” Zimbabwe answered.

As it stands right now, Zimbabwe says the goal is to repair the bridge and get 10 more years of life out of it. He believes it’s worth spending the requisite $33 million to find out.

Another issue that came up again is the use of the Lower Spokane Street Bridge. It’s supposed to be reserved for transit and first responders right now, but thousands of people are still using it. During peak commute hours, the Seattle Police are enforcing that, but when officers aren’t there it’s being abused.

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Councilmembers are still asking that health care workers and other essential workers be allowed to use the bridge to and from work. City mobility director Heather Marx said that could lead to a pass system, and they don’t want police checking for ID.

“SDOT shares your concern, both direct and indirect, about requiring people to have any kind of pass, not just for human rights reasons but also because there’s no place to pull people over and check,” she said.

And just to reset the table, the city does not expect that cars will return to the West Seattle Bridge until 2022, if ever.

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