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History of the West Seattle Bridge

The West Seattle Bridge. (Feliks Banel, KIRO Radio)

The history of the West Seattle Bridge begins long before it ever stretched across the waters of the Duwamish River.

1900-1918: Temporary bridges were build in 1900, 1910, and 1918 respectively along Spokane Street to provide a pathway in and out of the West Seattle area. The first bridge was little more than a swinging gate. The second in 1910 was a swing bridge carrying a water main. The third in 1918 was a 28-foot-tall swing bridge sans the water main (which had been rerouted).

The 1918 iteration was built taller than its lower 1910 predecessor to ensure boats could pass through the strait without repeatedly stopping vehicle traffic to raise the bridge.

1924: A more permanent, lower-level bascule bridge is built along Spokane Street to replace the temporary span.

1930: A second parallel bascule bridge is constructed to exclusively carry eastbound traffic.

1968: A ballot measure approves $16.7 million in funding for a new, higher bridge. A company charging triple the cost of three other potential applicants has its bid selected to design the bridge.

It’s later discovered that the company not only had close financial connections to the Speaker of the state House of Representatives, but was also involved in a bribery scandal with the head of the state House Transportation committee.

The ensuing controversy leads the state to withdraw funding for the bridge.

1978: A freighter called the M/V Chavez headed up the Duwamish crashes into the Spokane Street Bridge. Wood, metal, and concrete sections of the eastern half of the drawbridge are splintered, bent, and shattered. The east half of the drawbridge is stuck in the up position, and would remain that way for a couple years.

1980: After Seattle City Councilmember Jeanette Williams successfully lobbies Congress, $172 million in funding is secured, and construction begins on the new span. Williams would later become the namesake of the bridge.

1983: Four lanes of the newly-constructed West Seattle Bridge are opened to traffic.

1984: All eight lanes of the bridge are opened, marking the official completion of the span.

2020: Workers discover cracks in the bridge during a routine inspection. A long-term closure is enacted beginning in late-March, with no definitive timeline for reopening. Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is tagged to lead one of two advisory groups to mitigate the effects of the closure.

2020: At the end of June, SDOT begins stabilization work on the West Seattle Bridge, dubbed “a necessary next step toward either repairing the bridge or preparing it for demolition.”

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