Why is it taking so long to figure out the West Seattle Bridge?

Jun 25, 2020, 7:46 AM
West Seattle Bridge...
The West Seattle Bridge. (SDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)
(SDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s been more than three months since the West Seattle Bridge closed to traffic, and people who rely on it are starting to question why it’s taking so long to figure out what to do.

SDOT says West Seattle Bridge can be fixed, debates whether it should be

The third meeting of the community task force on the bridge featured a lot of questions on the time it’s taking to decide whether to fix the 36-year-old bridge, or simply replace it. To those community members, it looks like very little has been done over the three months.

Seattle Department of Transportation engineer Matt Donahue defended his team’s actions, telling the 30-plus task force members it is a very complex situation that can’t be rushed.

“It may seem like we haven’t been doing much, but I can assure that I have personally put in hundreds of extra hours, nights and weekends to address this issue,” he said. “If you expand it out to the team and the consultant and the contractor, it’s thousands and thousands of personnel hours that have been thrown toward this.”

Donahue said most of the work cannot be seen by the public, which includes all the data collection on the cracking and all the technical work that needs to be done, and that the team has actually done quite a bit in a very short time.

“There has been a substantial amount of work, that would normally take years, that has been conducted in weeks and months,” he noted.

The work to shore up the West Seattle Bridge is ramping up. It needs to be done whether replacement or repair is the chosen path long term. The contractor will be dangling a barge under the bridge that it can moved from section to section as workers wrap the cracking concrete with carbon fiber.

Donahue said they have designed the wrap to work for both a repair and a replacement. They don’t want to have to rip up something they just put up.

“We’re trying to be very careful and expeditious in stabilizing the bridge to stop it from continuing to crack, but we’re also trying to do it in a way that we can use that same stabilization for other means, to expand it for long term repair or to use it as part of a shoring and demolition scheme for replacement,” he said.

History of the West Seattle Bridge

The task force also met the outside engineers advising the city on the West Seattle Bridge. Barbara Moffat is co-chair of the Technical Advisory Panel, and said the team has no expectations heading into this project.

“We do not want to come in with assumptions,” she told the group. “We are being open. SDOT and WSP have been on this longer. We have not seen anything that would preclude, at this point, a repair, but we have not seen anything that proves a repair should be done.”

In two weeks, the city will start asking the neighborhoods in West Seattle what they want done for traffic mitigation. Director of Downtown Mobility Heather Marx said they hope to have the project list finalized in September. In the meantime, the city will open the Lower Spokane Street Bridge to general traffic during some hours of the day.

“Our recommendation for now is to open up the lower bridge for overnight access for everyone, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., seven days a week,” she said.

The city also plans to use photo enforcement to ticket drivers who do not have the authority to use that low bridge the rest of the day. The cameras should be up in August, after a list of new potential authorized users is determined. The city is considering whether to allow vanpools, maritime workers, employer shuttles, and essential healthcare workers to the approved list.


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Why is it taking so long to figure out the West Seattle Bridge?