CHOKEPOINTS

Seattle cancels plans to repair five bridges after costs soar 991%

Dec 22, 2020, 6:06 AM | Updated: 6:51 am
Fremont Bridge, bridges...
The Fremont Bridge. (Seattle DOT)
(Seattle DOT)

When you remodel or retrofit your home, you really don’t find out how much it’s going to cost until you start ripping out walls or looking at the foundations. That’s the case in Seattle, where plans to fix 16 important bridges are now in jeopardy due to skyrocketing costs after more intense study.

West Seattle Bridge shoring work nears completion

Imagine you’re planning a kitchen remodel and the original estimate goes up 991% once the contractor starts digging deeper behind the walls and under the floor. That’s the situation the City of Seattle is in now, having looked at the soils and foundations of the 16 bridges it promised voters it would seismically upgrade and strengthen in 2015 with the Move Seattle Levy.

The Seattle Times reports the original estimate to retrofit the bridges has ballooned from $67 million to $731 million.

I’m not sure how estimates can be that wrong on the front end, but the Seattle Department of Transportation said once it started looking at the soils under the bridges it became apparent that much more work would be necessary to fix them.

For example, the Fourth Avenue Bridge in SoDo that goes over the rail yard: I’ve done a Chokepoint on this bridge several times. The city closed a lane in 2017 when the bridge showed some concrete issues. The lane was supposed to be closed for a year, and three years later, it is still closed. Some of that has to do with working over the rail yard, but the price tag to fix this bridge has gone from about $4 million to nearly $250 million.

The First Avenue Bridge over the same rail yard went from a $4 million project to a $253 million project.

Both those increases are being blamed on the soil being much more susceptible to seismic forces than expected.

The decision for now is to take the most expensive projects off the board. That means the Fourth Avenue and First Avenue bridges over the rail yard will not be fixed right now. Planned repairs on the Ballard and Fremont bridges also won’t happen, with the prices for those two projects jumping by more than 300%.

City of Seattle: How would you upgrade the Ballard Bridge?

Another bridge on Fourth Avenue closer to downtown Seattle is also off the list.

In total, only 11 of the 16 bridges will get an update now under the 2015 levy.

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Seattle cancels plans to repair five bridges after costs soar 991%