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Lower Spokane Street Bridge
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SDOT to double capacity on West Seattle’s Lower Spokane Street Bridge

An officer directs traffic off the West Seattle Low Bridge in October 2020. (Photo courtesy of SDOT/Flickr)

The Seattle Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it will be doubling access to the Lower Spokane Street Bridge.

Ever since the West Seattle Bridge was closed for safety, the only direct route out of West Seattle has been the Lower Spokane Street Bridge. During that time, though, its use has been restricted to only allow fast trips for emergency vehicles, transit, and freight.

The Lower Spokane Street Bridge access dilemma

During the more than a year-long closure of the West Seattle Bridge, the city has also allowed small groups of users access to the low bridge, primarily Port of Seattle workers and businesses who needed to make unexpected runs out of the community.

Photo enforcement went up on the bridge in January to ticket those who were not authorized to use the bridge. Traffic has declined 38% since those cameras went in.

Now, the Seattle Department of Transportation is doubling the access to the bridge and expanding the group of people who will be authorized to use it. That’s another 450 trips a day across the bridge that will soon be available.

The expanded group includes: on-call medical staff; people attending life saving medical treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation appointments; and owners and managers at retail businesses and restaurants. Those who qualify can start applying to have their license plates added to the list of approved vehicles, with the online application for those with medical needs opening Friday.

“Each business will have 10 roundtrips that they are allowed to take in any given month,” Seattle Mobility Director Heather Marx said. “They can submit as many as three license plates to take those trips.”

The common application for everyone else should be up by the end of April. Medical patients will need to provide a doctor’s note of their needs, and medical staff will need verification as well. The city will also be checking business licenses for the rest.

Lower Spokane Street Bridge traffic cameras are now active

SDOT is quite clear that this authorization is not for regular trips.

“If we observe through the data and through the license plate collection that folks seem to be abusing it, for example, if we start to note commute-like behavior, crossing the bridge at the same time every morning and coming back the same time every afternoon, we’ll definitely be in touch with those folks,” Marx said.

SDOT also emphasized that this is a temporary expansion of use for the low bridge. If it becomes too crowded or people abuse it, the number of trips could be cut down. There is also a chance that this expansion could be eliminated, especially considering that freight traffic is going to increase when Terminal 5 opens in 2022.

The weekend hours for free use of the Lower Spokane Street Bridge are changing as well. Starting Saturday, the weekend restrictions on the low bridge will run between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. They currently run 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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