20 months into the closure, workers return to West Seattle Bridge

Nov 29, 2021, 1:31 PM | Updated: 5:32 pm
West Seattle Bridge...
West Seattle Bridge. (Credit Chun Kwan Via WSDOT/ Flickr)
(Credit Chun Kwan Via WSDOT/ Flickr)

That cheer you heard Monday came from West Seattle, as workers finally returned to the closed West Seattle Bridge, promising to have it open to the public in the middle of next year.

The bridge has been closed for more than 20 months, since March 2020, when the Seattle Department of Transportation had to shut it down because of cracking concrete.

It’s been nearly a year since Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to repair the bridge instead of replacing it, with the goal of returning the bridge to service as fast as possible. To many people living in West Seattle or to those with businesses there, the pace has seemed glacial, at best.

However, Mayor Durkan said it could not have happened any faster.

“The fact that we have been able to get to this point and source the materials to keep going has really been a Herculean feat,” the mayor told reporters Monday.

While repairs buy time, Seattle closes in on options to replace West Seattle Bridge

Bridge engineers and the head of SDOT, Sam Zimbabwe, agree that this could not have gone much faster, nor was this a job to rush.

“The project has been the top priority for us at SDOT,” Zimbabwe said. “Our teams have been working tirelessly to complete the design and begin repairs as safely and as quickly as possible. We followed a very aggressive schedule to expedite bridge repair and restore traffic for everybody who relies on it.”

Workers had to install steel cable inside the center span last winter and wrap the structure with carbon fiber. Zimbabwe said engineers had to wait to see how those temporary repairs handled the changing weather before knowing if a repair was even feasible.

Now, he says, they know.

“The bridge, since we stabilized it, has been performing as expected,” he said. “Everything points to the stabilization working as expected, which also leads us to this really strong confidence that, as we do these final repairs, the bridge will continue to respond as we expect it to.”

The final fix, which is now underway, will be more of the same work done during the initial shoring up:  more steel cable, additional carbon fiber, and filling cracks in the concrete with epoxy.

“We have more than 91 tons of steel cable — 46 miles long when stretched end to end — that will go into the bridge,” Zimbabwe said.

A look inside the West Seattle Bridge with repairs set to kick off

The schedule remains the same. The contractor expects to finish repairs by June 30, 2022, barring any unexpected weather or pandemic-related issues. Zimbabwe said they have scheduled about two weeks of load testing that needs to be completed before traffic can return.

Once repaired, the city expects to get another 40 years of life out of the bridge, which would bring it to its original lifespan had the steel cables not failed, creating what will eventually be more than two years of closure.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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20 months into the closure, workers return to West Seattle Bridge