CHOKEPOINTS

Drivers rack up tickets using Lower Spokane Street Bridge

Feb 24, 2022, 5:07 AM | Updated: 5:13 am
West Seattle lower bridge, concrete strike...
The West Seattle high bridge remains closed in 2022 as repair work is underway. The low bridge is limited to authorized vehicles during certain hours. (Photo courtesy of SDOT/Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of SDOT/Flickr)

KIRO Newsradio reported earlier this week that the West Seattle Bridge reopening will likely be delayed because of the ongoing concrete strike. That means there are more opportunities to get a ticket for using the Lower Spokane Street Bridge illegally.

What’s next for West Seattle Bridge as concrete strike continues?

You might have forgotten, if you don’t live or work in West Seattle, that the only direct access out of the neighborhood is via the Lower Spokane Street swing bridge. Access to that route has been restricted since the high bridge closed 23 months ago.

At first, only emergency vehicles, buses, freight and businesses were able to use it. But it became clear that so many unauthorized drivers were using it and clogging the route that police enforcement was needed. Photo enforcement went active in July, and those that were authorized could register their license plate with the city to use the lower bridge without fear of a $75 ticket.

Over the last year, the city has allowed more people, like on-call medical workers and those going to life-saving medical treatment like chemotherapy, to apply to join the list of approved vehicles.

But with Terminal 5 opening at the Port of Seattle, there was a concern that those passes would go away to keep the volumes down. That hasn’t happened yet, said the city’s Heather Marx.

“The volumes that we’re seeing are within our tolerances, which is great,” she said.

So far, so good, but Marx said the number of people using the route illegally continues to be a problem.

“There are still lots of people that are getting a ticket, every day, twice a day, to flout that rule,” she said.

The city has issued an average of 9,000 tickets and another 6,000 warnings a month since October. The route is open to all traffic from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. every weekday night, and closed to all but the authorized drivers the rest of the day. On the weekends, it’s open to all traffic from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Marx said some drivers are going to great lengths to keep using the bridge.

“They are hiding their license plates, which is illegal,” she said.

The Seattle Police Department has issued 278 tickets for license plate related issues, including altering plates to avoid detection since enforcement began in July. Choosing that option will cost the driver a lot more than a ticket from the city for using the bridge when you’re not authorized to do so.

“If you go across the bridge and we catch you, we’ll give you a $75 ticket,” Marx said. “If you go across that bridge and you run into a police officer on either end of the bridge, and they’re out there sometimes, you get a $270-something ticket.”

Even those that have clearance to use the low bridge are asked to make their trips before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. whenever possible in order to avoid the extra freight traffic during the middle of the day.

The Lower Spokane Street Bridge restriction will last until the high bridge reopens.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Drivers rack up tickets using Lower Spokane Street Bridge