This weekend citizens, elected officials, WSDOT staff and media had the opportunity to tour the midspan section of the bridge.

The event began with short speeches by Secretry Hammond, Rep. White, and Rep. Eddy. They all emphasized that WSDOT is now “counting down to construction” for the floating and Eastside segments of the project. They also emphasized that transit is important in the project and that pre-construction tolling is starting this spring.

Connie Niva then gave a bit of background on Aubrey Davis, who was then honored by WSDOT for his years of work on trans-lake transportation issues, especially in relation to his work with the Washington State Transportation Commission. He was intimately involved in the creation of Metro in the 70’s. WSDOT is a highway building agency, but it certainly is one of the most progressive DOT’s out there, and Aubrey Davis had a large hand in that.

The rest of the tour was pretty casual, with lots of jokes about how it’s not every day you get to walk and relax on the bridge, despite the fact that everyone has crossed it many, many times. I personally was surprised how quiet it was and it was just a surreal experience.

The bridge maintenance crews opened the draw span and able bodied persons had the chance to climb down into the pontoons. The bridge is four compartments wide, with watertight bulkheads on the outer compartments. A man I spoke to said they were probably added after the first I-90 bridge sunk, although he wasn’t completely sure.

41 Replies to “Weekend Closure of SR-520”

  1. “I personally was surprised how quiet it was and it was just a surreal experience.”

    A delightfully quiet weekend for us in Madison Park – Governor Gregroire, tear down that bridge!

    1. Why not convert the existing bridge to a transit/pedestrian/bike/animal-companion bridge only? Now *that* would seriously increase the capacity of the bridge.

      1. The design requires supplemental pontoons to support 6 lanes. Without any supplemental pontoons the bridge can only be 4 lanes. Additional supplemental pontoons, 30 I believe, would be needed to support light rail.

      2. It makes sense to me to just build the extra pontoons, rather than having a new bidding process later, with yet another piece of the planet converted into yet another construction site, just for a one-time contract to build pontoons.

        Besides, the pontoons that would be added to support the weight of trains could be placed now to support the portion of the bridge where the heaviest vehicles run: the buses!

      3. Oh, I’m totally with you there, may as well just build everything now while we’re building things at all. The estimates I’ve seen peg the extra 30ish pontoons at several hundred million dollars though (~$10 mil per), and seeing as how the project is only half funded as is, I don’t see WashDOT ponying up.

    2. Okay, I’m losing track here of stuff that people on STB think is evil …

      Kemper Freeman, Culdesacs, Having the word rapid in Rapid Ride, Surrey Downs residents, yesterday someone suggest traffic lights are evil, today it’s bridges … I know I’m forgetting some things.

  2. I noted with a sense of hope that WSDOT is asking the next contractor to build 44 “supplemental pontoons”. Are these related to light-rail readiness?

    If we can’t convert the existing bridge to modern modes, is WSDOT at least inching toward building the new car bridge a little more sensibly?

      1. Well, at least car drivers, bikers, hikers, and pedestrians can all agree on one thing: The new SR 520 will be obsolete the day it opens.

      2. Perhaps Paul misunderstood my question. I know the pontoons are for the 6-lane bridge across Lake Washington. But what is the reason for adding them?

  3. By the time the price of gas hits $10 a gallon, whether by design or not, the 520 bridge will be a mass transit/bike/pedestrian bridge.

      1. Max Max: Beyond Thunderdome. An excellent movie! Oil was super scarce then. There weren’t enough people around to make transit worthwhile…

  4. I’ve often wondered why WSDOT didn’t (or maybe they did) consider using the I=90 pontoon design (105′ wide).
    These are similiar to the Lacey Murrow replacement pontoons (60′ wide). That was a rush deal, and all the pontoons were built in Tacoma and Duwamish, and installed with new anchors and cables at a cost of about $100 mil. (early 90’s $$), in record time.
    Reasons to have considered this option:
    1. The pontoons are designed and ready to build.
    2. The wider pontoon could be married to retrofitted approach spans, using solid sister columns to ‘armor’ the existing structure, widening the spans, giving 6+ lane width.
    3. Existing hollow columns could be filled to further armor the structure, and retrofitted with seismic cable restraints.
    4. Spend some of the savings on better transit connections with Huskie Stadium Link and better BRT connections in the corridor.
    5. Is the center draw span really a necessity to get Naval ships lined up for Sea-Fair? Seems like that era is over, and existing commercial and pleasure craft could fit under an I-90 type approach span bridge. Maybe the year required to float the old ones out and fit the new ones in would have been unbearable. It would have been a real boost for carpools 3+ on I-90 and a big bus bridge from the eastside.
    Maybe just another one of my pipe dreams, but a complete remake is like giving a patient a heart/lung/kidney transplant when stints and medications will do fine.
    Well, the contract have been let, and the fat lady is singing, so I guess I’ll never really know.

    1. I’m fairly sure getting rid of the drawbridge is the plan, though it’s possible that has changed since it’s not necessarilly popular with immediate neighbors due to extra height, etc, at the high rises. I don’t see a sign of a drawspan anywhere on the diagram for the new 520 on wsdot’s website.

      1. Some of those diagrams are old and considered to be off the table, but still there for archival purposes. What page are you looking at?

        Last I heard, WSDOT’s plan is still to ramrod a second bascule bridge as part of Montlake Blvd. I hope the Seattle City Council resists that.

        I wish the neighbors would say something in favor of the transit high bridge, or they’ll end up helping stick themselves with the second bascule bridge that ruins the dependability of the bus connections. Better transit will mean fewer cars running through their neighborhood, and a view to die for for hikers and bikers on the high bridge. Yes, regardless of the design, car drivers will be a distinct minority of bridge users, if it is built better.

      2. I got the impression that Eric was talking about the drawspan on 520 itself, not the Montlake bridge.

      3. Brent just FYI any new space created by a second bridge will go to HOV/Transit and Bikes/Peds. GP lanes are not beging expanded here.

    2. 5. Is the center draw span really a necessity to get Naval ships lined up for Sea-Fair? Seems like that era is over, and existing commercial and pleasure craft could fit under an I-90 type approach span bridge.

      It’s not naval ships it’s aail boats that are an issue. A 26′ sail boat will barely squeeze under the east side I-90 approach. The reason that’s not as big a deal with I-90 is that you have the East Channel. Minimum clearance for a fixed bridge at Evergreen Point should be 70′. Not only are they not going to provide that the tallest point will be on the east side adding two miles for a trip from the Locks to Leshi. It’s also damn near impossible to sail under the approaches effectively cutting the Lake into thirds. Given all the negatives, cost more, looks ugly, destroys the recreational use of the lake, concentrates noise at the shoreline, etc. we should never build another one.

    3. The Ballard Locks are only 80′ x 825′, so you can’t actually fit a 105′-wide pontoon through. You could build the pontoons on Lake Washington to avoid that. I’m not sure how exactly they built the Homer Hadley Bridge pontoons, although I know the extra width is a cantilever on both side and so could’ve been added on once the pontoons were on Lake Washington.

  5. Does anyone know what the tolls will be? I hope they’ll be variable rates throughout to day to manage demand.

    1. They will change throughout the day, but by time of day, not level of congestion. The washington state transportation comission will be setting the rate. Right now it looks like the peak toll rate will be 3.50 to 3.80.

    2. I bet the majority of drivers won’t even know about the toll when it happens, and when a one-way trip suddenly goes from $0 to $3, there’ll be a huge Eyeman-style backlash to eliminate the tolls or bring them down to 50c. But it won’t be as successful as other anti-tax initiatives because the opponents will simply say, “No tollee — no bridgee”. Then when the bridge is finally closed for being too unsafe… I don’t know. Vote the governor out of office and reopen the bridge, I guess.

      It would be nice to just eliminate 520. But that would be a big burden on Kirkland and Redmond residents, and those are entire legislative districts. It’s impossible to imagine that politicians would diss entire affluent legislative districts by taking away their bridge.

      1. Again, is the bridge no longer safe? Or is it no longer safe for the traffic volume. Can the existing span support two bus lanes with the rest being foot/bike space?

      2. It’s no longer safe.

        The bridge and approach structures are vulnerable to windstorms and earthquakes. The bridge already has to close to traffic if sustained winds reach 50 mph over 15 minutes. A twenty-year storm or a storm with sustained winds above 75 mph can cause the bridge to sink. The hollow support columns of the western approaches and the Portage Bay Bridge can implode during an earthquake. While it’s no Alaskan Way Viaduct, everyday I cross that bridge I fear the worse.

        http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/vulnerability.htm

      3. Funny, I had the exact opposite thought. Tolls will go on 520 but not I-90 at first. Traffic will suck on I-90, 405, and Bellevue Way as people switch to I-90 to avoid tolls on 520. 520 will all of a sudden become the faster alternative but you have to pay a toll to use it. It may even be so successful that we wonder why we’re building a 6 lane bridge, although I wouldn’t go that far.

        Given that picture, I think there will be pressure to toll I-90. But hey, we’re both just guessing. It’s going to be fun to watch…

      4. I don’t think most WA state voters are opposed to a toll to pay for bridges. It’s been done before here. I think most are opposed to tolls being collected long after the bridge is finished and the bonds are paid off, which is a completely different proposition entirely.

      5. Brian, I don’t think people have a problem with the concept of tolls to fund bridges. Rather, it’s the price of this toll and the fact it’s rising all at once rather than gradually. It will suddenly make a round trip cost $6 or $7 rather than $0. That’s $28 a month if you do it once a week, or $154 a month if you do it five times a week. Or $7 for a one-time event like a users’ group meeting. Yes, it’s good for transit, if transit increases enough to be a viable alternative. The new RapidRides will get people to the downtowns, but then they have to get to their destinations on hourly buses and maybe a 20-minute walk. I guess the South Kirkland park n ride will suddenly become a happenin’ place.

    1. We should be so lucky to have a Big Dig 2.0. If that were the case, we’d tunnel from downtown to the airport, build a train line, add a huge freeway park above I-5, and probably through 520 in for fun.

      People that compare the Viaduct tunnel to the Boston Big Dig *really* ought to look into just how huge the scope of work included in the Big Dig was. A 2-mile tunnel is peanuts compared to what was finished in Boston.

    1. I-90 Westbound was packed on Saturday afternoon, as was I-5 Northbound. It was pretty clear on Sunday though.

    2. I-90 Westbound was stop and go once you got a bit past Mercer Island on Sunday when we came over in the early afternoon.

  6. Can we please talk about how awful King County Metro’s bus service was to make up for the closure. 271 line? anyone? I waited for over an hour in the U district. There was no coordination. Bus drivers didn’t know what was up and the Medina shuttle that was supposed to show every 30 minutes never came. They were sitting on the sidewalk eating Popsicles. Hmph.

    1. You tell ’em, AC! Me and a poor elderly gentleman also waited for over an hour in the udistrict for an eastbound 271, not knowing whether it would even come! Ridiculous!

    2. I rode to Kirkland on Saturday for a high school reunion. The outbound 255 was on time in the afternoon (amazing), but the inbound 255 at 10:45pm was 40 minutes late, and we saw two going the other way within a 20-minute span. (This was also when I discovered that the 255 is hourly after 7pm, and that all the other buses in Kirkland are hourly on Saturdays.) I don’t blame the run for being late, but a more frequent schedule would have mitigated the problem. From downtown Kirkland there should at least be 15-minute buses to Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, and Bothell.

      I saw the sign for the Medina shuttle Friday evening at 45th & U-Way. It didn’t really make sense. Yes, it’s nice to know Medina has a shuttle, but what I’d really want to know is how to get from the U-district to Bellevue, and that it didn’t say.

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