West Seattle Bridge 01

In what would have counted as a transportation catastrophe were it not for the much bigger ongoing catastrophe, SDOT discovered “accelerated concrete cracking” in the West Seattle Bridge yesterday. They closed it indefinitely to all traffic 7pm Monday.

Mike Lindblom reports the repairs will take on the order of months ($). Metro posted a transit alert for affected routes (also Delridge routes), which basically amounts to staying on the low bridge and not missing any stops. The 21 Local does miss a stop in the area, as will the 37 when it returns from pandemic hiatus. Even the low bridge will be closed to all but transit, freight, and emergency vehicles.

The hits just keep coming for long-suffering West Seattle bus riders, but this one may struggle to be noticed. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that SDOT is avoiding the WSDOT mentality of removing transit priority when it’s most needed. Quick action while traffic volumes are low, and new transit priority, are about the best possible reaction from officials confronted with this problem.

49 Replies to “West Seattle Bridge closed; Metro scrambles”

  1. Do you know if the Spokane Street bridge bicycle trail will also be closed? SDoT’s gotta do what SDoT’s gotta do, I understand. For bikes heading to/from Alki, the SODO StationSpokane StreetAlki Trail pathway is a common route though.

    1. Kudos to SDOT for making the Spokane Street Bridge transit/freight/bike/ped only. It’s more than I would have expected. I expect drivers won’t have traffic jams on the southern routes until the coronavirus slowdown ends.

      1. this may work out quite well. without traffic in the way, the lower bridge could flow well for transit. SDOT did well.

      2. Sadly, cars are all over the lower bridge this morning. Sitting on a bus backed up, no enforcement of the rules evident.

  2. Can SDOT apply for some federal emergency highway grants to cover the cost of repairs?

    It would be nice to not have to crush the SDOT budget with this unexpected expense at a time when the Seattle city budget situation is deteriorating rapidly.

  3. From a PR perspective this is a disaster. Crews have been working on this problem spot for at least a year, but there was zero indication that it was anything more than routine maintenance. They clearly knew that the bridge would have to be shut down for retrofits at some point, but they kept that information to themselves. Why no transparency? People would have been upset at first but more understanding in the long run. Instead it comes off as yet another gut punch in these uncertain times. I find it highly unlikely that they would have pulled the trigger like this if it wasn’t for the shutdown order.

    1. The timing is as good as it could have been. Retrofit work could conceivably be done well before the vaccine is developed and public-ready. Do you really believe the pandemic will be over in a couple weeks or months?

      Or do we have to have several weeks of begging the neighborhood associations’ permission to begin repairs? … which can’t happen until the pandemic is lifted.

    2. You’re making apparently-unfounded assumptions about what SDOT knew and expected. Are you an engineer who can evaluate their data? Were there indications visible to nearby residents? As for shutting down for a retrofit, all bridges need that every few decades so that’s not exactly a secret.

    3. I’m just stating the facts as presented to the public. One day the bridge was ostensibly fine, the next day it needs an immediate closure and they have “known about problems since 2014”. If that isn’t a failure in communications, I don’t know what is.

      That’s why it is not exactly a stretch of the imagination to say they pulled the shutdown trigger because of Coronavirus.

  4. If only we could spend the money accelerating West Seattle Link. Sadly, I don’t think the project will be shovel-ready until a certain transit adversarial member of the city council stops trying to stall it.

    1. I’m just glad Link wasn’t under construction as part of the bridge when the cracks were noticed.

      1. I don’t think Link would have been built into the bridge – it’s always been its own bridge, presumably b/c ST is smart enough to not bolt a new Link system into a very old bridge.

        The only existing bridge Link is using is the I90 across Lake Washington, which ST spent ~$0.5M testing and retrofitting.

      2. I could be wrong — but I I interpret Mike’s comment to mean that Link construction will bring more heavy truck traffic to the bridge for several years so that the closure would have hurt the schedule.

      3. I meant that ST could have chosen an alignment on or in the right of way of the freeway bridge (although it didn’t), and the cracks could have been discovered during construction when it was too late to switch to another alternative.

        The I-90 bridge was designed from the beginning for future rail. The retrofit is converting the express lanes, not rebuilding the bridge.

      4. “…ST is smart enough to not bolt a new Link system into a very old bridge.”

        True. ST has done a lot of dumb things but this wouldn’t be something to add to that list.

        Btw, I wouldn’t classify the West Seattle Bridge as a very old bridge, having opened in 1984.

      5. Yet another answer to my question of “Why not just build Link using the existing bus lanes on the bridge?”

      6. One of the 2018 Link alternatives did follow the right-of-way of the bridge all the way to 35th. However, it got thrown out mostly because the Delridge station scored low because it would have been right next to Nucor.

        Then community opposition to the other alternatives in Delridge+Avalon built up (due to the # of properties that would be destroyed), along with a ton of new construction off Genesee where the better Delridge station was supposed to go.

        So there is now mutual benefit between the community orgs (less bulldozing) and Sound Transit (cheaper property acquisition cost + bad publicity) to put the Delridge station by Nucor. So the “Yancy/Andover” alternatives appeared. And at the 11th hour they added a new one where the track goes up Yancy to Andover and then rejoins the West Seattle Bridge ramp in a trench next to the road.

        But if you think about it, if they are going to move the Delridge station back next to Nucor, I don’t see why they need to deviate from the West Seattle Bridge route at all–just continue along the bridge grade up to the Avalon Station. And if there is indeed a cut in funding needed, I think they need to think about putting the light rail at grade along the bridge starting by Nucor/Luna Park and along Fauntleroy. And building an at-grade Avalon station.

    2. The alternatives for West Seattle Link have moved into the environmental studies phase. The possibility of unforeseen problems exists — and rushing to build could be more problematic than anyone imagines. It shouldn’t be rushed; do it right!

      That said, I’d be curious if any agency would propose to create an interim “rubber-tired train” (a platoon of buses combined with intense signal priority like MLK has) to go to and from West Seattle and SODO or ID for the next 10 or so years until the tracks open. It would require some agency shifts in cost allocations between Metro and ST as well as intense SDOT signal and street redesign, but it’s a possible approach depending on how major the “bridge fix” is in terms of time and cost.

      1. Why not just regular bus lanes? Just use the existing routes and give them dedicated lanes across the low bridge and ownwards into SoDo. Why would platooning be necessary? If anything, it would be worse b/c it would reduce frequency.

        Ross’s “bus tunnel is better than rail” plans still had KCM running normal routes through the new bus tunnel. The overlapping frequency as the routes converge across the Dwamish and into downtown provides sufficient capacity. If you reach a point where you need to run bus platoons, like LA’s orange line (aka G line), then you’ve effectively reached the point where you are better off building light rail.

        So in the short term, platooning is unnecessary. If platooning will be needed in the long term, then we might as well build what is in ST3.

      2. The reason I suggested platooning is to minimize the inevitable signal delays if every bus operates independently. It’s much easier to create a more aggressive logic for transit priority if it happens every 7 to 10 minutes in each direction than it is if each bus is designed to get its own every minute or two. That’s really important where pedestrians need 30 or 40 seconds to cross a wide street. Of course, the time to wait for a different bus may be worse than the extra time sitting on a bus in traffic — so it’s best to first see how long it will take to fix the bridge and then how bad buses will have it.

      3. @Al — Where are there signals though? West Seattle has several corridors, which means that you wouldn’t have platooning until you hit the West Seattle Bridge, which has no signals. If they built another tunnel, then the only place it would be an issue is along the busway. That is where signal priority could be limited (a random assortment of buses would result in at least one bus waiting). In general I don’t think it would be a huge issue, since there isn’t that much east-west traffic there.

        That won’t happen (obviously). There will be no new bus tunnel. The buses instead leave SR 99 and go through downtown. Signal priority would be advantageous there, but that is true of all the buses that go downtown. Trying to send them all through downtown in a giant platoon is neither practical (timing the various buses would be hard) nor ideal (the minor improvement in speed isn’t worth the loss of frequency). It is best to keep chipping away at the things that slow all the buses (onboard fare collection and lack of right of way).

        It is really a good example of why a bus system makes more sense in a place like West Seattle, that has demand in a trunk and branch pattern (and you have existing high speed infrastructure to leverage). A new train line makes sense if you have a strong central corridor (e. g. downtown, First Hill, Capitol Hill, UW). Your idea could have potential in the future for a place like Aurora. I could see double buses running every four minutes or so (especially if the second is controlled remotely by the first). Aggressive signal priority might work out well there, while the double buses could handle really big loads.

      4. Al and everybody else, “Relax” isn’t an admonition, but an absolute prerequisite to an action state of mind on any front in the foreseeable future.

        Experience-wise, the decades-long project of which Link is a part could give us a high world- experience ranking in subject of deliberate bus-to-rail. History being that success is hundred percent a matter of how hard political leadership feels like making Operations work.

        Which depends a lot about how much ridership is willing to educate itself on alternatives and make sure their electees know their names and voting records.

        From Advisory Committee Meeting One, DSTT plans had “platooning” in their first paragraph. By observable performance, at the waste of Lord knows how much in wasted signal equipment and a King’s Ransom in lost operating time, interest lasted about two weeks into twenty years.

        However many years before anything public can happen at all right now, of any major public project conceivable, an electorate motivated to educate itself on anything like platooning can make its tryout a matter of a few weeks’ trial run.

        Mark Dublin

        Word to the wise? “Keep it in mind.”

      5. A platoon would require buses to wait for other buses before they can cross the bridge. It would take longer than just waiting for the light in a bus lane without signal priority.

      6. High speed infrastructure in West Seattle? The pre-cracked to unusability West Seattle Bridge had speeds of like 20 mph or so while trying not to hit cars that cut into the bus lane; You also had the 99N bottleneck during rush hour, not exactly infrastructure that contributes to high speeds.

  5. This is really terrible news.

    I think a larger lesson here is not to build one huge bridge that does everything. It’s reasonable when crossing a large body of water, but when the actual waterway isn’t that wide, having a few narrower bridges is better. We are fortunate to have the low bridge still available or this would be an even major catastrophe.

    1. West Seattle still has the fancy bridge where both sides can open and close at once. South Park got … a painful piece of “value engineering” that has managed to back up traffic several times a day even on a highway with not much traffic.

  6. Hopefully On-Topic as first-hand report on morale in the ongoing emergency of which repair of our every bridge, like the rest of our infrastructure is a major part:

    By the letter of Governor Inslee’s “Essential Trips Only” order, got out of bed at 7:30 this morning, dressed, and drove to drive-up stand run by Olympia Coffee Roasters, crown-jewel members of our business community.

    Three young employees on duty, two ladies at the counter and a truck-driver pulling in out front. Left with paper-cup of espresso and bag of coffee beans that’ll last at least ’til April 6. Then headed for gas station across Downtown.

    Pulled over at regulation Social Distance to notify two foot-patrol police officers about someone lying motionless face-down on the literal door step of a cafe a few blocks back. They already had him called in.

    Intercity Transit on duty with a very few visible passengers on spotlessly-washed buses. New Transit Center building – could be awhile before it’s dedicated, but buses are at their new stops.

    Full tank, fast drive home, Sheltered In Place ever since. Point being a forty-minute “snapshot” impression that We the People are handling the cards We’re dealt. And whatever Yesterday’s failings, will say the same for transit.

    Radio notes that after a furious fit of denial, International Olympic Committee will very likely call next year’s games “2020.” Whatever. Just so We The People make sure Election of the same date still happens at all. Taking no bets that the cast won’t change.

    Mark Dublin

  7. Is there a problem with the low bridge as well? Or are they closing it as well just because? Seems weird to ban cars there when traffic is way down due to the pandemic, and for once being in a car alone is better for public health than being in a bus where the virus could spread to dozens.

    1. I tend to question how many cases happened due to direct contact on a bus vs. contact at a destination at either end, regardless of how people got there. Most person to person contacts around here so involve driving at some point, if you really wanted to force social distancing using transportation restrictions, you should arguably shut down more roads.

  8. Mulitple people on Reddit who work for Metro or have a spouse who does, say that Metro is planning for a 1-2 year closure. I hope that’s a worst case scenario.

    I know that a Reddit rumor isn’t necessarily true, but considering they don’t have a timeline but are hoping a few months, I’m wondering if we are looking at a longer closure than anticipated.

  9. Some of you scoffed at Magnolia wanting a new bridge, so the Gods took your bridge. It’s karma.

    1. My above comment should probably be deleted. In hindsight, it doesn’t meet my usual high standards.

    2. Are there STB commenters living in West Seattle who threw shade on the Magnolia Bridge? Who knew?

    3. There is definitely some irritation that West Seattle has gained considerable population/density while Magnolia has not.

      1. If the goal is more density, then West Seattle wins over Magnolia. Why the irritation? Let Magnolia stay as is, they are losing out on all the benefits of living in high density neighborhood.

    4. Magnolia is not getting light rail or RapidRide and is not guaranteed frequent routes. That was the tradeoff Seattle made with neighborhoods like Magnolia, Madison Park, and Broadmoor: they could avoid upzones in exchange for not getting transit upgrades. The alternatives to extend RapidRide G to Madison Park were about Metro’s operating convenience and efficiency and grid, not primarily about giving Madison Park more frequency.

  10. This sort of knocks the new Columbia Street pathway for SR99 buses from West Seattle right in the head, doesn’t it, at least northbound? How are buses supposed to get from the low bridge eastbound to SR99 northbound? Will they turn right on 99 and make a U-turn at the end of the viaduct? Or will they just go up East Marginal Way to Alaskan Way and on to Columbia?

    Southbound there’s a ramp down from southbound SR99 to westbound Spokane Street so that shouldn’t be a problem, but northbound is going to be interesting.

    There is a potential turn-around at Diagonal. If the southbound left-turn bay were restricted to buses and commercial vehicles and a little pre-emption put in there the southwest corner of the parking for the building in the northeast quadrant (actually sextant because Diagonal is, well, “diagonal”…) could be used for a bus loop. You’d want to put a stop sign for westbound traffic on Diagonal to allow the buses to make the turn unimpeded, then give them an exit directly from the parking lot to Marginal Way.

    There would be three lights this way, but there are two right around Marginal and Spokane and it’s just a two-lane roadway north of there all the way to the elevated intersection at Atlantic.

    We’ll see how they do this.

  11. Oh, I see. They’re doing the snow route. What a fustercluck.

    My idea is a LOT faster but it would require a bit of construction; maybe two weeks worth. But if it’s going to be a year, it would be worth it.

    Even going up Marginal would be a lot faster. Cheeze Louise, the snow route goes all the way over to Airport Way after crawling up Fourth Avenue! It doesn’t even use the busway, FFS.

    Bye bye Pioneer Square stops. Both ways.

    1. I haven’t been on the one of the West Seattle routes since the virus hit, but I imagine that the buses are taking the low bridge and then going up to connect to the NB SR 99. To the east of the low bridge, there are 3 lanes, 1 which leads to Spokane St, a second which leads to the upper Spokane St viaduct, and a third that goes to somewhere (I can’t remember where).

      I saw a 120 on SR 99 when I had a doctor appt after the high bridge was closed so this is the route it probably took.

      1. The third eastbound lane goes to SR99 South. There’s no ramp to SR 99 north. The lane to Spokane Street goes through the intersection with East Marginal Way. Buses could turn north on Marginal (like the 37 used to do a long time ago), but there is a lot of truck traffic and once you get to Atlantic it’s a mess. I guess that’s why they’re using the snow route.

        But I think my loop at Diagonal, though it’s obviously a mile double-back, would be the fastest and make use of the bus priority on SR99.

      2. No. You’re right. The lane up does merge in time to make the cloverleaf to SR99 northbound. OK, that should be fine. Sorry for the confusion.

  12. I just noticed that Metro has changed the gender of Marion Street. Has the street come out?

  13. I think the key here is at the end, “Quick action while traffic volumes are low.” At least the traffic is low. So this is an opportunity. There is just so much craziness going on right now that I’m trying to focus on the small positive things. Not easy for me. So, hopefully this can be fixed before everything gets back to normal.

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