The closed West Seattle high bridge (image: SounderBruce)

On Wednesday, SDOT revealed bad news about the deteriorating West Seattle Bridge. The bridge now seems certain to remain closed through the end of 2021. It is not clear whether it can ever reopen to traffic. Any repairs are unlikely to yield more than another ten years of useful life. (The coverage of the technical issues by SCC Insight is recommended).

Long after the COVID crisis has receded, it will have a disastrous impact on mobility within West Seattle and to downtown. The bridge normally carries 100,000 cars and 25,000 transit riders daily.

West Seattle will need a new road bridge no later than about the time Link light rail to West Seattle is scheduled to open. So while Seattle absorbs the budgetary impact of repairing and replacing its busiest arterial bridge, and West Seattle residents look forward to years of grinding traffic congestion, there may also be an opportunity to combine these projects and reduce the total cost of the new bridges across the Duwamish.

Link to West Seattle is scheduled to open in 2030, initially with a stub line terminating at SODO, followed by through-service to the downtown tunnel in 2035. The timeline should be viewed as aggressive, with controversy over the alignment already having delayed the EIS alternatives selection. Local demands for tunneling within West Seattle threaten to add maybe $700 million to costs and require third-party funding. At the same time, the COVID crisis threatens delays to ST3 projects as tax revenues come up short of expectations.

All of the options being studied for the Duwamish rail crossing are close to the existing road bridge (image: Sound Transit)

Combining two complex bridge projects may not be a recipe for accelerating timelines. But it may eventually reduce construction costs if a single structure is determined to be less expensive than two, which would be a boon for Sound Transit and Seattle.

First, SDOT must figure out its timeline for construction. It’s not yet known whether the bridge can be repaired for about ten more years of useful life, or if a more urgent bridge replacement is needed. The current bridge opened just six years after its predecessor was struck by a freighter and irreparably damaged. In our more cautious era, Sound Transit is targeting a final design for West Seattle Link in 2025 with five years of construction to follow.

Whether and when the high bridge can be repaired may determine whether SDOT and Sound Transit can collaborate on a shared bridge. It gets more complicated if one agency needs to move more quickly than the other. We should learn more about that assessment in the next few months. Whatever structures are eventually built, it makes sense for Seattle and Sound Transit to coordinate activities as separate bridges would nevertheless be close to each other. Close coordination may yield an outcome with reduced property impacts. But, as Mayor Durkan observed Wednesday, the city will not want to lose time.

The construction of the high bridge in 1984 cost about $400 million in current dollars. The budget would surely be higher today (although perhaps a new bridge need not be as high). At a minimum, the city will want to design a safer replacement of the current lanes with shoulder space. The fourth eastbound lane was not part of the original design, and the extra load may have contributed to the bridge’s cracking. If the city adds HOV lanes across the span in both directions, the cost will rise further, but may be worth it. A rebuilt bridge with complete HOV lanes would be a boon for buses until rail opens.

132 Replies to “Losing the West Seattle Bridge”

  1. A combined effort sure makes sense but I fear this will ultimately be used as an opportunity to loot transit funds for more car infrastructure?

    If we can come up with a combined bridge great but where does the budget come from and what are the timelines? Can we come up with a solution where we get the cars going again now and leave room to add light rail tracks later(never)? I’m sure the cagers would prefer that plan. Or maybe we could save a few bucks and make a straighter shot for cars but it’ll add 4 useless minutes to the light rail schedule in each direction for eternity. Clearly the right call! I dunno, use your imagination. Think in terms of $12m/mile bike lanes.

    “West Seattle will need a new road bridge”

    Does it? We could just not rebuild it. It would save money, reduce carbon emissions, save lives. People will manage. They can bus/cycle/water taxi and there are still other functioning roads and bridges connecting WS to the mainland. BUT MAH CAR!

    1. (Another) Tom, have spent the last seven years resenting how the speculator who replaced my Ballard landlord canceled any Seattle-related transit vote of mine.

      But whether I just woke up in Wisconsin, Texas or Louisiana, any chance you can give me contact information for your delegation’s offices across the lake from Thurston County Courthouse?

      Affirmative or warning, though, good time for you to make sure your two “Reps” and your State Senator know your name and its attached consequences.And start “link”-ing every day’s STB to their offices.

      Mark Dublin

    2. 1st Ave S Bridge and South Park bridge is all th ere is for pathways to the mainland. And the pathways to those bridges, i.e. Highland Park Way, Holden, have been backed up with cars. The ferry and water taxi are convenient for people who live close to it, but for those who don’t, it would take just as long to get to the ferry as it would to get downtown by bus.

      If West Seattle had Capitol Hill level public transit, some of us wouldn’t give a damn about “MAH CAR”, but we have 30 min headways off peak for buses that aren’t Rapid Ride.

      The disrespect for West Seattle abounds in spite of its transit handicaps.

      1. but [West Seattle has] 30 min headways off peak for buses that aren’t Rapid Ride

        Oh, it’s not that bad. The 21 runs every 15 minutes most of the day and the 120 is a bit better. There is pretty pretty good combined service along California Avenue as well.

        The biggest weakness is service to Alki. There is no question it is weaker than it should be.

        Anyway, that was all before the pandemic and the bridge broke. There is talk of improving the level of transit service to West Seattle (more buses, more ferry runs, more connecting service to the ferry, etc.). That is probably not enough — in all likelihood the bridge will be rebuilt — but it will be what the folks in West Seattle will have to live with for a while.

      2. Daytime isn’t bad, but my experiences of waiting 25-35 minutes for a 21 local in the off peak evening hours swore me off taking public transportation to and from downtown in the evening. Shortly moving to a location near the 120 and the C. We’ll see how that works.

        I can live with a rebuilt bridge, even if it is short term, as long as it is a bridge of sorts to light rail completion; When we get link, the bridge or lack thereof won’t matter as much if West Seattleites have a means of using rail to reach other parts of the puget sound that were only easily accessible by car pre-link, e.g., the Eastside, University District, Northgate.

  2. Good post. I was thinking this same when we got the news. I think it may be a viable solution, but I do fear the lack of redundancy and relying on one large structure for everything if this solution was deemed best in the coming weeks. Not having one point of failure for a important bridge might be our one take away.

    It is still possible to build separate structures and still save in cost and construction mobilization, so if it works, this could be a good solution for everyone.

    1. I’m with Matthew on the lack of redundancy being an issue. Imagine if the monorail had been extended across the West Seattle Bridge as they had planned on 20 years ago before the whole project fell apart. West Seattle would be in an even worse position than they are today, because in addition to losing the vehicle bridge they would have lost their main high capacity transit link to the rest of the city.

  3. If they manage to do a combined new bridge does that mean they need to reopen the route discussion to determine a new preferred alternative?

    1. They haven’t decided on a preferred alternative yet. (“Preferred”: is an official EIS action they have to vote on.() The final proposals were supposed to be around this month. Maybe ST will have to add some alternatives and extend the debate.

  4. I’m looking forward to the anti-transit lobby concern trolling about people ever wanting to ride public transit again if COVID-19 becomes a seasonally-recurrent threat. (Wait for it…) So we should be spending money widening freeways and bridges to make room for all the AI-driven cars, and get rid of traffic signals and crosswalks.

    But people still book rides on Uber and Lyft. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    And bike and walk. But the AI programmers will only make their cars yield to pedestrians and bikes if they start losing lawsuits or get heavy fines. Both the fines and opportunities to win lawsuits against AI designers seem unlikely to happen given how corporations have captured the two-party Sithdom. The Legislature jumped all over itself to allow Amazon robotic delivery on public sidewalks, free of charge, at first asking. This does not bode well for the future of equality under the law.

    1. “So we should be spending money widening freeways and bridges to make room for all the AI-driven cars”

      But AI-driven cars can drive close together like trains! So they don’t need as much space as old-fashioned cars. Oh wait, that contradicts our argument for more GP lanes. Forget about that, we need more GP lanes!

      “The Legislature jumped all over itself to allow Amazon robotic delivery on public sidewalks, free of charge”

      Hmm, robotic deliveries reduce car trips theoretically. So the legislature is supporting both more cars and fewer cars simultaneously. But drone delivery is a shiny new tech thing people want, supposedly, so it’s like AI cars and smartphones.

    2. Brent! Put Those Z-shaped slant-lines between the smiles on top of letter “N” in “LINK and you’ll have a pantograph! And know there’s got to be a little set of “rays” fanning out to the left of the “L” to be that big headlight.., still called “Interurban?” Word to yesterday’s worried podcasters: LOGO PROBLEM SOLVED!

      Mark Dublin

    3. Alright I have a plan: COVID-19 started at roughly the beginning of the year. A vaccine will take 18 months and that’s when I predict traffic patterns in the city will return to pre-COVID levels. That’s an average. It maybe sooner, it might not be at all. The difference between COVID-19 vaccine (Summer 2021) and West Seattle Bridge repair (Beginning of 2022) is around six months. Maneagable. This repaired bridge just needs to last until light rail opens and then we won’t need a bridge anymore.

      As for people saying we don’t need public transit anymore because of COVID-19 becoming seasonal. I’d argue that the vaccine solves this issue.

      1. It was eight years between SARS and MERS and another nine before SARS-Cov-2. Those are all various “releases” of a new “App” known as “Hostile Coronavirus”. The organism managed to go from transmission only by direct fluid contact to using exhaled aerosols, a significant change, in just nine years. This does not bode well for the future.

        Fortunately this version seems overall much less virulent, but in all honesty, we don’t know if it’s possible for the aerosol transmission to be connected to MERS lethality, but if the virus becomes endemic, we may well find out.

        So don’t put too much store on a “permanent” vaccine. We haven’t managed it with the tame cousins known as “Sniffles Coronavirus” AKA “The Common Cold”, and may in fact have opened new pathways by trying.

  5. Dumb suggestion, I know, but what if the West Seattle Bridge became a veloway, with plenty of walking and running space?

    Transit is not an option on the current high bridge given the basic physics of how heavier vehicles stress a bridge. Nor freight, due to the same physics.

    1. The cracks were continuing to grow with no traffic on the bridge. The weight of the bridge itself is to much.

  6. I believed it the first time when people screamed the Carpocalypse is coming. It never materialized. Now another traffic disaster is being predicted?

    1. Hate to be the one to break this to you, Sam, but Car-Plop-Plop-Plop-Plop-Plopolis will have a lot higher body count.

      Mark Dublin

      1. And sorry for the typo, Sam. Should read Car-Plop-Plop-Plop-Plop-PlocaLYPSE! Four Horsemen could be really stripped-down cars, bikes, motorcycles, and SUV’s piloted by their respective lightweight teams. No actual historic connection, but good to have Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries piped in for effect.

    2. I’m with Sam. Most people living in west Seattle will adopt to flexible work schedules and telecommuting. I don’t think it will be as bad , in terms of traffic for the next year. And let’s face it, who wants to risk their life taking transit for the next year. Heck, not even the bus drivers want to take the bus! I say we need to focus on single occupancy vehicle expansion as a short term solution.

      1. I’m not sure what you mean by “single occupancy vehicle expansion”.

        Is that like the non-rider suggestions that the buses shrink themselves as they get further into suburgatory-de-sac?

        Or do you mean dedicating more lanes to general traffic? (when, really, the future bridge could carry more *people* with dedicated bus lanes or a light-rail addition, protected bike lanes that aren’t rendered unusable by the toxicity of the air, sidewalks that aren’t rendered unusable by the toxicity of the air, and perhaps HOV or electric-only lanes. Let’s at least pretend we’re trying to stop the climate catastrophe.

        Or do you mean encouraging more people to drive? (which makes some sense vs. ridesharing until the pandemic is over, but ignores the CO2 pandemic)

    3. I’m with Sam. Most people living in west Seattle will adopt to flexible work schedules and telecommuting. I don’t think it will be as bad , in terms of traffic for the next year. And let’s face it, who wants to risk their life taking transit for the next year. Heck, not even the bus drivers want to take the bus! I say we need to focus on single occupancy vehicle expansion as a short term solution.

      1. We shouldn’t be designing a bridge for the next hundred years based on the needs of the next few months. By the time a brand new bridge even finished, the virus will be passed.

        That said, I do feel that not having any car bridge at all connecting west Seattle to the rest of the city is a bit extreme.

  7. I still believe that everybody in Seattle, even here on the STB, aren’t really aware of how fundamentally disruptive this will be to West Seattle. I mean, we’re talking about the equivalent of sinking our entire state automobile ferry fleet and forcing everybody to drive one lane bridges around the entire Puget Sound. And the ferry system averages only 25,000 cars per day! The WA-520 bridge carries fewer cars per day (25,000 less) than the West Seattle Bridge! I am telling you this is going to be literally insane, and people do not grasp this! And there are literally no alternatives to this: the 1st Ave S bridge is already well above capacity during normal operations (traffic often backs up to nearly Burien in the mornings).

    There is an opportunity here to do some truly transformative, incredibly bold actions around sustainable transportation for West Seattle, but it’s going to take some serious, serious leadership and courage to do it. I’m talking about 10 minute bus service within 3 blocks of every home in West Seattle, and free e-bikes for every citizen. I’m talking about literally banning cars from the majority of public streets in West Seattle.

    People should also be EXTREMELY wary of the automobile-supremacists at the West Seattle (Automobile) Transportation Coalition, who are pushing for the undoing of bus lanes, widening of road diets, elimination of bike lanes and “signal retiming,” all in an effort to somehow fit 100,000 pounds of flour into a 50 pound bag.

    Let’s use this long-term opportunity to make some real, serious change. We can be an example for all of America and, frankly, the world, if we handle this right. Or we can just rebuild the bridge, at the expense of being likely the most expensive capital project in the history of the City of Seattle, and repeat our automobile-centered failures for another few decades, until the bridge falls apart again.

    1. Long-timers know that bridge access has always been a big issue in West Seattle. When the drawbridge broke in the 1970s it got stuck open, and everyone had to detour around the south end on the two or three roads going out, and there were traffic jams.

      My family used to go to Vashon Island on weekends then and I remember seeing the stuck bridge, although since I was just a junior high kid I don’t remember how we drove to the ferry terminal. I just remember always seeing the “MV” apartments from I-5 when we passed Denny Way, with its wall of front balconies, some glassed in and others not, with interesting things on them.

      This still happens whenever the high bridge is closed, although maybe not now during the pandemic.

      West Seattle threatened to secede from the city if a high bridge wasn’t built, so it was built.

      This convergence gives an opportunity to rebalance the space/priority given to Link, buses, freight, and cars. A smart city would prioritize the first three. We’re not that smart a city, unfortunately. But it’s worth a public debate.

    2. Not to detract from your post, but the 520 Bridge carries nearly 80,000 cars every day…each direction.

      1. Hmm, I had looked at the 2017 version versus the 2018:

        The bridge carries an average of 78,000 vehicles per weekday in each direction.

        Either the bridge traffic halved between 2017 and 2018 or WSDOT had a pretty big typo in the 2017 report or maybe just poor choice of wording. Looks like 83,000 total is correct. Also, 520 carries significantly more transit as well.

        Either way, more than 25,000. Done with my pedantic rambling.

      2. While horribly imprecise, I think there’s some room for intuition here. Would it make sense if the traffic volumes on the 520 bridge roughly equaled the West Seattle Bridge? I don’t think so. 520 goes east quite far. It’s the primary pathway to Seattle for Kirkland, Redmond, and parts of Bellevue. A lot of it depends on how far you have to drive to avoid the toll, and I think that would divert most of Bellevue and probably a little if north Kirkland. SR 520 also has a bidirectional commute pattern with Microsoft in Redmond.

        In West Seattle, you have some not particularly dense residential areas. West Seattle doesn’t go very far west. It goes farther south, but once you get far enough south, the 1st Ave S bridge is closer. And it’s not much of a bidirectional commute either. I think even with the tolls artificially diverging traffic away from 520, it’s still hard to imagine 520 being roughly as busy as the WSB.

    3. What bothers people outside West Seattle is that it’s more single-family and less dense and in some parts more affluent than the rest of the city, yet it thinks it’s entitled to disproportionate resources. And then they claim hardship and need because the only way they can get to the rest of the city and region is one bridge, 99, and those south-end roads. Well, why are you living in West Seattle if you work in Bellevue? Are you really a low-paid janitor that can’t afford to live in “mainland” Seattle? On Vashon Island they don’t go acting entitled and demanding disproportionate resources, they just wait for the ferry or do on-island activities, and if they’re too impatient for that they don’t live on the island. Maybe West Seattlei should start thinking the same way.

      1. I agree.

        The counter-argument would be that West Seattle has been densifying whereas Vashon has not (and is likely hostile to the idea). I would like to see something like the Tillikum bridge in Portland.

      2. Regardless of density concerns, moving people in and out of West Seattle is in no way complicated as long as people don’t rely on personal automobiles to accomplish this. It’s absolutely possible to move people to and from the peninsula as long as we use scalable, sustainable methods of transportation.

        West Seattle doesn’t need disproportionate resources, they just have to stop expecting that they can drive everywhere. It’s not complicated.

      3. Staten Island has five times the population of West Seattle, and there’s no bridge to Manhattan.

      4. Have you looked at a map of NYC? Staten to the Battery would be a five mile bridge over one of the busiest shipping lanes in the hemisphere.

        This is more akin to the Verrazano closing: there’s going to need to be a replacement even if you can drive around through NJ.

      5. Vashon and the West Sound didn’t want a bridge when it was offered to them in the 1960s because the ferries inherently limit growth — they didn’t want to turn into West Seattle or Mercer Island. They still don’t want a bridge. If they did they’d live in Bellevue or Issaquah where there’s a bridge. People move to Vashon because they like the slow pace of life or they’re an artist or something

        Mayber West Seattle should start accepting its isolation more rather than trying to overcome it with highways.

      6. While I’m not a janitor, I would say that a low-paid janitor and other working poor/working class people (there are a few of those people left around here that don’t do bits and bytes) that don’t make a lot of money probably find lower cost housing in West Seattle or even White Center that they could not afford in “Mainland Seattle” neighborhoods like Greenwood, Greenlake, Capitol Hill, First Hill, Beacon Hill, etc.

        By this rationale, Single Family enclaves with less density (and more affluent people who can afford a car) like mercer island, redmond, and Issaquah, shouldn’t have light rail.

        I seriously don’t expect the city to build out the kind of ferry access to the city that Vashon, Bremerton, or Bainbridge Island have that could accommodate the critical mass of West Seattle residents.

        If North Seattle neighborhoods (with or without future light rail access) can have multiple bridges and options for ingress and egress – Ship Canal, Aurora, University, Montlake, Fremont – then one of the faster growing parts of the city, with increasing density in the junctions should have at least one functional major bridge to get to parts of the city that cannot be easily accessed by public transit.

      7. Mercer Island, Redmond, and Issaquah shouldn’t have light rail.

        Mercer Island only has light rail because it is “on the way”. The light rail line to Bellevue passes right through it. Thus adding a stop is a relatively cheap way to add some ridership. It is also an obvious terminus for I-90 buses.

        Redmond has rail because Microsoft is a major employer, and it isn’t that far from Bellevue. The terminus has density and is a good stop. The other station is a terrible stop, and should have been skipped.

        Issaquah shouldn’t have light rail. It should have bus service, because it is a single family enclave with less density (and more affluent people who can afford a car) as you put it.

      8. Sam,

        Normally your snark is at least accurate, but “there are no bridges to Manhattan?” Dude, there are seven across the East River, ten across the Harlem River (AKA “North River”), and the big daddy, the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson.

      9. Mike, your comment nails it. In the last few days I’ve seen news stories of West Seattle residents describing their car commutes to Bellevue, Lynnwood, etc. It’s insane!!! Commutes that were already an hour+ on a good day. And frankly, I have zero sympathy, because it’s not a sustainable way to live and as a society we need to discourage such behavior. These people aren’t being priced out of Seattle like those living in Kent, they are willingly choosing this.

        As a West Seattleite myself, let me give a different perspective. I only moved here because of the C-line and we got a house right by the high bridge where it would be easy to get off the peninsula. Guess what? This closure is great! The amount of traffic in the Avalon triangle has plunged, I hear birds instead of cars out my window in the morning, and I still can hop on a bus and be downtown in 10 minutes. As far as I’m concerned the bridge highway can just go away, make it a 4-lane street like MLK with light rail in the middle and send the light rail at-grade straight to the junction via Fauntleroy. That would have been a non-starter in the past due to traffic disruptions but now it’s a no-brainer and way more simple than those crazy curving elevated segments through North Delridge.

        A word about water taxis…they are slow AF, a guaranteed 2-seat or even 3-seat ride to downtown. Other than from the Fauntleroy dock I see no reason to build a Mosquito fleet. Give us a bus that goes through the 99 tunnel please!!!! An express bus to Ballard and other spots in N Seattle.

      10. RE: no bridge from Staten Island to Manhattan.

        There’s no bridge from Bellevue directly to Seattle either. You have to go though Medina or Mercer Island. Staten Island to Manhattan is reachable through Brooklyn or New Jersey.

        It’s a pretty silly comment, given the geographical similarities.

    4. Jort,

      Thanks for reminding us of one of the possible short-term mitigations (and by short, I mean after the virus is cut down to size): A mosquito fleet of water taxis.

      If someone is going downtown, they are more likely than not to not need their car with them. If someone needs their car with them, they are probably going somewhere other than downtown. We are blessed with two bridges across the Duwamish in South Park.

      More medium term, has anyone actually looked seriously at a West-Seattle-to-SODO gondola?

      1. Brent, Portland’s aerial tramway is awesome to see, and moreso to ride. From aboard, each gondola is really an airborne bus. Did they get those from Airstream? My own last night of riding, cold snap stopped Portland’s all other transit…Cold!

        But as per his job description, the Devil’s own Details need some serious billed time to examine. Tall steep vertical space lets Portland’s trams share most of their right of way with air. Straight-shot too- no curves at all.

        Know this “Section View” crap gets old, but you don’t dig those footings with a back-hoe. Really would like to see a rock-vs.-mud comparison between the two cities, specific to every necessary bore and mounting.

        And how does the planet’s own plate tectonic machinery vary from site to site? Seattle location that Portland’s always called-to-mind for me would be Harborview or Swedish to the park at Pioneer Square Station. Any real loss if trolleybus routes 3 and 4 stay mostly horizontal?

        Pennsylvania used to feature horizontal platforms you could drive a both horse car and its “motors” straight onto, and off of at the other end. Worked electric too. Platform carried catenary posts and wire above the cars.

        For West Seattle, investigation’s a definite. But mandatory for our main debating focus to be not mode, but machinery.

        Mark Dublin

    5. The West Seattle Transportation Coalition is NOT “pushing for the undoing of bus lanes, widening of road diets, elimination of bike lanes” etc.

      Good grief. We have been calling for an emergency plan for exactly this situation for years now (although we expected an actual earthquake to damage the Bridge). We advocated for quite some time for ADDING a bus lane to the connection between the Bridge and 99.

      And I am literally on camera with a news station yesterday saying we need “out-of-the-box thinking” from SDOT, and asking for more buses, more often, and brand new routes along with a larger boat for the water taxi or a second boat.

      When are you going to get over your ridiculous notion that we’re car crazy simply because we’re not as anti-car as you are, Jort?

      1. We advocated for quite some time for ADDING a bus lane to the connection between the Bridge and 99.

        That would be huge. That would take care of one of the big transit bottlenecks for rush hour West Seattle riders, and probably wouldn’t be that expensive. To be clear, it would still be several million, but probably not hundreds or millions.

      2. Show me your letter to the city you sent last week and give me a percentage breakdown of your “asks” regarding transit and cycling expansion vs. your comically specific recommendations for efficient automobile throughput. You guys are always asking to preserve parking spots and car lanes in your official positions. Please don’t pretend that your board advocates for transit and cyclist priority over cars when the choice has to be made.

      3. The one thing that Jort nails is that is being overlooked is that there are NO alternative car routes out of West Seattle during rush hour. They are all at 100% capacity already.

        The signal timing and modifying arterial streets will be done so that SDOT can say they did something, and it might relieve 5% of the impending traffic doom. Every other proposed solution combined might get you up to 30-40%. But are people planning on telecommuting for potentially a half-decade? I doubt it. Is Metro going to double bus service to West Seattle? Unlikely.

        So people are simply going to move out. Renters first, followed by home sales. The questions are many…how many will leave? Will others replace them? What will that do to housing/rental prices in the rest of Seattle if 5,000 or 10,000 people try to get out of West Seattle all at once??

      4. The renters can get out easily, but at a price of greater premium rents in the rest of the city short of going to the suburbs (south king county ones). The homeowners will be slow to go and have a much more difficult route out: They will likely be selling at huge discounts to get out from under their mortgages to people that can use metro buses and or are willing to play the long game of link construction and or bridge re-construction.

        Supposedly everything is on the table for creating options for people to travel off the peninsula, so I wouldn’t rule out increasing metro bus service for West Seattleites. But we on the peninsula are going to have to make sure that Jenny and the City Council hear from us and not be allowed to do nothing more than express sympathy and sorrow for our plight in the absence of any action (which they’re very good at doing.)

      5. Mr. Taylor-Judd, please read my long reply downthread on how to get an exclusive bus-and-freight lane all the way from Avalon to West Marginal. If the second slip ramp is built, buses and trucks will have strong priority all the way to the embargoed section of SW Spokane Street leading to Harbor Island. Please read it if giving transit reasonable priorityiin this corridor is your goal.

        The stretch underneath the upper roadway can have cones between the two lanes to “enforce” the separation.

  8. Just because a bridge doesn’t need to be high based on current water way usage doesn’t mean it can be shorter. The Duwamish is a navigable waterway, so needs to meet minimum clearances, but I’m not sure who has authority over the Duwamish to make that decision: state, Army Corp or other?

    1. Army Corp, though I think the Coast Guard gets to throw in its 2 cents too.

      “Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (codified in Chapter 33, Section 403 of the United States Code) gave the Corps authority over navigable waters of the United States, defined as “those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently being used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce.””

    2. I believe the Coast Guard sets the air draft of federal waterways. Their decisions mostly seem to be driven by the status quo of commercial vessel traffic. I believe the air drafts of the I-90 bridge, and then 520, were dropped from 132′ to 70′ when those bridges were each last reconstructed; this allowed the elimination of each drawspan.

    3. Let’s not forget that one of the more benign effects of the CO2 pandemic is sea-level rise.

    4. Since there have maybe been six ships anywhere near tall enough to require the existing height since the bridge was built, maybe it’s time to think about an 80 foot drawbridge? That will pass any conceivable tow boat and barges are obviously even shorter.

      What goes up the waterway? Sand and gravel for the concrete plant mostly. IOW, “barges”…….

      1. Everyone calling for a lower bridge is ignoring the fact that the approaches to the high span aren’t going to be replaced. And those approaches meet up with the damaged high bridge some 120 feet above the ground.

        You’re gonna get a high bridge unless they tear out over a mile of bridge approaches and the on/off ramps on the west side — which they aren’t going to do. Only the 1,340 foot high bridge mid span is a candidate for replacement. The rest of the 1.5 mile bridge will remain unchanged and that dictates that the replacement will be pretty close to what’s there today.

      2. Everyone calling for a lower bridge is ignoring the fact that the approaches to the high span aren’t going to be replaced. And those approaches meet up with the damaged high bridge some 120 feet above the ground.

        Really? I don’t think so. To the east, the bridge connects to the Spokane Street Viaduct, and that is not especially tall ( On the western side, it connects to a similar viaduct, which is about the same height ( In between is where the bridge soars, which is why, when you are driving it, the road is extremely steep on both ends.

        The only questionable part is the first westbound exit after the river (the Delridge exit) That is definitely high — you can see it splitting off from the main bridge in the background here (, but it isn’t as high as the high point of the bridge. That ramp also looks to be built in the same way that the bridge is, which means that it is quite likely that it would have to be replaced anyway ( Even replacing just a small section of the ramp would allow for a much lower bridge, since the ramp is very steep.

        The Delridge entrance looks to be in better shape, and it has shorter pylons (it hugs the side of the hill). It is also much lower than the exit and the high point of the bridge.

        It isn’t clear what it means to “replace the bridge” but my guess is it means replacing all (or part) of the Delridge exit anyway. If the Delridge on-ramp is OK (and everything to the west of it is as well) then you could build a new bridge starting at about the ramp. That is still much, much lower than the current height of the bridge, and is probably roughly minimum height allowed (without a drawbridge). My guess is they are going to have to replace a lot more — probably to about 23rd SW — which means redoing the Delridge ramps anyway, but at least connecting to the bulk of the western viaduct.

      3. Those google map images you’re showing on the west and east side are both about 1/2 mile from the high span under replacement scenario. Those are the approaches, not the damaged box girder center high bridge.

        Here is where the approach and high span meet on the east side (note the different construction methods):

        Here’s where they meet on the west side:

        What you showed was portions of the bridge approaches not needing repair or replacement

      4. Ross, sna has said that SDOT considers the post-and-girder portions of the bridge to the east and west of the three arched segments in the center (longitudinally) of the bridge to be serviceable. They don’t want to tear them down, even if the Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers would allow a lower bridge.

        It is the elevation at the transitions from the viaduct-style post-and-girder sections to the central arches which he states to be 120 feef. He sounds like he knows what he is talking about.

        So though it might be conceivable to rebuild the three arches to a bit lower level, it would only be two or three feet at the most. The arches would still have to arch to transfer the loads to the piers.

        I am personally a bit skeptical that SDOT will be able to reuse the piers, but we will see what the design can accomplish.

      5. sna, it at least possible to replace the central arches, their piers and one of the post-and-girder sections on either side of the central arches if the CG agrees to a lower clearance. If the Port were to sign off on one, the Guard probably would too.

        It might add 50 million to so that but with the lower cost of a lower center section it might net out to no greater cost.

        This depends on the possible reusability of the existing four central piers.

      6. Yeah, I think that is awfully presumptuous to assume that we only need to replace that center section. At this point, they don’t really know (to quote SDOT, “We are at 0 percent design”) but I would be very surprised if that is all that they need to fix. If it is, then great, hopefully that isn’t very expensive, and the entire bridge will last another forty years. I’m saying I doubt that is the case.

  9. The story behind the excess height of the high bridge is fascinating; I never knew. There really seems to be something about the prospect of a new sea port that can give senators a boner. The Snake River dams, which have almost wiped out natural salmon runs in most of Idaho, were primarily built to give Idaho a “sea port” — albeit hundreds of miles from the sea.

    The cost or time saving possibilities of of combining a new span with a railway line are intriguing, although I doubt our balkanized regional agencies and politics are capable of realizing them.

    1. WSDOT and Sound Transit’s collaboration on the floating bridge actually worked quite well. WSDOT also design the new 520 bridge so it can accommodate light rail some day.

    2. Likewise. I never knew that Maggie wanted that big bridge. Fascinating.

      I kinda get it, though. It was the era of big things. If you were part of it, then there was the chance of a better life; lots of good jobs for lots of people. Developing the greatest middle class the world has ever known — Warren Magnuson was a big part of that.

      Things have changed. The port still has some good jobs, but only for a handful. It is important, but not nearly as important as small things — things that even have “tiny” in their name (microchip). For that, you want universities, and places where people can gather. We don’t need a big bridge (which is great news). We just need a bridge so people can get around.

  10. I’d love to see 2 bridges (wishful thinking I know):

    1) A small draw bridge roughly parallel to the existing low bridge. Hopefully this could be built relatively quickly and for less expense.

    2) Demolish the high bridge and rebuild with a similar or somewhat smaller bridge that includes light rail ROW.

    #1 becomes a bus / bike / pedestrian only bridge once #2 is completed. The current low bridge will take a beating from heavy vehicles for the next few years & could need heavy maintenance sooner than expected. This maintains the pedestrian & bike access.

    This eventually yields 3 bridges with more people transporting capacity & much better redundancy without increasing car volumes.

  11. Again, everybody is talking about what future bridges will look like and what they might carry, and that’s all good and fun, but literally – for the next two years, automobile traffic out of West Seattle is substantially altered in 100 percent unfixable ways. I mean, we can future-plan all we want about this bridge, but we are facing an ACTUAL carmageddon and people are not thinking about how bad this is going to get. Like, now. Now, now.

    We can talk about multi-modal bridges all we want, but, starting now until at least 2022, the personal automobile is no longer a functional option for the vast majority of West Seattle citizens and we need to prioritize better options for people.e

    1. What are you thinking of that hasn’t been done or initiated already? Transit is already prioritized (and apparently that priority is now being enforced?) on the low bridge. The shortest path to (partially?) unwedge car traffic is shoring up the high bridge, which is already in progress.

    2. We don’t have to speculate because it’s happened before when the bridge was closed, pasts of 99 were closed, and during the 99 tunnel construction. Traffic gets bad but it’s not as bad as 405 north of Renton or north of Bellevue. If those aren’t carmageddon, then West Seattle isn’t. They will have a long time getting on/off the penninsula, and everybody knows that. There are only limited options to mitigate it. The southern roads are a big detour from the northern half, buses can only go so fast if they don’t configure bus lanes, and the water taxi has low capacity and is infrequent. The one innovative thing SDOT did this time was maket the low bridge transit/freight only. Cars are only halfway obeying it, as is to be expected, but at least it’s something they’ve never done before to my knowledge.

      1. When has the high bridge been closed before for any extended period? Yes, in a ship hit a low bridge in late 1970s but you still had one functioning draw bridge there with 4 lanes of capacity.

        Now there are zero lanes for vehicle traffic north of the 1st ave bridge. Comparing to 99 closures isn’t really applicable either because there were multiple other options right there (1st, 4th, I5).

        And even though busses get semi exclusive use of the low bridge, they will be fighting a ton of traffic on the side streets just to get there since this is the same route that takes car traffic to west marginal way.

      2. sna, did you read my long reply about an exclusive bus and freight pathway from Avalon (which has a separated busway) all the way to the Marginal Way intersection? Yes, it may be too wordy, BUT IT WORKS. Please read it

  12. The state should immediately take action, and designate Fauntleroy Way and the bridge as part of SR-160 (the Fauntleroy-Southworth ferry already is SR-160), and that way, WSDOT pays for most of it. WSDOT has deeper pockets that Seattle. Canceling the SR-167 extension boondoggle should pay for it.

    1. Fauntleroy Way isn’t already part of the highway? That’s silly; it certainly looks like it.

      Canceling the 167 project would be opposed by the South King County legislators who say it’s critical and they’ve been waiting a long time for it.

      1. Oh wait, I’m thinking of the 509 project. They say that’s critical for freight, the growing population, and to get to I-5 south from the west side. I would cancel it first before 167. Still the South King County and Pierce legislators would oppose canceling the 167 expansion too, and they would have sympathy from other legislators. West Seattle is in, well, Seattle, so it doesn’t affect average people.

  13. For now the thing to do is turn the vacant western part of terminal 5 into a temporary train station and run Sounder there. It’s slightly out of the way as the direct line over to the main line is gone (you can see traces of the old curve where the line used to connect just east of 1st Avenue S just south of the Spokane Street Viaduct). However, there is a link between the two south of Diagonal Ave and 2nd.

    It would be slow but it might be faster than buses stuck in traffic on the low bridge.

    1. It would be about 10min each way, so it could be run with two trainsets and hit 15min headways (assuming minimal port traffic. Would be great for a DMU…

    2. Most of those tracks are pretty slow and everything coming off of Harbor Island would be in the way of the commuter trains. There could be massive delays created by freight trains.

      I know this is me flogging a dead horse, but SODO Station could be used as a transfer point for extra buses commuting between West Seattle and downtown. Instead of trying to flood downtown Seattle with extra buses, just run the extras to SODO Station where riders can transfer to Light Rail. For more options, extend the D and E RapidRide lines down to SODO, too.

      1. I wouldn’t worry about West Seattle buses running downtown. That isn’t likely to be an issue. There will only be so many buses from West Seattle and compared to the rest of the city, it still won’t be that many.

    3. Glenn, that link at Diagonal only connects the BNSF tracks along Colorado Avenue and the main line south from KSS. There are two tracks from Harbor Island over the East Channel. The southern one crosses the Duwamish Channel on a mostly-open single-leaf drawbridge. That south track diverges from the north track as soon as they cross the East Channel. I would bet it belongs to UP, not BNSF because it leads directly to the west yard lead to Argo. There used to be a “straight-through” track that diverged just south of the parking lot for Restaurant Depot that could be replaced and bent eastward to a couple of diagonal crossings of the westernmost and central BNSF track and a junction with the easternmost BNSF track just before the turnout to the Diagonal Avenue turn-back. This would be a marginally better way to avoid train traffic because it would keep Sounder trains off the “main line” to Harbor Island which is clearly the northernmost track east of the eastern cross-over. The question is, “Would the DS prefer to foul all tracks for four blocks or only at one point?” BNSF would have to decide.

      It might foul more vehicular traffic since it goes right through the edge of a fairly busy intersection at East Marginal and Klickitat Way. It would also have to be rebuilt between the cross-over east of the East Channel bridge and just east of East Marginal where the new track would join. The trackage is pretty primitive through this three block stretch, BUT it clearly has no major freight traffic on it.

      The other route would use the northermost track across Harbor Island and east of the East Channel bridge. As noted above, this is clearly the “preferred” access to Harbor Island for both railroads. There is a facing-point cross-over just after the track from Terminal five joins the main track from the west side of Harbor Island joins and a trailing-point cross-over just west of the East Channel bridge. So trains to and from Terminal 5 can access either track. East of the East Channel bridge the northermost track continues straight as you state, then encounters a wye directly under SR99. Both branches of the wye are shiny, so trains use both paths and the track structure is probably adequate for diesel DMU’s as is.

      The branch to the north heads into the BNSF container yard and the one to the south joins the westernmost track of the four-track main from the BNSF container yard. There is almost immediately a cross-over to what is the second westernmost main from the north. A couple of blocks later the BNSF tracks begin to curve to the east while the westernmost track diverges and becomes another Argo Yard lead. This is the place that a re-established track would cross the Argo Yard lead and the westernmost two BNSF tracks in the scenario outlined above.

      Soon after the curve to the east the easternmost track merges with the third from the westernmost track and immediately afterward there is a cross-over between the second-westernmost track and the now easternmost track. Immediately after than the Diagonal turn-back curve begins. The other two BNSF tracks continue alongside Argo Yard to come parallel to the main south from KSS and eventually merge with the eastern lead to Argo on the shared-trackage four track main to the south.

      It’s not clear from Google Maps whether all those cross-overs are powered and signaled, but they probably are, so trains from Terminal 5 can access the Diagonal Way double-back without further ado. But they have to cross-over twice to do it, making the dispatcher’s job a lot more difficult and as noted by others, that northernmost track gets a lot of moves while the southernmost clearly does not. It is an underutilized potential resource.

  14. The time is now to take advantage of infrastructure projects that are disruptive to commuters. Without a doubt it is necessary for Sound Transit and SDOT to collaborate on this project, it makes no sense for two separate bridges to be built. I think of this endeavor similarly to how the new 520 bridge was designed. Build a new bridge today with HOV lanes capable to be converted to light rail once Sound Transit starts construction on WS Link. A decision needs to be made fast to help West Seattle commuters, so instead of worrying about who will pay for what, build it out now and have Sound Transit compensate for converting the lanes later.

  15. A few questions for how we deal with the loss of the bridge now, in the short term:

    1. Is there capacity on the low bridge to allow tolled access for automobiles along with freight, buses, and emergency vehicles?
    2. How much can capacity be expanded on the water taxi?
    3. With reduced demand citywide for buses likely lasting until a covid-19 vaccine is available, can we shift bus service to West Seattle and create new routes for one-seat rides to more neighborhoods?
    4. What kinds of transit priority can be quickly put in place to speed up bus trips from West Seattle to Downtown and beyond?

    1. >> With reduced demand citywide for buses likely lasting until a covid-19 vaccine is available, can we shift bus service to West Seattle and create new routes for one-seat rides to more neighborhoods?

      Why would we do that? I’m sorry that West Seattle lost one of its bridges, but until there is a vaccine, I don’t see why we should shift buses there.

      The real challenge is what to do after things return to normal. After the vaccine, and after transit is back to normal (and the trains run every six minutes, not thirty) what then, for West Seattle? That is what people are thinking about ( Until then, West Seattle will muddle along just as other parts of the city muddle along.

    2. 1. Absolutely not.
      2. Commandeer/lease all the “sightseeing” boats nearby; they already have passenger accommodations and are Coast Guard-approved for passenger operation.
      3. Not a good idea. As long as Covid-19 is an issue, the need for travel off the “island” of West Seattle is much diminished. The existing bus routes can handle the demand if only people will use them. Once the virus eases, other parts of the City will need their buses.
      4. Here’s the thing. If you look at the street layout, there is NO REASON for any non-commercial vehicle to be on the Spokane Street between 11th Avenue SW and the eastbound on-ramp from or westbound off-ramp to Harbor Island. Simply put a large camera enforcement bridge across the roadway there, with roadside-cameras to photograph the drivers and charge a $1,000 fine for violating the road closure. This road is closed to vehicles which are not freight (e.g. “commercial”) trucks, emergency vehicles or transit buses for this roughly one block. There is no legal reason for any vehicle except the allowed types to be on that roadway. It is vehicular trespass, a far greater violation than driving in a bus lane.

      If Spokane Street is effectively embargoed to private vehicles by this punitive fine, there will be NO congestion on the eastbound to northbound clover-leaf ramp and the buses have their Yield signs to get them into the stream of traffic on SR99.

      1. Sure, once you’re on Spokane at it’ll be all good. But getting to eastbound Spokane St over the low bridge will be all jammed up. Busses coming down Avalon to get to the low bridge will be stuck in a nice long wait with the vehicles making their way to West Marginal Way.

      2. sna, I recognize the problem you’re describing. But the buses have a station underneath the viaduct. Just make the righthand lane in that piece of roadway bus and freight only. It’s not perfect, because there is traffic that will want to go south on Delridge that has to merge across the Harbor Island lane eventually. But the left lane is the one that goes to West Marginal so that’s perfect. Right after the little “slip ramp” from the wide three lane approach to the bridge next to Nucor to go under the elevated structure eastbound “SW Spokane Street” goes to two lanes. Now that the existing bus lane in the outer roadway leading to the high bridge is essentially closed, make the right-hand lane on Spokane Street under the upper deck bus and freight only. There’s only a single lane leading into the inner roadway so it should not cause a jam up there. The buses and trucks stay right after the slip while the cars stay left. Whammo. Buses stop at the Park-N-Ride station then advance toward Delridge.

        There is a right-turn pocket from eastbound “Spokane Street” which diverges about 100 feet before an on-ramp to the High Bridge. No cars should be using that right-turn pocket so there would be no interference with buses headed east. From that pocket there is a further diversion of a bus-lane which has another stop in it. Directly across from that stop is a short stretch of roadway marked “Bus Only”. Apparently it is for buses coming from Delridge headed for the High Bridge.

        However, there are no such buses these days.

        There is a “Bus Signal” directly across from the eastbound shelter, presumably to allow buses to leave the shelter and enter the High Bridge on-ramp. Since there are no buses doing that either, that short section of westbound bus-only lane could be reversed to allow buses to leave the shelter and advance to the High Bridge off-ramp which has stop lights to stop traffic before it crosses the bus lane.

        The eastbound buses would use the reversed westbound bus lane and then jog left at the westbound off-ramp from the High Bridge to enter the center lane of Chelan Avenue just to the east of the off-ramp intersection. Make that lane bus and freight only also, with the proviso that traffic using the right-turn pocket at Delridge Way from “Spokane Street” must cross it and enter the turn pocket immediately to the east of the High Bridge off-ramp. There is a second West Marginal lane which branches about the same place as the Delridge Way turn pocket, and there can be only one lane of cars that enter the system from Spokane Street using the slip ramp, so that should be an adequate queue for the light.

        This gives buses an exclusive or shared-with-freight lane from immediately after the slip ramp all the way to the entrance

        For a possible further improvement, replicate the slip ramp between the pair of columns just east of the pair that hosts the slip-ramp today. The autos would be required to use the first slip ramp which would lead to the left hand (northernmost) lane. The buses and trucks would use the second slip leading to the right hand (southernmost) lane which would be theirs. Grant, the trucks would have to stop for the buses at the Park-N-Ride station, but that would be a small price to pay for having their own pathway through the line up of cars for West Marginal.

        This would be a big improvement and could probably be completed in six weeks for the signage and signal only portion and three months for the duplicate slip ramp.

      3. I forgot to discuss the trucks at the High Bridge on-ramp intersection. They would stay in the right-hand lane of “SW Spokane Street” and go straight at the light into the right-hand lane shared with buses east of the High Bridge off-ramp intersection. The existing “Bus Signal” would doubtless have to be re-timed so that everything crossing the intersection stops when it goes green for roughly twenty seconds. This gives it the opportunity to cross the High Bridge on-ramp and then the High Bridge off-ramp in one move without having to merge with the trucks going straight. They would go with the car traffic bound for West Marginal.

      4. Sure, once you’re on Spokane at it’ll be all good. But getting to eastbound Spokane St over the low bridge will be all jammed up. Busses coming down Avalon to get to the low bridge will be stuck in a nice long wait with the vehicles making their way to West Marginal Way.

        One alternative would be to send them all to Delridge (via Genesee, like the 50). Delridge has bus lanes, which means that it would be able to bypass the mess.

        You only really want to do the bypass during rush hour. That means that you have rush hour versions, and non-rush hour versions. I personally would label them differently. This is similar to the 510 and the 512. They both serve Everett, but they never run at the same time.

        The big drawback to that approach is that you lose a couple bus stops on Avalon. I would keep the 55 as is, simply as a means to serve the Avalon stops. It runs only during rush hour, which means Avalon riders would be able to take that bus to get downtown then. The rest of the time, they would take the non-rush-hour version of the C or 21.

        The 56, 57 and 37 would probably be very slow. There are some things you can do here or there, but chances are, those buses will be stuck on a very congested road. The good news is, most of those riders do have an alternative: the ferry. If they could increase frequency to 15 minutes or so (along with shuttle bus service to match) then it would be a reasonable alternative to buses stuck in traffic on the north end of the peninsula.

      5. In an emergency the Avalon buses could take Yancy to Andover without skipping any stops (the Yancy stop would move south of Yancy) No way any of the other alternative routes could handle the articulated buses.

        I don’t see how this would help though. Avalon already has a bus lane past Yancy and they have retimed the 5-way to prioritize Spokane over Delridge. So it should be fine as-is.

      6. I don’t see how this would help though. Avalon already has a bus lane past Yancy and they have retimed the 5-way to prioritize Spokane over Delridge. So it should be fine as-is.

        The problem is Spokane Street itself, assuming Tom’s solution doesn’t work. Obviously his idea would be ideal, but I’m saying there is already a reasonable route in place that avoids the (possible) issues with Spokane Street. I don’t think turning on or off Genesee would be an issue.

  16. Random thought that some here might consider sacrilegious…

    if we are rebuilding the bridge, should we re-consider a surface alignment? Center-running Light rail over the bridge, then center-running down Fauntleroy, and a right turn up Alaska to the Junction. Or if you prefer, 35th to Alaska. Close off Alaska to vehicle traffic to eliminate collisions. Promise my fellow West Seattlites you’ll have the whole thing done lickety-split if they agree to it. Center platform stations at Avalon & Fauntleroy and California & the Junction. No apartment buildings to condemn, no views to ruin. And no disruptions to existing commutes since those are FUBAR anyway.

    Could the trains ascend the grade up Alaska?

    1. Surface running is fine as long as it’s grade separated. No reason you can’t do this along a theoretical new bridge, either center or on the side. You might be on to something with the approach of Fauntleroy east of 35th, though that drags the Delridge station north.

      But once you get into the Junction, I think grade separated is needed given the tight street grid, particularly as ST will be running 4-car trains. East Link is generally surface running (or at least mirroring the grade of the freeway) except for the two street grids in downtown Bellevue and Redmond. Junction isn’t Bellevue, but Redmond’s downtown seems comparable and they choose to elevate because the frequent closure of cross streets would just to too disruptive, particularly with lots of layover as a terminus station.

    2. There is no median in Fauntleroy Boulevard between the “wishbone” with Admiral Boulevard and 35th. You would have to take two lanes out of the roadway permanently or widen it. There is room on the west side of the freeway to add a lane, though people on Fauntleroy Way would demand a sound wall, but not on the east without taking five or six properties. People will not agree to that lightly and it would make the Youngstown Station only useful for bus intercept, and that in a noisy, smelly, terrible location. Why would you want to do that?

      There is no reason that an LRT right-of-way placed on the south-side of a new shared bridge cannot separate from the road section somewhere between West Marginal Way and the apex of Pigeon Point then follow whichever pathway is chosen for the Locally Preferred Alternative. Both of the southside bridge alternatives pinch together right next to the roadway at Pigeon Point; look at ST’s documentation. The LRT right of way is planned to be ten or fifteen feet south of the current roadway.

      Any replacement bridge will be built in the envelope of the current structure; it may not be as high and steep and the apex of the arch will certainly have to be more rugged if it is. But in all likelihood the only portions that will be replaced are the three arched segments in the center and their four piers. There’s no reason to replace the very ho-hum approach causeway. To my knowledge nobody has raised questions about its integrity.

      So get agreement from the Coast Guard to lower the clearance to 110 feet, dismantle the three arches in the center and replace them with something flatter that LRT trains can handle comfortably. Build the LRT section with panel track already installed so that buses can use it in the interim until trains are ready and build the sections of the LRT structure to the east and west of the shared bridge far enough to get buses down to earth using a temporary structure and call it good until 2040 when West Seattle will have densified all throughout the California and Alaska corridors north of Morgan and then dig a tunnel to serve it with trains. Otherwise just stick with the buses.

      1. It was suggested to me by someone at SDOT they would try to reuse the existing 4 piers on the high span.

      2. Well, if so, then there can’t be a shared bridge. I’m certain that the piers are not built to take the potential load of two light rail trains meeting in one of the arched segments.

  17. The virus has provided a small window of time to design a three-pronged strategy:

    1. Emergency temporary mitigation. Passenger ferries? Car ferries? Temporary channel closure with a pontoon crossing? Road closures and signal changes to other routes to create a continual flow? This is primarily what needs to happen now.

    2. Short-term replacement. What can be built without massive engineering and lengthy environmental mitigation? What can be affordable as well as be a long-term investment? What could shorten the timeline — like are there any pre-made bridges or bridge kits that can be connected to replace the area that’s damaged (a pier and the bridge spans that attach to it)? It’s pretty typical for new modest spans to be built on barges and then attached, for example.

    3. Long-term crossing strategy. This is the time when light-rail, lane configurations and other expensive investments get built — but ONLY after getting carefully designed, analyzed and implemented. A rush to replace this with a newly engineered bridge structure is fraught with wasteful investment risks unless it’s done right.

    A good case study for action planning is the Sherman Minton I-64 Ohio River Bridge closure in 2011-2012. It severed a connection between a suburban Indiana county of 80,000 people from a major metro area (Louisville) — that also severed a national freeway. It carries 80,000 vehicles a day with three lanes in each direction. That bridge is double-decked with steel arches — and the spans are much longer.

    1. There’s a company (Acrow) that makes prefab bridges. They made the spans for the temporary replacement of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge back in 2013. Very impressive capabilities, but hard to say if something would work here.

      The I-35W Minneapolis interstate bridge that collapsed in 2007 was replaced in less than 14 months. So it is possible to move quickly, although that was an interstate highway not a city road.

      1. The current high bridge is currently in danger of collapsing and is effectively a monolithic structure. Nothing can be done with it until it is shored up (expected to be complete some time in 2022), and even then it would not be a good candidate for the use of a temporary replacement span.

  18. Jort, Mike Orr, and everybody else, however much they do for the local scenery, assembly details of the Planet Earth itself make anything political or civil engineering-related a long way from the worst thing that can happen to West Seattle.

    By the second. Lucky all parties, especially political, descend from the strain of monkey that when our tails fell off and our fur fell out, we just screeched louder and invented architecture, civil engineering, and building codes. Along with the ability to notice how mistakes tend to repeat unless actively prevented.

    Hate say it’s anything positive, but subject confirms my own political “take” as to how small a percentage of transit and other National and World problems really started with last Inauguration Day’s airport Immigration Self-Shaming event.

    Where to (Re) -Start? Celebrate the Social De-Spacing of the Downtown Seattle Public Library by starting with a Google to “Seattle Subway 1900’s” and a lightning elevator ride to the Archive room on the tenth floor.

    “Cure?” Politically….you don’t have to tell your name, but at least give us the first year you’ll vote. Which is same year you can be a Legislator. Leading me to final “Ask-Translate-Demand.”

    Pair the public school system of the whole Sound Transit Service area with Lake Washington Technical Institute for a Forward Thrust program that starts transit politics and engineering at age ten. Whichever department gets the job, Precision Machining +Funeral Services can’t not =Revenue-Friendly.

    Mark Dublin

  19. I’d think that even now there are major bridge building companies eying this situation. They could get something opened in a matter of months. The question becomes if SDOT will get out of its own way to solve this with some of the talented experts that work with these companies.

    Thank God we have Zimbabwe rather than Kubly right now! Still, I think that we need an additional focused military-style person leading this specific situation to keep us from flailing for years in internal SDOT bureaucratic decentralized decision-making, and endless interest-group feuding as their objectives conflict. A solution that could be implemented in less than a year or two could easily become a ten-year ordeal given Seattle’s normal processes.

    1. Al S., Since his arrival, I’ve been waiting for a posting about, or preferably written by Sam Zimbabwe. Whose chosen surname really does have references to a civilization engineering Seattle might do well to remember.

      But. The term “-Style” in any context but hats and pants raises flags that don’t brook surrender from any quarter of mine.

      Irreconcilable difference between Seattle government and any fighting force? Military orders are given only to people who’ve already sworn an oath to obey not only their text but the individual person who delivered them. Until ordered otherwise.

      Don’t know, but I don’t think Metro Transit Director and later Deputy Sound Transit Director Ron Tober ever served in uniform. But if orders merit monuments, ST’s arts budget is long-since overdue to spend some bronze and granite for some Employee Advisory Committee meeting minutes in the early 1980’s:

      “Your detail is to be advisors to me personally. Your duty will be to give me the best professional information and advice your work has given you.” (Sculptor’s note bronze to solid gold) “I WILL MAKE THE DECISION!”

      Style’s in the job description of “Reality Show Host.” Where orders get real things built and real people killed…….whoever created that entertainment description should have to peel a lot of potatoes and paint a lot of things a color with “Olive” in it. Somebody at JBLM tell me: do you still have to clean bathroom tile grout with a toothbrush?

      Mark Dublin

    2. Al, SDOT’s current timeline has it taking until 2022 just to shore up the bridge before they could even begin demolition (assuming the bridge is deemed unrepairable). The only way you could even consider construction of a new bridge before then is if you built far enough from the current alignment that it wasn’t in danger if the existing bridge collapsed, and in that case the new alignment would be so different that your estimate of construction only taking “months” would be highly unrealistic.

  20. Demo the existing bridge. Build a 4-lane “high” bridge (much lower than the current bridge, based on ACTUAL river traffic). This will support 1 general purpose and 1 HOV/Transit lane in each direction. Open this in 2-3 years.

    Build a second bridge just to the south with 3 lanes for eastbound traffic and Link, at a similar height. Opens in 4-5 years. Once this opens, the “north” bridge becomes 2+1 HOV/Transit westbound lanes with a multi-use path on the north side.

    1. The approaches to the center high bridge are already there, are in fine shape, and pretty mich dictate how high the replacement bridge will be.

      If you want a new lower bridge, then you’re talking about demolishing a mile or more of roadway approaches not just the broken 1,340 foot bridge over the Duwamish. That’s a much larger and much more expensive project.

      1. sna, did you read my long reply about an exclusive bus and freight pathway from Avalon (which has a separated busway) all the way to the Marginal Way intersection? Yes, it may be too wordy, BUT IT WORKS. Please read it

  21. Anyone know what the maximum possible frequency on the water taxi would be? Also, more connecting busses and parking capacity if possible. It would seem like an important lifeline during the next year or so.


    Long link, but fits the subject. The Queen Anne Counterbalance let ordinary streetcars use a mechanism whose weights sat in a small wagon that looked like mining equipment running in its own tunnel under a steep-sloped lane.

    Does anybody know if those “cars” went to scrap, or ended up at, say, the Museum of History and Industry? Though actual course of events also proved how strong a “traction” an electric motor could give an ordinary bus.

    I’d favor the Old-Queen-Anne-Era-trains for greater passenger capacity, but that’s a hundred percent technical decision and zero politics. Whatever best works.

    May have to wait ’til Downtown Library’s 10th floor Archives Room spacially de-socializes, but it’s likely some real-life footage is there biding its time on this one as well. Also remember that for machinery, Time has already sickled off a lot of former problems.

    Mark Dublin

  23. Problems like this is where Trump shines. Instead of endless talking, he would say “OF COURSE the road bridge and the rail bridge should be combined. Stop talking – just do it!” Yeah he might even yell. But he would make it happen.

    1. “He is a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks, like a rotten mackerel by moonlight.”

      Dean, my Apologies to poor John Randolph of Roanoke whom nobody remembers, but the “Abilities” reference proves he was referring to somebody else than the person you’ve just invited.

      From the syllable where he entered the Presidential race ’til the media handed him the Election and the whole rest of our National Existence itself… when’s the last time he’s ever stopped either talking or yelling or both about anything?

      Mark Dublin

    2. Really? What exactly has he “made happen” except a giant tax cut for people like him and bulldozing miles of cactus for a wall that people cut with hand tools?

  24. This idea of rail & replacing the bridge is crazy town – it’ll take 10+ years. The city/WSDOT should to buy out the shipping company on the duamish, and build a low bridge such that the duwamish is no longer navigable. I-34 got re-built in 2 years. There is no reason why the west seattle bridge could be replaced in a same time span.

    1. This will take longer than 2 years because the demolition is super complicated. It’s a cantilever bridge, so it needs to balanced or supported throughout the demo. The fastest replacement scenario is for the center section to collapse into the river on its own.

      And I agree the light rail scenario is highly unlikely. The approaches to the troublesome high span are in good shape, but probably not strong enough for light rail. Even the main piers of the troublesome high span are in good shape. It’s 550 feet of the center span that’s cracking. They will most likely just replace the current box beam girder spans using the current piers which cover a total of 1350 feet pretty closely to what it is today.

      This talk of a combo bridge is a much larger project that isn’t viable financially with far too long of a timeline.

      1. Thank you for the measured responses, sna & Frank. Here I was dreaming of a great collaborative megaproject, and you rebuked it with sound reasoning.

      2. sna, as I noted elsewhere, if you have a bridge shared in the middle you don’t need to worry about the approaches supporting light rail. The Representative Alignment and both of the alternatives spread away from the roadway east and west of Pigeon Point. So IF a shared span were built in the middle — and if SDOT goes with reusing the existing piers that’s not possible — the rail structure would have to deviate from the shared section immediately to the east and west and make its own less steep way down to normal structure height.

        This is exactly what a separate bridge would do.

    2. Sorry, Seattle does not get to render the Duwamish River unnavigable. Federal law requires it to remain navigable.

      Given the choice of spending a fortune replacing the car bridge and getting West Seattle Link expedited, I would certainly choose the latter. I won’t vote for a bond measure for a car bridge. I’ll vote to expedite West Seattle Link, and pray it will be more like the sky train than a deep, ugly subway that will be a lot more expensive to extend to southern West Seattle. If the NIMBYs get out of the way, it could happen a lot faster.

  25. What year was the doomed bridge built? Am I hearing “1984? “You’d think Big Brother’s spies would have nailed any defects since long before now.

    Though like the results of most demands for a military mindset as a timesaver, 36 years of deferred maintenance and aversion to the well-placed comfortable’s own sweat have let that fluid rust through all that re-bar.

    Lucky thing is how little it matters. Patriotically in addition to thinking work like this is good for us on general principles, I really hope Seattle can handle this one “In House” rather than in China and just shipped here.

    Admit it’s another plug for Lake Washington Technical College. If the Funeral Services program is not primarily geared for heavy excavation, in a lot of instances funeral revenue really can buy you a lot of miles. And is there ever anything to gain by being completely unable to build bridges?

    From what I’m hearing about general state of infrastructure maintenance, if “Deferred” had a “u” for the second “e”, a lot of our highway system would be bald. Also, with this many years’ practice after “Mighty Mole’s” onset, much that’s now surface or elevated might be cheaper if tunneled.

    When Aldous Huxley stole it from Shakespeare, “Brave New World!” dripped sarcasm. This year, up to our present governing generation to present our current high school graduating class in a tone of confidence and respect.

    Best result of present schedule delays could be the end of anything multiple choice besides common sense itself.

    Mark Dublin

  26. The last time ST had a chance for a 2 fer was when WSDOT announced they were replacing the 520 sinking bridge. ST had zero interest in “shifting gears” and putting rail on a brand new bridge but remained fixated on putting rail on the I-90 bridge that will be good for <20 years after East Link opens. Remember, it's only 10 years newer than the West Seattle bridge and a far more demanding engineering ask (i.e. gee, nobody's ever done this before… what could go wrong?).

    1. Bernie, a crossing on the 520 Bridge would have the same engineering problems as the I-90 Bridge. It goes up and down to exactly the same degree as does I-90, and THAT’s the big engineering woo-hoo!

      They went I-90 because it balances the traffic through the downtown Tunnel. East Link plus West Seattle Link will roughly equal Lynnwood Link, at least in terms of train capacity. Now the passenger loads may require “turn-backs” somewhere just south of downtown Seattle, but it would be catastrophically worse if East Link dumped into U-Link somewhere around Montlake.

      Also, East Link serves Redmond-Bellevue travel very well. A 520 crossing would have to bypass downtown Bellevue, a major error.

      1. Yes, given the State was bound and determined to build it “on the cheap” you’d be faced with the same engineering problem of putting rail a string of barges bobbing up and down. But at least your starting with that in mind instead of trying to retrofit a solution and getting the full lifespan of the bridge.
        No you wouldn’t bypass DT Bellevue. The ROW from South Kirkland P&R would take you to Wilburton. To get to the existing transit center you’d be crossing 405 twice. Not really a big deal if they tunnel which would obviously have to be a bored tunnel meaning they could have had a station actually at the transit center.
        The tie in to Link at the UW would be a tough one. It would also mean East Link would have been a direct connection to Seatac which I’m pretty sure most eastside riders would have preferred. Or, it could have continued to DT with some creative routing that served S. Lk Union. You still be talking less total track miles than detouring to Mercer Island. The only reason someone driving from DT Bellevue to DT Seattle would be to avoid the toll on 520.

      2. So you would continue east from the bridge to So Kirkland Park-N-Ride, hook south along the rail ROW to Wilburton, make some sort of 360 degree loop under Downtown Bellevue , return to somewhere around Lake Bellevue and then head to Redmond??? Or are you thinking of splitting the line at SKPR and heading to Redmond along 520 with half the trains? Bernie, you’re better than that.

        You could serve downtown Bellevue using a tunnel from somewhere just east of the bridgehead and rejoin the East Link alignment at Bellevue TC, but that would have been a significantly greater expense than using the I-90 Reversible Lanes.

        And it still imbalances service through downtown Seattle alarmingly.

      3. I don’t get the imbalance thing through DT Seattle. I’m sure it’s a real issue but I haven’t really considered it.

        As there were multiple routes considered with the I-90 crossing there were also multiple possibilities using 520. The point is, ST choose not to even consider it because they were locked in on their current path. Same thing with W. Seattle. They ain’t going to “shift gears”.

        Going to S. Kirkland P&R and then South on the BNSF ROW is something ST is now already proposing. Job done if they’d done that with a 520 crossing. Again, the big benefit is they get full life of the bridge instead of scraps. IMHO, 50 years tops on a new sinking bridge. Remember they had issues with cracked pontoons before they even left the dock. Best case, combined POV/Rail would have been a suspension bridge. Director of WSDOT at the time actually emailed me and said they wouldn’t do that not because of engineering (the lake’s to deep rouse) but because it would have cost a billion dollars. Guess what the “on the cheap” alternative ended up costing?. Yep, a cool billion.

  27. From reading the provided links it appears that the reason the bridge failed is because a pier bearing seized. This can’t happen if regular maintenance is performed correctly. So it seems the blame game points squarely at SDOT. I appreciate the current director is a straight shooter (which might get him fired) but years of appointing based on political favor has come back to roost (Kubly, cough, bike share, cough, Kubly).

    1. Yep, Kubly sucks. He really enjoyed sweeping things under the rug, and then taking the next big offer to work somewhere else. He did that with Move Seattle, when he knew that the levy wouldn’t provide the improvement promised — before the vote! — but said nothing.

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