Nearly seven months into the West Seattle Bridge closure, the City is finally closing in on a decision to replace or repair the bridge. An announcement is planned for the week after the Community Task Force’s October 21st meeting. That actual date of an announcement has proven evasive though, the Mayor’s office has already pushed it back a week once.

The decision’s delay was announced alongside of a new option for replacement. This option joins the six options that SDOT has been evaluating, as a ‘rapid replacement’ option modeled after the Lake Champlain Bridge that connects New York and Vermont and was built in two years. It was able to be completed at that speed by building its arch off-site, and skipping a full environmental impact statement by arguing that the new arch would rise over old bridge alignment.

Courtesy of Doug Kerr – The New York State Route 185 Lake Champlain Bridge

Late Adjustments

This additional option changes the now 200+ day conversation. This replacement option has a three-year timeline for completion, a significant reduction from the five to six-year timeline for other replacement options. With this sudden entertainment so close to an announcement, the City shakes up the little certainty West Seattleites have. The repair option–the option favored by 60% of West Seattleites surveyed (unscientifically) by West Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold on October 12th–has an estimated one to two-year timeline, not much of a difference from a three-year timeline.

Frustration and confusion was expressed by members of the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force during an October 14th between-meeting discussion. Lora Radford of the West Seattle Junction Association expressed concern about the new option, noting “the feeling they don’t have enough information, especially in light of rumors that a “rapid replacement” could take only a little more time than repairs, and hopes to hear more about that Wednesday [in the upcoming October 21st meeting].”

The Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT’s) cost benefit analysis (CBA) of replace versus repair is expected today October 19th, Herbold confirmed. The apparent delay comes as a result of an October 13th review of the analysis by the Technical Advisory Panel and the need to make the document accessible before release. This tardiness is the supposed cause of the timeline push, oddly enough the West Seattle Blog reported that “The CBA won’t be updated [to consider rapid replace] but this newly added concept will be discussed at the October 21st meeting.”

To foreshadow a week or two into the future, the Seattle Times reported that City staff was leaning toward replacing and not repairing the West Seattle Bridge. The report also included SDOT’s mention that new construction might be better positioned to benefit from a federal infrastructure package. The agency’s structures director also couldn’t be sure of the bridge’s durability until after more stabilization work is done this fall, tempering optimism in repair.

Ongoing Bridge and Community work

Stabilization, transportation improvements, and community outreach continue as the city works toward a resolution to the crisis. Started in June, months of stabilization work is expected to complete by year’s end. As reported in a past article, SDOT is on track to release Pier 18, and continue post-tensioning system installation with the first phase of carbon fiber wrapping already finished.

In West Seattle, SDOT has continued to respond to traffic impacts caused by bridge closure. New speed radar signs, repaving, and bus stop platform construction are among the improvements that the agency been working on to improve the transportation environment in West Seattle.

Courtesy of SDOT

These improvements came alongside the completion of the Reconnect West Seattle Implementation Plan, which received 17,000+ responses during the process’s outreach phase. The plan’s Phase 1 through 3 (March-July) progress include 175 changes, the agency is currently working on priority projects that can be delivered within their current constraints. SDOT outlines their community-influenced planned actions in their Reconnect West Seattle Implementation Plan (Action 4) Document.

Courtesy of SDOT

Community outreach and engagement continue with regular meetings of the West Seattle Community Task force, smaller community meetings, and a Low Bridge Subcommittee that began meeting in October. Be sure to follow SDOT’s weekly stabilization updates, bridge announcements and planning, and community outreach event announcements in their blog or the West Seattle Bridge project website. Look out for the upcoming cost-benefit analysis and the City’s announcement for replace or repair.

Author’s note: Cost Benefit Analysis was not released on October 19th

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Shaun Kuo is a junior reporter at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW's Jackson School. He is a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Impossible lift for West Seattle Bridge!
    Using HNTB’s Lake Champlain Bridge as a model for “accelerated bridge construction”, SDOT hopes to build a new bridge in 3 years. SDOT proposes fabricating a 5,000-ton, 590-foot arch off-site, barging it between the bridge piers and lifting it into place. However, SDOT and HNTB forgot to check the width of the Duwamish River channel under the West Seattle Bridge. The channel is only 200 feet wide so it is impossible turn a 590-foot bridge span into position under the bridge piers. No crane can make this lift; it requires dozens of hydraulic jacks on the bridge piers

  2. I also question the feasibility of maneuvering a pre-fabricated bridge into place, lifting it, and securing it. The Duwamish is like 500 feet wide where the current West Seattle Bridge is located; the Lake Champlain Bridge looks a lot shorter in length and certainly does not have the same width (>4 travel lanes vs. WSB’s 6). Length and width correlates with weight; how could a pre-fab bridge be lifted into place? Via crane? I don’t think so.

    As a West Seattle resident I was initially in the replace camp but now I’m not too sure; I think stabilizing the current bridge and then pursuing the enmeshed tube concept may be the best bet… if cost wasn’t an issue.

  3. The Champlain Bridge is so much smaller than the WS one and they didn’t have to worry about demolition. Also WS soil is very challenging. I think its dangerous to even bring up a 2 year timeline without mentioning that the projects are so different.

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