Residents celebrate West Seattle Bridge reopening, but still much to do

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The West Seattle Bridge is expected to reopen Sept. 18, but the Seattle Department of Transportation says there is a lot left to do and some potential hiccups that could get in the way.

There is paving, sign installation, more carbon fiber wrapping, crack filling, and some concrete to pour.

SDOT’s Downtown Mobility Director Heather Marx, who is in charge of the repair project, said there is always the possibility that something will come up.

“We still have some concrete to pour for the overlay, and to fix the holes in the deck,” she said. “There are always last-minute supply chain issues, last-minute worker shortages — [for example, if] the whole crew gets COVID.”

West Seattle Bridge’s reopening date becomes official

And then comes the most important test — load testing. Engineers need to make sure that the West Seattle Bridge can handle the weight of cars, buses, and trucks. Marx said there will be static and dynamic tests, both using fully-loaded double dump trucks.

“We’re going to have a dump truck with a trailer loaded to a certain weight, and we’re going to have several of them placed at strategic points on the bridge, and we’re going to use that monitoring system that we installed way back when the bridge first closed to make sure that the bridge is responding appropriately to that static load,” Marx said.

If all goes well with that test, Marx said those trucks will then be driven across the bridge.

“We’re going to run them over the bridge, drive them over the bridge, and again watch that monitoring system to make sure that the bridge is responding to that load as we expect it to,” Marx said.

If the data doesn’t look right or more testing is needed, Marx says the opening date could be pushed.

“We would never open an unsafe bridge … the safety of the traveling public is much more important to us than the convenience of the traveling public, although that’s also clearly important,” she said.

There has been a lot of criticism over the two-and-a-half years the bridge has been closed, mainly over how long it has taken.

To reset some of the timeline, it took about eight months for the city to figure out what was happening and why, and to make a decision on whether to replace the bridge or repair it.

There was time over the winter of 2020 and 2021 when the engineers had to wait to see if the carbon fiber wrapping and post-tensioning plan would work as a fix.

For a public project, Marx says, it went blazing fast:

“We could not have done it faster,” she said. “Anyone who was involved in this project knows how much has gone into this.”

When she looks back over the last two years, Marx is proud of what the city has been able to accomplish.

“It is regrettable that the bridge specs in the 80s were not what they should have been,” she said. “But here we are — instead of complaining about it, we just went ahead and did all the things we needed to do to fix it.”

Marx said the city should be able to get several decades out of this bridge, though it will eventually have to be replaced.

A game-changer for residents

For those who have been living in virtual isolation for two-and-a-half years, September 18th cannot come soon enough.

West Seattle residents who spoke with KIRO Newsradio after the announcement said they were immensely relieved.

One West Seattle resident said it used to take her 45 minutes to get to North Seattle for work — now it takes 90. Besides the time, it is also costing her more money.

“Gas prices have gone up, and the longer you’re in your car [the worse it is]. And air conditioning sucks your gas too,” she said.

Another commuter said that the once-simple drive from Greenwood to West Seattle is now full of challenges.

“It doubled my commute, and it added 19 stoplights, a drawbridge, and two train tracks to make my commute go from 25 minutes to almost an hour sometimes,” she said. “It totally feels like I am playing the Game of Life in a different way.”

Then there are the medical concerns. One woman said that she has to drive her husband to downtown Seattle regularly for cancer treatment.

“[The bridge reopening] is life changing if you have to go downtown for the doctor — because West Seattle has no hospital,” she said. “Our medical doctors that we do go to here are just swamped, because so many people have tried to change to this medical clinic.”

Besides the commuters, the West Seattle Bridge reopening will also be a game-changer for small businesses. With the bridge closing in March 2020, the mom-and-pop shops, cafes, and restaurants got hit with two challenges at once — COVID and isolation from the rest of Seattle.

Businesses who spoke with KIRO Newsradio said they have noticed a drop in customers.

“It’s been bad here. Because we depend a lot on downtown Seattle,” said Glen Quadros, owner of the Great American Diner.

People who used to make a day trip from out of town or other parts of Seattle — for example, to visit Alki Beach and then peruse the shops — now are not making the trek nearly as much.

“We don’t get as many tourists … We all had to adapt,” said an employee at the West Seattle location of Cupcake Royale. “We do cupcake deliveries, so we had to reroute our trucks.”

The silver lining is, West Seattle residents also haven’t been leaving as much — so the businesses have been able to draw on the neighborhood crowd for support.

For toy shop Curious Kidstuff, this local loyalty has made all the difference.

“The traffic coming from out of the area hasn’t been quite as much, but the people of West Seattle haven’t left West Seattle a lot, so they’ve been supporting a lot of the small businesses here, so it’s been nice,” Curious Kidstuff’s manager, Kristi.

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