“It is a never-ending battle to keep on top of the railing repairs on the Alaskan Way Viaduct,” says Greg Funk, general bridge maintenance supervisor for SDOT. This year so far, repairs on the viaduct have totaled over $123,000 according to Ed Mortensen who is SDOT’s Bridge maintenance and operations manager. The average cost of repairing damaged guardrails on the Alaskan Way Viaduct runs around $12,000, usually for about a 25-foot stretch of railing. Mortensen says that since the viaduct is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, the state reimburses the city for the repair costs and then seeks restitution from the guilty party.
The railing repairs are expensive because they are not a quick fix and involve a crew of no less than six workers. When an accident occurs, the police respond first and, in turn, they request an emergency person from the SDOT’s Street Maintenance section to close off the lane while the damaged railing parts can be removed. It is not uncommon for Funk to be called out in the middle of the night to assess the damage and repairs needed. A temporary steel railing is then usually installed. Later, a longer lane closure must be scheduled so a permanent steel and concrete rail can be installed. The concrete requires three days to cure. Working on the railing, whether on a temporary or permanent repair, is dangerous work with cars speeding by the work zone at 50+ miles per hour.
The majority of the guardrail accidents happen overnight and often during football season. Funk says most of the overnight accidents involve DUI drivers. He further explains that the guardrail accidents usually occur during rain and in certain locations of the viaduct where the combination of slippery road conditions, high speed, and impaired driving skills don’t mix. Railing areas frequently under repair are in the northbound lanes of the viaduct in the first curve after the roadway becomes elevated, and in the southbound lanes at Main Street. It is not unusual for SDOT’s bridge maintenance crews to make repairs at nearly the same location as where they just completed a repair.
Day time accidents often occur southbound at the Columbia on-ramp when cars attempt to abruptly change lanes, and northbound approaching the Seneca street exit ramp.
Mortensen explains that in contrast to the accidents on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, there are only about seven or eight accidents a year on all of the 180 Seattle-owned bridge structures because the travel speeds are much slower than on the viaduct. The average repair on city-owned structures is around $7,000. He explains that unfortunately, while more structures are built every year, the funds budgeted for maintenance are not increased.