Celebrate SDOT Workers: Part 2— David Leask


Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. In honor of the holiday and our hard working employees, we are using the next few Fridays to blog about them. Today we’d like to introduce you to David Leask, Senior Operator of the Ballard Bridge.

We stopped by Leask’s work place Thursday and experienced firsthand how the bascule of the Ballard Bridge is raised and lowered and how the bridge is maintained. The first step to opening the bridge, so commercial and pleasure vessels can pass, is to lower the gates and stop the flow of vehicles. After confirming there are no pedestrians and bicyclists around, a series of buttons and levers are used to safely raise the bridge. A degree meter lets the operator know when the bascule is raised to the correct height—a 72 degree angle. The entire process takes three to four minutes, but is a little longer for travelers who are waiting to allow time for boats to safely pass. You may not know, but federal law gives marine traffic the right-of-way over vehicles. Leask basically manages a busy city intersection where people who walk, bike, drive and operate boats all come together.

Next, Leask took us down three flights of stairs where we saw a cement block weighing just under 1,000,000 lbs that counterbalances the weight of the bascule, the supersized gears, backup generator and computer systems required to operate the bridge. Leask greases and lubes the machinery every two to four weeks making sure it functions well. In some instances he is required to use safety equipment similar to that used for rock climbing, because of the size and height of the gears.

Leask has been employed with the city for 25 years now and has been helping SDOT keep people and goods moving through this important corridor since the mid-90s. He has managed the bridge through various retrofits, paint jobs and

Leask occasionally commutes to work via bike….a parking spot with a view!

even the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001. One of his favorite parts of being a Bridge Operator is enjoying the view from the tower of sunrises, the various vessels going by and the birds he gets to see like Peregrine Falcons, eagles, Blue Herons and Osprey. As we did last week with Theresa Smith, SDOT Civil Engineer and Supervisor for our Street Use permitting group, we asked Leask what song he would sing at Karaoke. He responded that he is not allowed to sing Karaoke and even lip syncs “Happy Birthday.”

Thanks for the tour and the great work you do, David!