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SDOT begins search for a team to design a potential replacement of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge if we cannot repair it

Photo of West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. City of Seattle photo

Edited on 6/3/2020 to clarify that all options to repair and replace the bridge are being considered.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is continuing to urgently move forward with all options to reopen the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge as quickly as possible.  

While we are making rapid progress on our efforts to stabilize the bridge – an initial set of actions we must take to preserve public safety no matter what – we need to have all pieces in place to quickly pivot if it becomes clear that fixing the bridge is no longer an option due to continued deterioration.  

That is why today, June 2, we posted a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), marking the start of our search for a team to design a potential replacement for the bridge while we simultaneously continue working towards a possible repair. 

We have taken action on the bridge, on the ground, and in the community every single day since cracks suddenly began growing exponentially forcing us to immediately close the city’s most used road which carried over 125,000 people a day:

– Conducted in-person inspections of the bridge every day since March 20

– Installed an intelligent monitoring system and created an emergency plan for the worst-case scenario

– Completed over 80 projects in the communities affected by this closure to mitigate traffic, improve safety, and keep people moving

– Convened a task force of community leaders and advocates to help guide our path forward.

We continue to write flexibility into all our contracts and plans. Moving forward with this dual-track approach of repair and replacement is critical.  

The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) invites design teams to show us how their experience makes them the best fit to design the replacement for the bridge. This step will allow us to make sure that we are selecting the most highly qualified team, while also giving us flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances before a contract is signed. We will look for the most creative teams, with a track record of delivering highly complex projects.  

We have structured the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge design RFQ to allow maximum flexibility in terms of cost, length of the contract, opportunities for federal investment, and type of replacement so that we are able to be nimble, adapt to, and leverage all possible scenarios. We are looking for designers who can commit to be available when we need them over the next decade, in case we are able to make short-term repairs now to reopen the bridge sooner, but then still need design support to replace the bridge a few years down the road.

To be clear, at this time we are requesting qualifications for design teams to replace the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge because we want to ensure all pathways are primed to enable the fastest possible execution once our data and analysis indicates which – repair or replace – is most prudent.  

If the moment comes when we can no longer pursue repair, this announcement ensures we will not lose valuable time hiring a design team to begin the rebuilding process. 

This flexibility and keeping all options open is not new. Since March, we have written flexibility into all our West Seattle High-Rise Bridge contracts. 

In April, we used emergency contracting authority to fast-track the selection of a contractor to help stabilize the bridge. While we still hope that our broader repair efforts will be successful, some level of repair will continue no matter what, as we diligently work to preclude any worst-case scenarios.  

In that contract, we included provisions that enable the City to move nimbly and avoid being locked in to a single path forward if the situation changed. Similarly, we are again building in flexibility to pursue all options at once by having a team ready to begin designing a replacement bridge if needed.  

Preliminary work on the potential replacement approach will also inform the relative costs and benefits of repair vs replacement of the structure.  

Eventually we will reach a critical decision point to repair or replace the bridge   

We expect to complete our analysis on the structural stability of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge later this summer, thanks to all the systems put in place over the past few weeks and months to gather more information. This information is critical to understanding whether repairs to the bridge are still possible or if we must instead immediately pursue some method of replacement for the high-rise span of the West Seattle Bridge. 

In May, we activated an intelligent monitoring system made up of over 75 movement sensors, crack monitors, and cameras to help us listen to and understand the bridge’s movement.  

We have also been conducting non-destructive testing using ground penetrating radar to create an internal image of the bridge concrete and identify whether there are any voids or corrosion around the steel support tendons.  

As we continue to gather data points daily, we are getting a better understanding of how the bridge is doing and if repairs seem feasible.  

In considering this data and associated analysis, we will work closely with elected leaders and diverse community advocates through our just-announced West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force and our Technical Advisory Panel to ensure community voices and the leading experts in their field are not only heard, but at the table and engaged. 

We will share more about upcoming decision points in the coming weeks.  

In the mean time, planning for all trajectories simultaneously allows us to be nimble at every step of the way. At this time we must continue to prepare for all paths, but if at any time we realize that stabilization work is not the best way forward, we will be able to quickly pivot towards a bridge replacement because that process is already underway, with no time lost.  

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