One year in: A look back at the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge

West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr.

At 7 PM on the night of Monday, March 23, 2020, a few final cars passed over the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. The decision to close the high bridge due to accelerated concrete cracking was necessary for public safety, but at the same time brought immediate challenges to communities in West Seattle and the Duwamish Valley. 

For many people and businesses, the bridge is more than a piece of infrastructure. It functions as a key connection to the rest of the city for work, school, and many other important services. The sudden closure left people across the community – from Georgetown to Delridge to South Park and beyond – wondering: Where do we go from here? 

As we acknowledge the challenges associated with the first year of the high bridge closure, we’re offering thanks to the community for their resilience and support. We’re also looking forward with hope – and a plan – toward the reopening the bridge in mid-2022. We’ll focus on the coming year in a blog post tomorrow, but today we’re taking a month-by-month look back at how the past year unfolded. 


2020: March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December 

2021: January | February | March 


March 2020 

Following the closure, we immediately got to work with King County Metro and other regional transportation, life-safety and maritime partners to develop a comprehensive traffic control plan to keep people and goods moving. We also continued structural assessments and developed a near-term action plan to further stabilize the bridge. We shared information about the proactive monitoring that led to the bridge closure, including technical memos and inspection reports from the past several years. 

April  

In April, focus shifted to the Spokane St Swing Bridge (“low bridge”) as community members looked for better ways to get around. Unfortunately, opening the low bridge fully to general traffic would create new challenges. We needed to keep this bridge clear for emergency and other essential vehicles. Additionally, allowing even one-quarter of the 100,000 drivers that used to use the high bridge each day would have resulted in gridlock. 

To help us map out a plan for the high bridge, we formed a Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) of experts from across the country. For the remainder of the year, they provided independent review, insights and feedback as we considered whether to repair or replace the bridge.  

On April 30, we hired a contractor to conduct repairs to stop further cracking and replace the lateral bearings on Pier 18. They also worked with us and the engineering consultant team to develop strengthening solutions for the bridge.   

May 

The monitoring camera as part of the intelligent monitoring system (attached to black bar hanging from ceiling) that was installed in May. Photo Credit: BDI. 

In May, we shared a new emergency response plan. We also established an interagency task force to coordinate a unified emergency response if conditions on the high bridge reached critical thresholds. We installed a new intelligent monitoring system to help us track the health of the high bridge with greater precision. 

We launched a series of projects to mitigate impacts of the closure, and convened the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force (CTF) to ensure the many voices and concerns of the community could be heard and advocated for. Members were selected from all over West Seattle and the Duwamish Valley. Like the TAP, the CTF would play a critical role in the months ahead. 

June 

In early June, even as we continued working toward possible repairs, we issued a Request for Qualifications to mark the start of our search for a team to design a potential bridge replacement. The goal was to position us to be successful for both possibilities, repair or replacement. 

The CTF focused on Reconnect West Seattle, the newly developed proposal that would build on the more than 80 traffic improvements we’d already implemented. To develop the plan, we drew on more than 30 town hall and community forums we’d attended since the closure to gather feedback, launched a community-wide survey and issued neighborhood ballots to prioritize projects. 

In late June, we expanded access to the low bridge to all vehicles between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., seven days a week. 

July 

In July, Kraemer began the first stages of stabilization work that would continue through the remainder of the year. On July 16, Mayor Durkan declared the closure a state of emergency, opening the possibility for state and federal assistance and a new ability to expedite contracts and services.  

WSP, our bridge consultant, began work on the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) that would be a critical part of determining whether to repair or replace the bridge. The CBA would weigh the many important factors that needed to be considered as part of the decision. We also began looking for a consulting firm to conduct an independent traffic and revenue study to help determine funding options for repair and replacement options.  

We closed out July by completing installation of the four platforms that would allow crew members to begin the next phase of stabilization. 

August 

In August, we selected HNTB to design the potential bridge replacement, a necessary step for all repair or replacement scenarios. We continued work to mitigate traffic and improve safety, implementing more than 95 projects, including intersection improvements, reduced speed limits and traffic signal revisions. Meanwhile, stabilization work on the high bridge continued. 

September  

Plans for West Marginal Way include improvements to, from, and around the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center (the Longhouse). Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr. 

September brought with it the Reconnect West Seattle Implementation Plan. Thank you to the more than 17,000 members of the community that responded to our survey and neighborhood prioritization ballots! Our goal: To support levels of travel that are similar to what they were before the closure while reducing environmental injustices that impact Duwamish Valley communities. 

We shared plans for critical improvements on West Marginal Way, where we’d seen a significant increase in the number and speed of vehicles traveling along the corridor. The plans were to include improvements to, from, and around the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center (the Longhouse). 

October 

On October 20, we shared the CBA with the public and the CTF, as well as a “reader’s guide” to help navigate the dense, technical document. The CBA considered five final alternatives, each of which were scored based on 10 attributes defined by the CTF. What the document didn’t include: a new replacement alternative that had many intrigued.  

We also installed signs warning drivers that automated photo enforcement on the low bridge would begin in early 2021.  

November 

November was a big month. Crews reached a critical milestone in the stabilization effort, releasing damaged bearings as part of the forward pathway for both the repair and replace alternatives.  

Then, on Nov. 19, came the big announcement: Mayor Durkan made the decision to repair, rather than replace, the high bridge. The decision was based on months of analysis and community discussion. Ultimately, Mayor Durkan felt that restoring traffic to the bridge as quickly as possible was the most important factor. She also directed SDOT to continue studying future replacement alternatives to ensure the department would be ready when the time comes. 

December 

In December, we lowered all work platforms on the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge to a barge on the waterway. These platforms helped us access hard -to-reach parts of the bridge while we did the stabilization work. Photo Credit: Tim Durkan.  

December marked the end of a tough year. In the face of a global pandemic and – for West Seattle and Duwamish Valley communities – the closure of the high bridge, folks were ready to turn the page. We continued outreach to prepare drivers for enforcement set to begin in January on the low bridge. 

We also wrapped up stabilization of the high bridge, setting the stage for future repairs that will lead to reopening of the bridge. 

January 2021 

The new year kicked off with a clear vision as we looked ahead to the repairs that will allow us to reopen the bridge in mid-2022. Design work for the low and high bridges were in full swingeven though you might not have seen crews recently on the bridge. 

February  

We heard concerns in February about the low bridge access policy. We appreciate what we’ve heard and continue to work with community members and our low bridge subcommittee on a path forward. 

The monitoring work remained an important part of the phase 2 rehabilitation design process. We continued to observe how the now-stabilized high bridge responds to seasonal temperature changes, particularly changes from colder to warmer weather.    

March 

This brings us to March 2021. We recently created Home Zone plans for the neighborhoods of South Park, Highland Park and Georgetown with input from almost 1,000 people across the three neighborhoods. Together, we finalized Home Zone plans that include new walkways, speed humps, neighborhood greenways, and more. Construction has already begun in some areas and will continue through 2022.   

We also reached the preliminary design milestone for the high bridge in March, an important step that allows us to begin the selection process for a private contractor to make improvements to both the high and low bridges.  

This year will bring more projects and more progress in our efforts to help West Seattle and Duwamish Valley communities until the high bridge reopens. Thank you again for your perseverance and resilience. Together we are forging a strong path forward.