West Seattle travelers found themselves with no bridge directly off the peninsula Wednesday morning when the two-lane Spokane Street swing bridge became stuck.
That closure aggravated ongoing congestion and stress pervasive since March 2020, when runaway cracks forced the city to close West Seattle’s seven-lane high-rise bridge.
The lower bridge shutdown lasted over an hour, before the bridge reopened at 10 a.m. People there needed to cancel trips, or detour about 5 miles, to the already clogged First Avenue South bridge.
The Seattle Department of Transportation found that a pump “started to lose pressure and exhibit atypical noises, requiring SDOT to cease bridge operations while our crews inspected the issue and performed the necessary actions to restart the bridge,” the agency said in an afternoon update.
The pump may need replacement, which could happen Tuesday along with a different pump already scheduled for a changeout, SDOT said. Until then, electrical and mechanical crews will stay nearby during peak hours to respond rapidly in case of failure. Repairs can be done without a traffic closure, city staff say.
SDOT has been planning for major rehab work to begin in late 2021, not only to retrofit the hydraulic lift parts and control software, but also tighten some cracks in the concrete girders. Matt Donahue, SDOT roadway structures director, has said for a few years that the pivoting lifts in the twin swing spans need a retrofit.
The episode offers Seattle another warning about the risks of procrastination, as the City Council hesitates to fully fund bridge maintenance and drawspan parts, and conditions deteriorate citywide. Council members have at their disposal a $20 car-tab fee, or $7.2 million annually, that’s not been allocated yet. An early proposal devoted three-fourths to bridges, but as of midyear members were inclined to shift a large proportion toward walking and street-safety projects, a priority favored by people during SDOT’s community outreach.
State bridge and highway maintenance is chronically underfunded.
The lower bridge is the primary bus route connecting West Seattle to Sodo and downtown. It’s the only direct bicycle lane, and the shortest truck connection to Terminal 5 west of the Duwamish Waterway. It was already limited to those users, along with several hundred maritime workers, small-business owners and other permitted drivers.
Meanwhile, the high-rise bridge, built in 1984, requires strengthening steel through the hollow girders, and carbon wrapping, to extend its life perhaps 30 years. The city has budgeted about $175 million from federal grants, internal city debt and other sources to cover bridge repairs and nearby street improvements including safety work. The high-rise should reopen sometime in mid-2022, according to SDOT.