NW Seaport Alliance Calls for Urgent Action on Failing Bridge

Cracking on the underside of the West Seattle Bridge (SDOT)

Published Jul 23, 2020 2:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Seattle and the Northwest Seaport Alliance are calling for a rapid replacement project for the West Seattle Bridge, which crosses the Duwamish River along the south end of the seaport. The bridge developed cracking suddenly in March, and it has been closed to traffic ever since. Last week, the mayor of Seattle declared the failing bridge a civil emergency, allowing the city to bypass its own contracting and construction regulations in order to address the problem quickly. 

“We urgently need a regional approach for the replacement of the West Seattle Bridge. Tens of thousands of family-wage jobs depend on the movement of goods in the busiest freight corridor in the state, which is also adjacent to our largest investment—the Terminal 5 container handling facility," said Peter Steinbrueck, Port of Seattle Commission President and co-chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance.

In a joint op-ed published last week, Steinbrueck and NWSA co-chair John McCarthy - the president of the Port of Tacoma Commission - called for action to resolve the issue, which affects the future of T5. The terminal is in the middle of a major upgrade project to prepare for supersized container vessels. The backup options for the West Seattle Bridge - notably the small swing bridge just underneath it - have very limited capacity and cannot handle extra commuter vehicles. The two-lane lower bridge is part of the truck route for T5, and at present its use is restricted to freight traffic, buses and emergency vehicles during business hours. 

"We cannot afford to allow the usual 'Seattle process' of chattering minds to create conversational delay in the decision-making as options are explored. Businesses and communities that have called the Duwamish River Valley home for decades are already feeling unprecedented impacts," they warned. "The WSB failure is an economic emergency and should be declared as such by Gov. Jay Inslee. Support from every level of government and the marshaling of all available resources are urgently needed to bring about our state’s economic return."

For now, contractors are shoring up the high bridge with temporary supports to keep it intact while city leaders determine whether to repair it or replace it.