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Seattle Chooses Fastest Bridge Repair Option, Boosting its Seaport

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

By The Maritime Executive 11-19-2020 10:14:01

The City of Seattle has decided to repair rather than replace the damaged West Seattle Bridge, which provides access to key terminal infrastructure at the Port of Seattle. 

“After weighing a number of factors and listening to the experts . . . we will move forward with repairing the West Seattle Bridge to restore mobility as soon as possible. Safety, jobs, certainty, speed to resume mobility, costs, and community input were all key factors in my decision to repair,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan. “This corridor is critical to our economy and our residents and the other options could not realistically be done in a reasonable timeframe, would cost significantly more money and provided no more capacity for transit or other modalities."

The Seattle Department of Transportation has been working to stabilize the bridge for the past five months. The span developed cracking suddenly in March, and it has been closed to traffic ever since. In July, the mayor 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. At the time, the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma (the members of the Northwest Seaport Alliance) called for "support from every level of government and the marshaling of all available resources" in order to resolve the problem quickly. The bridge shutdown affects Seattle's Terminal 5 (T5), which is in the middle of a major overhaul that will allow it to handle bigger container ships. The terminal is due to come back online next year, and it will play a key role in the NWSA's plan to reorder cargo operations in Seattle and Tacoma.

Repairing the bridge is the fastest option to restore regular traffic flow to West Seattle, Mayor Durkan said Thursday, and the funding stream to do the work is more certain. The project to complete long-term repairs will likely take until mid-2022.

“The safe and rapid restoration of traffic mobility to the high bridge is the highest priority for the Port of Seattle and The Northwest Seaport Alliance,” said Peter Steinbrueck, Port of Seattle commission president and co-chair of the Northwest Seaport Alliance. “As this project proceeds, we appreciate that the city continues to prioritize freight access to Terminal 5 via the lower swing bridge to support successful operations.”   

Meanwhile, design and site selection work for an eventual replacement bridge is under way, and the NWSA plans to engage in the process.