SEATTLE — The West Seattle Bridge will be repaired, rather than replaced, as the city aims to restore traffic by mid-2022, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Thursday.
The high-rise span of the bridge has been closed to traffic since March, after routine inspections found growing cracks in the concrete structure. Before the closure, the span was among the busiest in the region, carrying more than 100,000 vehicles every day.
"In any other year and frankly over the last two decades, if the West Seattle Bridge had closed...that would have dominated the news," Durkan said Thursday. "It would have been the number one story in the news for the region. Unfortunately, 2020 had different plans for us."
The emergency bridge closure happened on March 23, the same day that Gov. Jay Inslee announced his coronavirus stay-at-home order. In the eight months since, drivers have had to detour using the First Avenue South Bridge or South Park bridge, adding considerable time to commutes and significantly impacting traffic conditions for surface streets in the Duwamish Valley.
The city convened several workgroups and task forces to determine the most feasible option to restore traffic, including a full replacement, rapid replacement option and repairs. Ultimately, Durkan found temporary repairs to be the fastest and most cost-effective route.
"After weighing a number of factors and hearing from many stakeholders and members of community, I have decided to move forward with repairing the High Rise Bridge," Durkan said Thursday. "This corridor is simply too important to our economy and our residents to face potentially more than 3 years of uncertainty. Repair will simply get West Seattle reconnected the fastest."
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.
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) November 19, 2020
The mayor said she went into the process favoring replacement, but after further discussion and study, it became clear that it would prove too costly and take at least a year longer to restore traffic, even under a best-case scenario.
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle, applauded the mayor's decision in a statement shared Thursday.
"Since the closure of the West Seattle Bridge on March 23rd, I’ve heard every day from residents and businesses that are hurting, their lives and businesses disrupted," Herbold said. "I’ve heard consistently from D1 constituents that restoring safe access as quickly as possible is the highest priority. I agree repairing the bridge is the best approach to restore safe access as quickly as possible."
Durkan said she relied on the principles in her final decision: safety, speed and certainty. A replacement option would take longer to complete and cost significantly more. The Seattle Times reports repairing the span will cost about $47 million, versus a new steel-arch bridge that could cost up to $522 million.
The repairs are a temporary solution, officials said, and the bridge will require a permanent replacement within 15 to 40 years. As Sound Transit explores options for building a light rail crossing in the next decade, Durkan said the city will work with the transit agency to determine whether that bridge could carry vehicles as well and serve as the new, permanent replacement.
The final phase of stabilization and repair work is slated to begin in early 2021 and be completed sometime in 2022.
"SDOT stands ready to drive this repair forward and reconnect West Seattle by 2022," said Sam Zimbabwe, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation. "It will take partnership and courage at all levels of government to restore travel quickly and plan for an eventual replacement that leverages all opportunities for improved connectivity, but I know, together, we can continue on this path and on this timeline."