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The Closure of the West Seattle Bridge


Reliable and safe transportation is the glue of people’s daily life which encourages mass production for trade exchanges in the growing industrial world. Besides, road network connectivity remains the most reliable means of transport that connects different world regions. Furthermore, road features such as bridges determine their safety and durability in serving people’s needs. Thus, the West Seattle Bridge constructed between the years 1981 to 1984 served as the primary link between West Seattle and the rest of the parts of the City (Davis, 2020). However, this Bridge came to a closure in March 2020 due to the noticed development of rapid cracks. Therefore, the situation necessitated immediate repair amid the COVID 19 pandemic. The Bridge measured seven hundred and ninety-five meters long and had a height of 140 feet. The Bridge was renamed Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge in 2009 in honour of an instrumental council member who fostered political support during the construction. Therefore, this paper provides a comprehensive discussion of the closure of the West Seattle Bridge, the effects this action had on the people who lived around and the government’s action whether to replace or repair the whole bridge.

History of the West Seattle Bridge till its Closure

Consequently, the construction of the Bridge culminated in the increased value of the property. Likewise, there was a boom in the development due to developers designing the latest multi-family type of housing (Kuo, 2020). Traffic volumes increased in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, a long-term closure for this Bridge was pronounced on 23rd March 2020. Furthermore, emergency repairing initiatives were communicated when cracks were noticed during the routine inspections. The girder wall cracks had developed to two feet just a month, while the hollow one was seen on examination. There had been speculation back in 2014 that the shots on the Bridge developed due to the Nisqually earthquake, which occurred in 2001. Nevertheless, the city officials suspected that the heavy trucks and buses that used the Bridge contributed to the thermal expansion leading to the rapid development of cracks (Simpson, 2022). In addition, a seventh lane was added that was added several years ago contributed to the massive weight and overuse of the Bridge, leading to its ultimate cracks.

There were hidden problems in the design that was initially used to construct the Bridge, which raised eyebrows during identification and examination of the cracks. For instance, there was a leading theory that the West Seattle Bridge, which weighed 220,000 tones, underwent a gradual weakening due to the concrete’s long-term shrinking (Robinson, 2020). The concrete used in the twin girders supported the main span above the waterway in Duwamish. Nonetheless, research done by Professor John Stanton, a civil and Environmental Engineer, revealed volume loss from the creep. This phenomenon causes a high tension in the steels cables embodied in the girders. As a result, the compression and strengthening of the Bridge were significantly reduced. Besides, there was a history of the Bridge having been rammed by Freighter Chaves (Simpson, 2022). This event took place over the Duwamish West waterway.

Consequently, the Bridge was closed for automobile traffic for six years. The ship which struck the then old Bridge left it open for that period, and it was beyond repair. This project qualified to gain funds from exceptional bridge replacement federal offices (KOMO News, 2020). However, the Bridge had had several damages; thus, the funds could not wholly cater for the cost of repair. The Seattle council member Jeanette Williams lobbied for political support, which he successfully secured the additional funds.

The Bridge had been in operation until a routine inspection found out the existence of cracks suspected of developing rapidly (Simpson, 2022). Therefore, the Bridge would come to closure due to the impending and extensive damages discovered to allow sufficient time to finish bracing for the repairing project. As a result, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the repairing initiative by the City in November 2020. This project was estimated to be complete by 2022, and it would cost $47 million. This was the easiest and most cost-effective way of getting back the Bridge to its normal functions. However, there were plans of replacing the damaged sections with the steel bars, but it would have taken more time and was more costly. For instance, the replacement project was estimated to be complete in either 2025 or 2026, with an average cost of between $390 to $522 million (Kane et al., 1983). Therefore, Kreamar from North America was granted the project to repair in May 2021. The project has continuously faced challenges, including delays due to the multi-month concrete strike of workers.

A discussion of the effects of closing the West Seattle Bridge to the People Living Around the Area

The immediate closure of the West Seattle Bridge had a myriad of impacts on the people living in the City and their close neighbours. The vehicle traffic was rendered unsafe, prompting the emergency repairs programs (Simpson, 2022). The repair program was estimated to last till 2022. However, the Seattle Department of Transport (SDOT) director reported that the Bridge might not be repaired in time due to several prevailing challenges. Hence, SDOT is still working on assessing the excellent cost and the possible timeline necessary to complete the repair (Barton, 2018). The West Seattle Bridge was city-owned; thus, its closure was a great disgrace to the people who loved and depended on the Bridge to perform their economic and social activities. For instance, the most affected individuals were the natives of the West Seattle peninsula. The Bridge was the main route of accessing various parts of the City as it served over 100,000 vehicles in a single day.

The vehicles which used the Seattle Bridge opted for the Duwamish Valley through Georgetown communities along west Marginal Way and South Park (Barton, 2018). There were more worries in the alternative town where the vehicle shifted such that there was a lot of pollution. Subsequently, there was a flux in the traffic, culminating in sound polluting and overcrowding. This was a profound moment for the residents of Duwamish Valley due to the impending effects of COVID 19. Some of the health protocols to control the incidences and impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic did not effectively take their course.

In addition, residents of Duwamish Valley and Georgetown drafted a letter to the Seattle City management complaining of the detrimental effects of the ever-increasing population in their regions. The impacts were intensely felt along Michigan and Bailey streets which were the main routes (Kane et al., 1983). The increased driving speeds on the West Marginal Way increased the probability of accidents. Besides, many vehicles on the way increased traffic, thereby interfering with the transport systems in the region. Nonetheless, the cultural centre along the West Marginal Way ceased its activities. Thus, there were cases of loss of jobs due to the closure of some activities at the centre. As a result, many could not provide the basic needs to their families to lose the sources of revenue.

Access to social amenities such as hospitals and educational institutions is a fundamental right of every citizen in contemporary society. The sudden breakdown of the transport system connecting people to these facilities significantly impacted the natives of the City and the neighbourhoods (Barton, 2018). For instance, the natives of Duwamish Valley and Georgetown complained due to the inability to access grocery stores, libraries and community centres situated in Seattle City. Furthermore, all the health care facilities were located in the neighbourhood. Thus, the citizens prompted their government to begin statutory plans of having such basic facilities in their locality. Therefore, the gridlock required them to move to the City using vehicles that were time-consuming due to traffic flux.

The education sector for children was greatly affected by the closure of the West Seattle Bridge. Homeschooling became a critical issue for households not English native speakers (Kane et al., 1983). Moreover, the City of Seattle’s Duwamish Valley Action Plan of nearly 83% of students accessing free or reduced lunch was cut. Air safety is a high priority for residents. However, Seattle’s Duwamish Valley Action Plan discovered that the prevalence of Asthma had increased to 12% compared to the City, whose prevalence was at 9%. Thus, air quality issues negatively impacted children in the neighbourhood. This resulted from too many cars in South Park, which increased the rate of air pollution in public places (Barton, 2018). The poorly managed environments the waste sites of the neighbourhoods increased their contamination chances which were suspected to reduce significantly life expectancy compared to the people who dwelled in the Seattle City (Tate, 2008). Therefore, the top management of the neighbourhoods concluded that they needed to enhance their infrastructure, such as roads.

Economic sanctions in the City led to increased pressure on the available resources. Budget restraints, considerations, and prioritization of other essential needs led to a reduced supply of the primary human wants to the neighbourhoods. In addition, individual budgets were squeezed due to the COVID 19 pandemic health protocols (Yu, 1984). Therefore, the City was obligated to adjust its budget to cater to its people’s needs and appropriately extend its services to the other regions that solely depended on their supply. There have been considerably tougher moments in health care access. There were fewer health care workers in the facilities as some could not access their work station. Therefore, the health care sector faced population pressure while the clients received inadequate health care services.

Congestions remain one of the significant prevalent transport difficulties in developed and developing cities. Seattle City experienced congestion of vehicles that exceeded the threshold, especially in the parking areas (Ryan, 2020). Traffic congestion prompted the city dwellers to adopt other means of transport, most probably commuting. However, they had to endure the long distance of commuting to their work stations or service delivery. The critical factor behind the long commuting hours is attributed to residential affordability of housing and the location. Thus, there are instances of exchanging commuting time for housing affordability (Barton, 2018). This social problem faced nearly every person who resided in the City.

The other regions, such as Duwamish Valley, suffered the loss of public space due to the expansion of the roads to accommodate the increased number of vehicles. Increased traffic has adversely impacted general activities in the neighbourhoods (Merten, 2020). There is a gradual disappearance and reduction of essential public spaces such as markets and playgrounds. Furthermore, this situation influenced residents’ interactions by hindering the utilization of such public spaces (Simpson, 2022). On the other hand, citizens were subjected to increased taxes to raise more funds that would count as the additional funds for repairing the West Seattle Bridge. In addition, more funds were required to cater for health care needs as the Bridge was closed during the COVID 19 pandemic (Clark, 1982). Thus, there was a general increase in the cost of living among the vast population in Seattle City and those in the neighbourhoods.

Congestion in cities and towns is subject to increased criminal activities. Crime yields directly to the general loss in the welfare of the City. Thus, Seattle City’s policing was far from reliable due to the increased population that could not be controlled, among other subsequent challenges. Practical police functions became insufficient; hence, it could not excel in leveraging property (Clark, 1982). The West Seattle Freeway was the only effective management tool that would enhance an acceptable code of conduct.

Decision Whether to repair or rebuild the Bridge

The question as to whether to replace or rebuild the West Seattle Bridge remains a debated issue in the City. Besides, SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe affirmed that the simultaneous advancement of the pathways was an essential requirement of the City’s infrastructure. The City has several obligations in reviving the lost business activities, which was highly dependent on the citizens (Kuo, 2020). However, Durkan claimed that the City is lobbying for extra funds back up its economic systems. Besides, the City’s government promised to provide rent relief to the residents and subsidize small businesses that were greatly affected. Thus, the option as to whether the Bridge is to be replaced or repaired is dictated by the City’s economic stability (Barton, 2018). The Bridge has undergone many repairs; hence, some citizens may opt for reconstruction while others would choose repair. Therefore, the final decision lies with the city governor and the SDOT director.

In addition, the City’s act of repairing the Bridge would play a fundamental role in opening up the traffic is currently experienced in almost all neighbourhoods. The repair is estimated to last for between fifteen and forty years of the Bridge’s lifespan, and it could cost $916 million. On the other hand, a rapid replacement of the Bridge would use the latest technology to greatly enhance the durability of the Bridge for long term use. However, replacing the Bridge would take longer (Barton, 2018). For instance, replacing the whole structure would be complete by 2026. Hence, the lifespan range in cost was estimated to be between $1 billion and $1.5billion. Analysis of the cost benefits does not provide specific recommendations for whether to replace or repair the West Seattle Bridge.

There are engagements by the city council to debate the possible ways of boosting the expenditure to repair the Bridge. Thus, there would be a car-tab fee expected to raise roughly $3.6 million (Kuo, 2020). The council members have not yet agreed whether to fund the repair process or boost other economic sectors of the City. The tax levy would be active till 2024, after which any amount accrued shall be spared for the regular repair of the Bridge. Nonetheless, there are other suggestions by the public to the government to take a keen interest in the City’s climatic conditions by lobbying alternative means of driving the transfer of transit goods. There are other potential funding links, but they are not yet incorporated into the plans. The economic demands of the City and those of the neighbourhood demonstrate the need for the repair of the Bridge rather than a replacement (Kane et al., 1983). This act will enhance the opening up of stuck economic activities and raise the living standards of the citizens.

Understanding the advantages of Repairing or Rebuilding the Bridge in terms of cost

The Seattle Department of Transport outlined a well-designed framework that will be used to evaluate the looming options of replacing the Bridge or rapidly repairing it to enhance the economic open up (Simpson, 2022). Consequently, the technical advisory panel came up with six instances to help in comprehensively understanding the advantage of the two critical options. The first scenario is temporary shoring which is expected to allow traffic back to the Bridge while extending the Bridge’s safety for three years. The advantage of this act would partially open the secure connectivity with the rest of the parts of the City. Similarly, the economy would improve as people would have free travel with ease. This process is likely to restore traffic in 2022. On the contrary, temporary shoring risks further developing additional cracks to the Bridge (Kane et al., 1983). This situation increases the risk of accidents to the users of the Bridge.

The second scenario will include repairing the carbon fibres wraps and strengthening the tension. This act would help provide a firm foundation to the beams. Post-tensioning with carbon fibre wrappings adds more strength to the Bridge necessary to accommodate the weight of the vehicles using the Bridge. Repairing the carbon fibre is estimated to last for 15 years and will restore traffic in 2022. Hence, there would be a flow of products and services between the city’s accessibility to essential needs. However, carbon fibre wrappings require regular inspection for repair in the cases of damages on the Bridge. Hence, the maintenance cost is likely to increase.

Third, partial superstructure replacement would provide further strength to the Bridge. A strengthened foundation helps in allowing heavy vehicles to use the Bridge while transporting luggage. Thus, the project would restore traffic in 2022 and last for 15 years or more (Barton, 2018). The fourth strategy would be the replacement of a complete superstructure to strengthen the foundation. This strategy offers a lasting solution to the strength of the Bridge, allowing it to restore traffic in 2026. Besides, it has a potential lifespan of 75 years. The strategy is the complete replacement of the Bridge in its footprint. The durability of this strategy would be 75 years and restoring traffic in 2026. However, this would be costly and time-consuming.

Furthermore, situating the whole Bridge in its footprint gives the technicians and machinery more work, which is likely to increase the ultimate cost (Simpson, 2022). The last strategy is replacing the tunnel. This is the most effective strategy and would offer a lasting solution to the West Seattle Bridge. However, the costal charges would be so high compared to the City’s economic status.

Seattle Department of Transport and some of its advisers seemed optimistic in need to repair the Bridge in their detailed last consultative meeting. Hence, the Technical Advisory Panel further supported the retaining and, therefore, the repairing of the Bridge. However, the two options would ultimately open up the traffic to allow the everyday activities. Thus, the replacement option is the most reliable of the options as it offers a long-lasting strength to the Bridge. This option extends the lifespan of the Bridge to 75 years. The strategies of replacing the bridge or the tunnel would encourage more vehicles to use the Bridge in connecting different parts of the City for trading activities. Furthermore, replacing the superstructure would involve using the three high rise spans while reusing the same foundation (Kane et al., 1983). These strategies are effective, but they are costly and time-consuming, considering that the economic status of Seattle City was compromised by the detrimental effects of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Moreover, the Seattle Department of Transport evaluates these options with ten procedural criteria. For instance, constructability is a pivotal factor to consider when deciding whether to replace or repair the Bridge. Thus, the hired contractor must be feasible to adapt to the Environment’s constraints. Besides, Environment is an essential factor considered as it dictates the permanency or the temporariness of the Bridge. The affected town, such as Duwamish Valley Community and West Seattle, should receive equal treatment when initiating a corrective plan (Barton, 2018). This consideration considers the fundamental rights and needs of the people in the towns. Another essential criterion factored by the Seattle Department of Transport is forward compatibility. The concern evaluates the futures projections of the suggested option on the Bridge, such as the sound transit light rail.

In addition, cost and funding are critical criteria considered when choosing whether to repair or replace the Bridge (Simpson, 2022). Therefore, the availability of adequate funds and estimated capital costs for each option would best dictate the affordability and applicability of the procedure. Nonetheless, the Seattle Department of Transport considered the maintenance and operation of the options. The possibilities should provide an opportunity for easy operation, inspection and maintenance. The options should also provide mobility for a variety of goods and services. Likewise, the replacement or repair of the Bridge should ensure people can move along the Bridge without interference from vehicles (Barton, 2018). Furthermore, the ultimate option should enable regional businesses to operate, such as allowing the movement of water vessels. Seismic resilience and its safety should be achieved and feasible to withstand future conditions. Therefore, these criteria are essential in ensuring the result of the appropriate option chosen will be future proof. Thus, replacing will be the most suitable option for ensuring the effective functioning of the Bridge in the long run. The ultimate goal of the choice was to enhance the slowly dying economic activities that would improve people’s living standards.

Works Cited

Barton, Georgia. The Relationship between Music, Culture, and Society: Meaning in Music: Implications for Classroom Practice. Music Learning and Teaching in Culturally and Socially Diverse Contexts, 2018, pp. 23-41.

Clark, John, H. Foundation Design: West Seattle Bridge. Transportation Research Record, 1982.

Davis, Sarah. Cost-benefit analysis will inform City’s decision to repair or replace the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. SDOT Blog, 2020.

Kane, Thomas. A., Carpenter, James. E., Clark, John. H. Approach Spans to the West Seattle Bridge. PCI JOURNAL/November-December 1983.

KOMO News. Repair or replace? 7 options to fix West Seattle Bridge presented Wednesday. KOMO News, 2020.

Kuo, Shaun. SDOT Lays Out Six Options for West Seattle Bridge, Cost-Benefit Analysis Process in October. Online Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management, 2020.

Merten, Paxtyn. Durkan declares West Seattle Bridge closure a civil emergency, requests support. PUGET Business Journal, 2020.

Robinson, Patrick. Cost-benefit analysis on repair/replace of West Seattle Bridge discussed in Task Force meeting. Westside Seattle, 2020.

Roush, Tyler. South Park Bridge closes permanently. The Voice, vol. 29, no. , 2020, pp. 1-8.

Ryan, Dan. Losing the West Seattle Bridge. Seattle Transit Blog, 2020.

Simpson, K. Seattle Department of Transportation. Seattle, 2022.

Tate, Cassandra. Seattle Neighbourhoods: West Seattle Junction — Thumbnail History, 2008.

Yu, Ching. K. Segmental Box Girders for the High Level West Seattle Bridge. PCI JOURNAL/,  1984.


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