Marc's View: The story of the Botox Bridge and the Accidental Island
By Marc Lainhart
Historically, the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge (officially the Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge) is the City's most used bridge, carrying an average of over 100,000 cars, trucks, buses, and 25,000 bus riders a day. The bridge was officially named after Seattle council member Jeanette Williams who was paramount in securing funding and political support from Congress in DC to build a new high-rise bridge, after a ship struck and closed the old, lower bridge in 1978, giving West Seattle the new name of " The Accidental Island" for over six years before the new West Seattle Freeway was finally completed.
The new concrete high-rise bridge officially opened in 1984 and has since been a significant route for moving people and goods to and from West Seattle. Built over the Duwamish Waterway at 140 feet, the high bridge is approximately 1,300 feet long across three spans. The West Seattle Bridge is a cantilevered and segmental concrete bridge, which means that the bridge was constructed on-site, with crews building segments on either side of the piers until all the components are connected, forming the bridge as we know it today. The bridge was designed and engineered to last 75 years; so far, we have gotten 37 years, a few multi-million dollar facelifts, costly ongoing repairs, and once again, West Seattle becomes " The Accidental Island" after the complete closure in early 2020.
In early 2020 (great timing, I may add, with the start of the COVID-19 global outbreak), the West Seattle Bridge was closed in the interest of public safety due to the severe cracking spreading throughout most of the upper portion of the bridge that expands and contracts over the river. After many months of debates, daily briefings, engineering surveys, expert consulting, budgets analysis, local and federal funding and grants from DC, and neighborhood input, the City of Seattle, in November of 2020, decided to repair the bridge vs. complete replacement.
Big mistake, and here's the rub for why this will become a very costly bridge and will close yet again before it reaches the end of its 75-year lifespan. It was designed and built mostly of concrete and materials from the late 70s, and early 80's over an area with considerable temperature fluctuations causing contraction and expansion within the joints of the bridge going over the river, tidal changes for the river, and an area of the PNW known for shifting and small yearly earthquakes. Now bring in carbon fiber wrapping and epoxy crack filling for the aging and decaying concrete, let's call this “Engineering Botox” to reduce or slow down the aging process of our massive concrete bridge.
Yes, the current bridge repairs will have a more speedy process with quick access to the downtown corridor for another 10-15 years, but are we just kicking the can down the road? Are we missing the real opportunity for progressive, transformative, and long-term sustainability for how we travel to and from this little island safely with a more advanced, better engineered, and state-of-the-art high-rise bridge with bike lanes and light rail? Only a matter of time now before we once again become “The Accidental Island,” crossing over our “Botox Bridge” of concrete into Seattle. If you have ever seen the 1986 movie, The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelly Long, the vicious and expensive cycle is about to start all over again and you get the point. Or, put another way from the wise words of Spock, “highly illogical.”
Since the closure time in 2020, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has been working daily to stabilize and repair the bridge so that traffic can hopefully resume by mid-2022. The City of Seattle recently secured a contract with a local engineering company with an excellent and historical track record for complex and challenging repairs called Kraemer North America. Let us hope this doesn't turn out to be a costly episode from Seinfeld and that in the near future, our city leaders, city council members and government will have a better vision, roadmap and planning not only for our future of transportation here in the Seattle area, but when crises and emergencies like this occur (and they will), especially during one of our most transformative decades of our “Roaring 20s" for change.
"Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world." -Joel A. Barker.
The Intuitive Prospector™
“Exploration & Discovery Through Body, Mind & Spirit”