Seattle’s Busiest Bridge Reopens After More Than 2 Years of Repairs

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West Seattle Bridge reopened aerial view
The high-rise West Seattle Bridge and the lower Spokane Street Swing Bridge are now reopened after rapidly growing cracks were found on girders in 2020.
City of Seattle

For two and a half years, commuters that would normally take the West Seattle Bridge have had a frustrating wait as the aging bridge underwent repairs.

Handling about 100,000 vehicles a day, rapidly growing cracks were discovered and led the mayor to close the bridge March 23, 2020.

The Seattle Department of Transportation chose Kraemer North America for the estimated $48 million project, which involved repairing the 46-year-old high-rise bridge, which crosses Harbor Island between Interstate 5 and Fauntleroy Way SW. The repairs also included the lower Spokane Street Swing Bridge, which remained opened only for emergency vehicles, city buses and freight traffic.

The city of Seattle announced September 17 that both bridges are now open to the public.

“We completed comprehensive testing before reopening the West Seattle Bridge,” the city’s website says. “The tests demonstrated that the repairs were performing as expected, and the bridge was strong enough to support the thousands of vehicles expected to cross it each day.”

Sensors have been installed under the bridge to gauge its movement to determine how well it is holding up under its load.

Mayor Jenny Durkan was faced in 2020 with the decision to repair the bridge or replace it. She chose the lower-cost repair option, which would reopen the bridge quicker. Replacement was estimated to cost between $383 million and $565 million and be completed in 2026.

The repair option is a temporary fix, anywhere from 15 to 40 years. A Seattle Department of Transportation cost-benefit analysis of the bridge choices at the time said it was not confident how long the repair would last. It also noted that replacement would still be required and would lead to eventually closing the bridge. Annual maintenance would also be required, and additional funding would be needed.

Girder cracks were initially discovered in 2013, but grew more pronounced in 2020. The city spent about $20 million before the repair project to stabilize the bridge and make emergency repairs.

In choosing the repair option, Durkan also directed the Seattle DOT to continue early design work on a replacement bridge.

A video below by the city provides more details on the final repairs: