First opened 96 years ago this June, the state says much needed work will close the busy Montlake Bridge for around a month starting late this summer. Meanwhile, there is a new rumbling of opposition to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s plans to construct a second parallel bridge as part of its ongoing 520 replacement project.
WSDOT says the planned summer 2021 construction is all about maintenance and replacing the old bridge’s key components over a month of work likely to start in August that will mean no motor vehicles crossing the span but sidewalk and boat traffic, below, continuing:
Phase 1 of this project will replace all 84 panels of the bridge’s metal grid deck, work that was last done more than 20 years ago. Construction crews will also replace two expansion joints. Here’s the rub: to tackle this level of work, we need a month-long, around-the-clock closure of the bridge to vehicle traffic in August. We’re targeting a timeframe of Aug. 9 to Sept. 3, fitting this closure between the end of Seafair and the start of the Labor Day weekend. The pedestrian pathways will stay open and boat traffic will be maintained. For the safety of workers and travelers, vehicles will be prohibited.
A second phase to rehabilitate the bridge’s mechanical systems will follow over up to five weekends this fall. “During those weekends, the bridge will be in the raised position, restricting access to anyone walking, rolling or driving,” WSDOT says.
“The pedestrian pathways on the east and west sides will stay open as crews replace the grid deck,” WSDOT says about the August work. “In the fall, the pathways will be closed for as many as five weekends during the mechanical rehabilitation work.”
The planned work comes as Seattle’s aging bridge infrastructure — especially its drawbridges — are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. “The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has identified about $7.8 million worth of urgent projects to keep the Ballard, Fremont and University steel-deck bridges, and the Spokane Street swing bridge, reliable for marine openings,” the Seattle Times reports. Meanwhile, “Seattle’s next top crisis,” the cracking West Seattle Bridge, remains closed and is on track for a $175 million 2022 reopening.
The Montlake Bridge is unusual in that it is maintained and operated by WSDOT as one of its few “movable bridges on state routes” in the city. SR-513 is a freak of a highway, contained completely within the city, connecting Montlake Montlake Boulevard and the SR 520 interchange over the Montlake Bridge to the University of Washington, past University Village before it turns northeast onto Sand Point Way to the entrance to Magnuson Park.
As part of WSDOT’s massive effort to replace the 520 bridge and add a new lid over the freeway, a small component in the huge, multi-decade project has been a proposed second Montlake Bridge that would join the first 1926-built original.
In 2019, the Seattle City Council opted not to back the plan that WSDOT said it had the money to pursue. A previous council resolution also opposed the effort but in 2019, a council committee considered backing the second bridge proposal’s potential to “increase capacity for transit and high-occupancy vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists across the Montlake Cut, while maintaining the existing number of general-purpose lanes.” That reconsideration never happened.
There are signs the fight over a second bridge might flare up again soon. In a town hall earlier this month, Sen. Jamie Pedersen cited the project as a WSDOT budget item that should be considered for cutting as the state wrestles with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.
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