520 Bridge turns 50 years old

Image: PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI

Image: PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, MOHAI

Happy birthday ol’ floater! The 520 Bridge opened 50 years ago today — August 28, 1963. On the same day that local dignitaries gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony on Lake Washington, Martin Luther King led millions in the March on Washington in DC. Unrelated facts? Not in the least.

But before getting to that, WSDOT has been celebrating 50 years of floating across State Route 520 by collecting stories about the highway. Their “520at50 Memory Lane” website and Twitter campaign allows people to write their own bits of local history:

My friends and I rode our bikes from our Ravenna homes to be a part of the festivities. We got there well before the crowds arrived and stationed ourselves in position to see the cutting close up… I do remember that my friends and I broke the ribbons before they were cut and we held them together until after the official cutting took place. Each of us had a bit of those pieces of plastic in our pockets as we rode our bikes back home that day. — David Oehler

… when my girlfriends mom let me user her Vespa scooter while my car was being repaired. I would then drive across the bridge, under construction on the Vespa. The first time the construction guys said I couldn’t go but I told them I had to get to class after visiting my girlfriend. They recognized a true romance in the making and let me cross every day for about a month until the bridge opened when I had to pay tolls like everyone else, 25 cents. — Chris Warner

Looking back, we joke that our early years at Seward School dealing with constant SR 520 and I-5 construction noise is the reason we were stunted intellectually. — Anonymous

The site has a bunch of historical photos, documents and vintage video showing the bridge under construction in the early 60s. The silent footage is worth watching for scenes of workers throwing hot rivets, burning tree stumps (is that the Arboretum?) and a cable safety gate stopping a charging dump truck before the drawspan. The gate wins. Sort of.

WSDOT has also published a more substantial history website of the corridor as part of the 520 highway replacement project: 520history.org. The site, developed in partnership with HistoryLink, broadly covers the tribes that once lived between Portage and Union Bays, the industrialization of Lake Washington and tells the more “official” history of the 1960s floating bridge construction. Lots of interesting new material there.

As commendable as these efforts to record history are, there are many stones left unturned. While there is mention of the freeway politics behind the Montlake-Medina route choice for 520 over Kirkland-Sandpoint — (Montlake’s wetlands and garbage dumps were easier obstacles to overcome) — there is nothing about the discourse of those debates including “white flight” fears of diminished property values and “social change.” And most glaringly missing from the story: the grass-roots citizens’ protest that later defeated 520’s planned successor, the R.H. Thomson Expressway through the Arboretum and Central District. Eugene Smith’s 2004 book Montlake: An Urban Eden touches on this, noting how Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton framed the city’s preferred Thomson route:

[Clinton] wrote Senator Warren Magnuson in November, 1960, to … “preserve the Arboretum as a priceless asset to the City and the State.” He acknowledged that condemnation of private property was necessary and that it would cost half a million dollars more than Plan A, as determined by city-appointed appraisers. Their report had observed that, if the right-of-way left the homes on the east side of 26th Avenue, “the present owners will tend to move elsewhere . . . [and] their replacements are apt, and almost certain, to be of a lower social stratum and will drop the quality and, hence, the value of the whole Montlake Peninsula.” Plan B, on the other hand, would produce a “very minor reduction of values in the total Montlake Peninsula [and] would more than offset the added cost of the private property acquisition.”

With Plan B, the city then demolished about a dozen homes on 26th Ave E. Hard to imagine that happening today.

Anyways — happy birthday, Bridge!

520 Bridge pontoon overruns hit $81 million, more to come

WSDOT has released cost figures for repairs and design changes to the first pontoons built for the new 520 Bridge. The bill? $81 million. So far.

From The Seattle Times:

The state’s costs are $9.9 million to fix damage to the first batch, when a poorly designed corner section broke apart at Grays Harbor; another $48.8 million to seal cracks in the first batch, including the drydock work; and $22.4 million for extra work needed to strengthen the second batch. Construction is now under way on the third of six batches at Grays Harbor.

The overruns will be paid to contractor Kiewit-General through the project’s risk reserve fund (a sort of rainy day budget provision) which currently stands at $100 million after the charges announced today. Given that the change orders for the cycle 2 pontoons in the Aberdeen casting basin were $22 million, adding similar work for cycles 3-6 could approach draining the remaining reserve. Those cost figures will be finalized later this year.

With the pontoon repairs now well under way, WSDOT expects the new floating bridge to open in late-2015 or early-2016.

Photo roundup: Pontoon W heads back out to sea

Image: @bertandpatty

Image: @bertandpatty

The new 520 Bridge is on the move again. Tugboats Westrac and West Point towed the east end “Pontoon W” back out to Elliot Bay last night, on its way to a Harbor Island dry dock for structural repairs. Of all the recent pontoon movements through the Lake Washington Ship Canal, W’s retreat made for an awkward, if not surreal, scene.

Image: @HeatherGrafK5

Image: @HeatherGrafK5

Image: @andrewbernathy

Image: @andrewbernathy

Image: @stefgg

Image: @stefgg

Also surreal, this time-lapse video showing crews digging a 25′ trench and installing a fish culvert under 520 during last weekend’s closure:







Livable Streets Mayoral Forum comes to Madison Valley, Monday July 1

How will the next Seattle mayor help solve this mess? Image: Central Seattle Greenways via WSDOT

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has put together a Livable Streets forum for Seattle’s candidates for mayor on Monday, July 1st. The event will be 90 minutes of political talk about issues facing city streets: pedestrian safety, the Bicycle Master Plan, safe routes to school, access to transit, greenery, pavement and potholes. Eight candidates are expected to attend: Mike McGinn, Peter Steinbrueck, Bruce Harrell, Ed Murray, Charlie Staadecker, Kate Martin, Joey Gray and Mary Martin.

Coming on the heels of last week’s Bicycle Urbanism Symposium and the mixed reviews bike expert John Pucher gave Seattle streets, it will be interesting to hear how the candidates respond. Pucher praised the Seattle greenway movement — optimizing low-traffic residential streets for walking and biking — but said certain arterial streets were worse than anything in Manhattan. Knowing the candidates’ attitudes toward street improvements will help Montlake residents figure out who best to lead the city through 520 replacement planning, including the $300 million Montlake Lid.

Livable Streets Mayoral Forum — Monday, July 1st — 7-8:30pm — MLK Family, Arts, Mentoring, and Enrichment Community Center, 3201 E Republican St — RSVP here

Bicycle valet available!

Construction for 520 ‘West Connection Bridge’ off Madison Park set for next month

The West Connection Bridge. Image: WSDOT

The West Connection Bridge. Image: WSDOT

How do you connect a new 6-lane floating bridge to an old 4-lane highway? That’s the challenge for the next phase of 520 construction set to begin next month — the West Connection Bridge. This will be an interim span allowing the new floating bridge to transition to the existing 520 West Approach near Madison Park.

Mowat-American A Joint Venture will build the 1,330-foot-long structure under a $22.1 million contract. Completion is expected late next summer.

WSDOT has carefully planned the 520 replacement project in phases so that each new section will function until future sections are complete. When the new floating bridge opens, it will merge its 6-new-lanes into 4-old-lanes on the Seattle side. This interim West Connection will keep traffic moving until the next phase is complete.

However, the next phase, the West Approach Bridge North (WABN), has for the moment an uncertain future. The House Transportation Budget in April sought to delay WABN’s construction start from 2014 until 2015, or until tolls are implemented across the I-90 floating bridge. The WABN phase has been unpopular in Seattle, as it would continue the new 6-lane corridor all the way to Montlake Blvd with no funding in place to complete the rest of the $1.4 billion project. Given the dire budget situation in Olympia, Seattleites are leary of a bait-and-switch leaving us with even worse traffic in Montlake.

West Connection phase (blue) with the future WABN phase (orange). Image: WSDOT

West Connection phase (blue) with the future WABN phase (orange). Image: WSDOT

The fate of WABN will be settled just as soon as a budget deal is decided in Olympia (next week?). And while the West Connection is expected to finish next summer, delays with the floating bridge pontoons may push its completion into 2015.

To learn more about the project and its parts and pieces, you can talk directly with WSDOT folks at a series of public outreach events in Seattle next week:

  • West side drop-in event: 5-7 p.m., Monday, June 24 — Montlake Branch, Seattle Public Library, 2401 24th Avenue East
  • West Connection Bridge Project pre-construction meeting: 4:30-7 p.m., Wednesday, June 26 — Madison Park Pioneer Hall. 1642 43rd Avenue East
  • West side drop-in event: 12-2 p.m., Thursday, June 27 — U.W. Magnuson Health Sciences Center, Rotunda Foyer, 1959 Northeast Pacific Street

Another 520 Bridge pontoon heading this way

20130515-215724.jpgImage: Montlaker

The second cycle of new 520 Bridge pontoons that floated out of Aberdeen last month is now on the move, with the first tugboat delivery to Lake Washington expected this afternoon between 3-6pm. The surreal sight of a 360-foot-long concrete box floating through the Ballard Locks and Montlake Cut could make tonight’s rush hour commute more interesting than usual. The other new pontoons are, for the time being, heading to various moorage sites around the state, as crews are still working to fix the cracks in the first cycle pontoons delivered to Medina last summer.


Drivers, boaters and residents around Lake Washington should be on the lookout for State Route 520 bridge pontoons moving through the lake this month.
Contractor crews will float one pontoon through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard between 3 and 6 p.m. this afternoon, Wednesday, May 15. A pontoon already on the lake will be moved from its current staging location to another location on the lake, making way for a pontoon from Aberdeen to use that staging area when it arrives on the lake later this month.

Two of the six pontoons recently constructed in Aberdeen have been towed to a moorage site in Tacoma and a third is on its way later this week. The final two pontoons from the second cycle of pontoons built in Aberdeen will remain moored in Grays Harbor until they are needed for bridge construction.

On Lake Washington, crews will prepare four pontoons from the first cycle built in Aberdeen for additional modifications recommended by an expert review panel in February. The Washington State Department of Transportation is coordinating with floating bridge contractor Kiewit/General/Manson, A Joint Venture, to finalize the details and timeline of the work.

More 520 Bridge pontoons pop out of Aberdeen

20130429-045857.jpgImage: WSDOT Flickr stream

The second cycle of pontoons for the new 520 Bridge floated out of the casting basin in Aberdeen early this morning, complete with additional post-tensioning to avoid the cracks that plagued the first cycle last year. “We have now constructed 24 out of the 77 bridge pontoons we need for the new floating bridge,” said Julie Meredith, SR 520 program director. The pontoons will be moored in Grays Harbor for inspections before being towed to Lake Washington when needed.

Despite the progress, it is not clear when the new bridge will be done. Ambitious hope for an early opening in 2014 ended with the Gregoire Governorship. WSDOT’s construction contract with Kiewit General requires a July 2015 completion, yet fixes to the first set of pontoons and additional structure for those remaining are adding unknown cost and time to the project.

WSDOT is in negotiations with its contractors for pontoon issues encountered in spring 2012 and has not made an official determination on any potential schedule effects.

Another cloud of uncertainty hangs over 520 due to the legislature’s failure to pass a transportation budget before the end of session yesterday. That work will be left for a special session, likely to begin in mid-May. Lawmakers will have to decide to press ahead with the piecemeal West Approach Bridge North, scheduled for June 2014, or wait until full funding is secured to complete the Seattle-side of 520. Seeing how an aggressive schedule has so far cost the state $100 million in avoidable mistakes — and the likelihood of a public vote to fill the $1.4 billion funding gap — there’s good reason to think a pause is in order.

520 Bridge closed this weekend

Image: WSDOT Flickr stream

The 520 Bridge will close for weekend construction tonight at 11pm and reopen Monday, April 22nd at 5am. Prepare to take the long route across I-90 if heading to or from the Eastside this weekend. The highway will be closed from Montlake Blvd to I-405.


During the closure, crews will also install new roadway lighting and drainage near 84th Avenue Northeast and begin paving the final Evergreen Point Road roadway across the new lid. The work is weather-dependent and could be delayed in the event of inclement weather. We will keep the public informed if the closure needs to be postponed.

And news for boaters:

Boaters, set your sails: SR 520 east navigation channel will be open May 2-5 for Opening Day weekend

Opening Day of boating season is right around the corner on May 4. Boaters are encouraged to be aware of the latest conditions on Lake Washington related to SR 520 floating bridge construction. Crews are constructing the new bridge, and 11 pontoons are currently on the lake along with cofferdams, barges and other equipment.

Since spring 2012, the east navigation channel near Medina has remained closed to traffic for construction, meaning vessels over 45 feet in height must use the center drawspan to navigate through the bridge.

However, there are several 2013 boating season special dates when the east navigation channel will be open to boaters:

  • May 2 to May 5 (Opening Day of Boating Season weekend)
  • May 24 to May 26 (Memorial Day weekend)
  • July 4 (Independence Day)
  • Aug. 1 to Aug. 4 (Seafair weekend)
  • Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 (Labor Day weekend)

Also, expect more pontoons to arrive from Aberdeen soon. Another float out is expected next week — this time with water tight concrete — we hope.

House Transportation amendment requires full funding for 520 construction, delays WABN

Existing + WABN phase + full 520 Replacement. Image: WSDOT

Existing + WABN phase + full 520 Replacement. Image: WSDOT

Publicola reports that an amendment to the House Transportation Bill, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen and supported by Seattle’s delegation of legislative leaders, would require full funding for the Seattle portion of the S.R. 520 Replacement and HOV Program before construction can begin.

In a reverse of the infamous “stick it to Seattle” clause in the state legislation authorizing the waterfront tunnel, the state house passed its $8.4 billion transportation budget this morning with an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pederson [sic] (D-43, Capitol Hill) that prevents construction of the western portion of the 520 bridge unless the budget includes money to fully fund the west side of the new bridge in Seattle.

Pedersen’s Seattle amendment says, in part, that:

the Washington state department of transportation shall not engage in or contract for any construction on any portion of state route number 520 between Interstate 5 and the western landing of the floating bridge until the legislature has authorized the imposition of tolls on the Interstate 90 floating bridge and/or otherfunding sufficient to complete construction of the state route number 520 bridge replacement and HOV program..

This is good news for Seattle, but it also provides a political nudge to the senate to sign off on tolling I-90, a controversial, but likely key, source of funding for the project.

“Good news for Seattle” is major news for Montlake and Madison Park. “The purpose of the amendment is to delay any construction west of Madison Park (including WABN) until the earlier of July 1, 2015 or approval by the legislature of a plan for full funding of the entire west section of the 520 project,” said Rep. Pedersen this afternoon. Should the amendment survive this legislative session, the currently planned West Approach Bridge North phase of construction would not begin as planned in June 2014.

The amendment calls for the “least amount of construction” to connect the new floating bridge now under construction to the existing West Approach:

.. the “western landing of the floating bridge” means the least amount of new construction necessary to connect the new floating bridge to the existing state route number 520 and anchor the west end of the new floating bridge.

Going forward, WSDOT could scale back the 6-lane WABN plan to merge into 4-lanes at the “western landing” rather than at the Montlake mainland. The disruptive construction through Union Bay, Foster Island and the Arboretum would be put off until the full corridor was designed, funded and shovel ready.

The amendment also gives WSDOT chance to pause and recover from the costly design errors that have plagued the floating bridge section. With an expert review of the project due later this year and a new Transportation Secretary getting established, halting the aggressive construction schedule makes good fiscal sense — especially as Mercer Island, Eastside and freight interests gather support against tolling Interstate 90.

520 News: Bridge closure weekend + project review + last anchor drop *UPDATE* Closure postponed

Images: WSDOT Flickr

WSDOT has canceled the 520 Bridge closure scheduled for this weekend due to “expected inclement weather that could affect the construction work.” The work will be made up at a later date. As you were.

Time for another 520 Bridge closure weekend. This one will be from 11pm Friday to 5am Monday — from Montlake Blvd in Seattle to I-405 in Bellevue. Plan accordingly for trips to and from the Eastside as I-90 traffic tends to get ugly when 520 shuts down. The I-90 express lanes will aim westbound on Saturday and Sunday to help folks get to events in Seattle.

Crews will shift the eastbound lanes over the weekend, so commuters should expect a new route through construction zones starting next week. “On Monday, eastbound commuters will need to pay extra attention after crossing the floating bridge,” said Brian Dobbins, construction manager for WSDOT. “The new traffic layout will take drivers under a newly built section of roadway for the first time.”

In other 520 news, WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson today announced a six month review of state mega-projects including the new 520 Bridge and Highway 99 tunnel in Seattle. This comes on the heels of “discipline letters” issued to workers responsible for design and oversight flaws in the 520 pontoons. Former WSDOT project manager Ron Paananen will lead the review, reporting on where things went wrong with 520 while also recommending changes to other projects if similar institutional problems are found.

Meanwhile, floating bridge construction continues on the lake. An important milestone will be reached during the Friday morning commute, when crews will drop the last of the massive anchors into the waters off Madison Park. Eventually cables attached to these anchors will secure the new bridge against wind and waves. Here’s a typical “fluke anchor” under construction in Kenmore.