Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Seattle’s Montlake Bridge getting some serious work this summer

By Joe Calabro

When I first crossed the historic Montlake Bridge in Seattle, I was maybe eight years old, on my way to watch the University of Washington men's basketball team play. I noticed two things: a tall sailboat meandering down the Montlake Cut and the great big towers on either end of the bridge, straight out of a Magic Tree House book.    

Fast forward to today, regular users of the bridge might tell you they notice a couple other things: lots of unplanned maintenance and a jolting drive. 

This summer we'll begin a two-phase project to bring some love to this iconic structure, as we work to extend its life and return some of its former glory. But be forewarned: it comes with major closures.
The Montlake Bridge was originally built in 1924,
but it hasn't had major repairs since 1998.
Why now? 

In 2020, maintenance crews had to weld patches on the metal grid deck nine different times. That's a lot of upkeep and a lot of disruptions for the 60,000 vehicles that use the Montlake Bridge each day. Though this bridge is still safe for travel, our crews simply can't keep up with these maintenance needs. We maintain about 3,500 bridges around the state, many of which were built decades ago and are in need of preservation work. 

There's also an opportunity to collaborate with nearby construction. By coordinating the grid deck replacement to coincide with work that the SR 520 Montlake Project plans to do on Montlake Boulevard, we can limit effects to the community. If we were to postpone this work, we wouldn't get the same benefit.

Phase 1 means a month-long closure in August

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. Yes, I know — it's far from ideal, but this work can't wait any longer. 
One of several repairs that maintenance crews made
to the bridge deck in the last year.
Phase 2: Mechanical rehabilitation

Once the deck is replaced, crews will begin rehabilitating the bridge's mechanical systems. The Montlake Bridge is a bascule bridge; each end opens for boat traffic as needed. Key components need to be replaced to ensure the bridge opens and closes as it's supposed to. Replacing the worn 25-year-old center lock will keep each side of the bridge in alignment, making for a smooth ride and minimizing stress on the movable spans. This work will take 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.

Here's what you can expect, however you travel:

Walking or rolling: If you typically spend sunny days walking or rolling over the Montlake Cut, your August plans don't need to change. The pedestrian pathways on the east and west sides will stay open as crews replace the grid deck. In the fall, the pathways will be closed for as many as five weekends during the mechanical rehabilitation work. 
Approximately 60,000 vehicles and hundreds of pedestrians
and bicyclists use the Montlake Bridge each day.
Driving or using transit: Vehicle traffic will be prohibited during both phases of work on the Montlake Bridge. Drivers will be detoured to State Route 520 and Interstate 5. Transit will use the same detour or the University Bridge, depending on the route. King County Metro's trip planner and service advisory page will help you get around. 

Boating through the Montlake Cut: Since crews and equipment will be stationed on the bridge during the grid deck replacement in August, opening the bridge for tall boat traffic will work differently. We're working with boaters and the United States Coast Guard to work out details that will keep boats moving throughout the August work. Mariners won't be affected during the fall weekends since the bridge will be in the raised (upright) position. 
We're working with the Coast Guard and boating groups to
work out bridge opening procedures during the work.
Let's keep Montlake moving

We're working closely with the Seattle Department of Transportation, transit partners, emergency services, the University of Washington and others in Montlake to ensure traffic flows as efficiently as possible. But it won't be easy. 

To help us keep Montlake moving, stay engaged and start planning as early as you can. We will have more details to share in the coming weeks and months, so check for updates often: 


Claire said...

By "vehicles", do you mean, "motor vehicles"? Or will bicycle traffic be permitted?

Unknown said...

To whomever is responsible for this overdue rehab...Please do not allow this process to be hijacked by any group to be used as yet another political platform...with au currant signs or symbols, new color schemes... or worse - more demonstrations about one group or another's "oppression." It will be bad enough to have to deal with the traffic mess. Bring the beautiful structure back in her full glory, but without the drama. Thank you.

Gar LaSalle

WSDOT said...


Motor vehicles will be prohibited during the August closure for grid deck replacement but the pathways will be open for bicycles and pedestrians during that time. All access will be restricted during the fall weekend closures because the bridge will be raised. Thanks for the clarification.

jno62 said...

I'm assuming Metro will have to do some reroutes? Do you know if they have started planning for this as well? Thanks.

WSDOT said...

We've been coordinating closely with transit agencies. Reroutes will likely use the University Bridge or a combination of I-5 and SR 520. King County Metro's trip planner and service advisory page will help you get around.

נגה said...

I hope this will be used as an opportunity to have the bridge raised, so it no longer needs to open and close for boats, causing horrible traffic.

Robert said...

As a morning commuter who uses the bridge, what I've noticed is that the new median strip (a yellow line) separating north vs. south bound traffic is NOT as visible as it was before. I believe the older bridge structure had reflectors placed onto the bridge's grail to guide drivers. Driving in early morning darkness, particularly when it's raining, can be rather stressful when you can't really see the yellow line. You wonder if you're going to drive too far left of the median and into the path of opposite bound traffic.

Perhaps by design there is a line in the bridge's structure that coincides with the middle of the inner lane, and I use that to guide my car in a straight line. However, for safety, I would really like a very visible median line. I would also like to see reflectors in the grail for increased visibility.

After several weeks of commuting I have come to the conclusion that WS DOT is not planning to correct this visibility issue. Perhaps the engineers are not aware of it, but I can't be the only commuter who notices this problem.

If this issue isn't corrected, would you please inform readers how to bring this potential driving hazard to the attention of WSDOT? Thank you for your time.

WSDOT said...

Robert, we are working with our contractor to have reflectors installed like it was before of the project. We don’t have a timeline yet.

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