Back when the West Seattle Bridge was getting built. Maybe a different design would have been better.
A proposed design for the West Seattle Bridge from 1971. Maybe they should have chosen this idea? Seattle Municipal Archives

Mayor Jenny Durkan just announced that the West Seattle high-rise bridge will be closing tonight. Talk about bad timing.

"There are concerns that the West Seattle high-rise bridge cannot safely support vehicular traffic at this time," Durkan said at an afternoon press conference.

The closure of the 36-year-old bridge will begin at around 7 p.m. tonight, will be effective until further notice, and is due to significant cracks that have recently been observed.

All of which means West Seattle is about to be a bit more socially distant than some of its residents would prefer.

Sam Zimbabwe, the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, explained that "some cracking" was noticed during inspections. "It has come on fairly suddenly," Zimbabwe said.

"The extent and the type of cracking we’ve seen has concerned our structural engineering experts to the point where removing live-load traffic from the bridge is in the best interest of public safety," he continued.

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The Spokane Street Bridge, or low-level bridge, will only be open for transit, freight, and first responders. Motor vehicle traffic will only be allowed to use West Marginal Way, 1st Ave S, and SR 509.

"There really wasn’t another choice, other than full closure of the bridge at this point," Zimbabwe said. SDOT does not have a timeline for re-opening. In the next few weeks, Zimbabwe said, there will be "a better sense," but he cautioned that this closure is not for likely to be for "a matter of weeks." A far longer time should be expected.

The high-rise bridge carries the most traffic of any city street in Seattle, Zimbabwe said. There has been about a 50 percent drop in traffic as people have been working from home due to coronavirus, but there is still demand for travel across the bridge.