Seattle’s 102-year-old Ballard Bridge malfunctions Sunday, forcing drivers to detour

Seattle News

The 102-year-old Ballard Bridge became stuck again Sunday afternoon, blocking drivers for more than four hours in both directions.

The bridge, closed at about 12:30 p.m., was reopened to traffic shortly after 5 p.m., according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) traffic-control center.

The malfunction came after an incident last weekend that blocked traffic on busy 15th Avenue Northwest for a half-hour. Sunday’s mishap, which left the north and south drawspan leaves at different elevations, began around 12:32 p.m. Drivers were detouring and, in some cases, made U-turns

SDOT didn’t have an immediate explanation, but spokesman Ethan Bergerson said crews were examining a technical issue that was “preventing us from completely lowering the bridge.”

The old bridge, built in 1917 to coincide with the Lake Washington Ship Canal, is often identified as needing replacement. However, the $365 million “Bridging the Gap” levy under Mayor Greg Nickels in 2007 didn’t contain reconstruction funds, nor did the $930 million “Move Seattle” levy by Mayor Ed Murray in 2015. City leaders instead chose to spread funds among many smaller projects, that could be completed more quickly to meet neighborhood demands.

The SDOT now is completing community outreach to identify options for some future replacement, though they are not funded. Options range from a high-level fixed road bridge with walkways, some 140 to 160 feet high, to a mid-height bridge that opens occasionally, to rehabilitation of the span, which is 44 feet above average water level and serves 57,000 daily vehicle trips.

The SDOT has performed seismic strengthening on many spans in recent years and is replacing a rotting timber-supported bridge on Fairview Avenue East, at the eastern shore of Lake Union. Ideally, the city needs $80 million a year to catch up on bridge maintenance rather than the approximately $17 million now allocated, chief structures engineer Matt Donahue has said.

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