Thursday, April 10, 2014

The new 520 pounds its way across the Lake

Madison Parkers give bridge the stink eye

There’s literally been a lot of water under the bridge since we last wrote about the floating-bridge project.  Some of that water, unfortunately, was in the new pontoons. That design-related problem has supposedly been fixed, though at a whopping cost. WSDOT reported earlier this year that an additional $208 million will be needed to cover the cost overruns associated with repairs to the four leaky pontoons that were already on the Lake and design changes to the pontoons that were yet to be produced.  That uses up the project’s remaining reserve fund, initially pegged at $250 million. Meanwhile, the timetable for completion of the floating-bridge portion of the project has been delayed by nine months.  If the bridge is completed before spring 2016 it will be a miracle.  It was originally supposed to be drivable by July 2015.

Even when the floating bridge is completed, it will not be the end of the new 520’s woes. The southern, eastbound half of the Western Approach (that’s the two fixed bridges to be built between Montlake and the start of the floating bridge) still awaits funding, as does as the section of the roadway that will connect Interstate 5 to the two Western Approach bridges (one for eastbound and one for westbound traffic).  The northern, westbound approach bridge is funded, with construction to begin later this summer.

As a result of delays and design changes, both taxpayers and bridge users will, one way or another, be paying a lot more for the privilege--and other road projects will be denuded of funding (but thereby be developed more efficiently, in the words of the WSDOT press office).  Meanwhile, the legislature has apparently given up on trying to pass an omnibus transportation bill for the near term, WSDOT dysfunction providing a handy cover for the legislators’ inaction.  So there’ve been and will continue to be big implications resulting from the 520 screw-ups.

Many in Madison Park, of course, have more parochial reasons for being upset with WSDOT.  The local media has done several stories on how residents here are dealing with the noise and vibrations of 520 pile driving (apparently, not well).  That constant pounding!  And at all hours of the day and into the night--even on weekends!  More distressingly, at both the Canterbury Shores condo building and the Edgewater Apartments residents report that cracks have appeared that are possibly due to 520 construction.  It’s not clear at this point whether these problems are merely cosmetic or have structural significance.  The State will investigate (and, if necessary, compensate) once the project ends, according to WSDOT.

The near-term good news is that the pounding has apparently stopped for a while. According to a WSDOT spokesperson, pile driving related to the West Connection Bridge ended in early March, though pile removal has been underway since that time--and that, too, “can cause noise and vibration, but not nearly as much as pile installation does.”

The pilings in question were only temporary and were placed there to aid the construction of that portion of the highway that will connect the new floating bridge with the old Western Approach. This new West Connection Bridge (shown in the photos above and immediately below) is a necessity because the new floating bridge will need to channel traffic onto the old highway while the new westbound West Approach Bridge North is being constructed, along with the fact that since there’s no funding yet for the new 520's permanent, eastbound approach bridge to the west of that point (Pier 36). We’re talking about the area just off the northern shore of Madison Park.

Construction on this 1,330 foot connector bridge began last summer and will be completed in the fall of this year.  This graphic shows the progress of construction:

(click to enlarge)

The twelve piers, shown in green, are all completed, and the roadway above is now being constructed.  Pier 36 will connect directly to the new floating bridge when completed.

Also on the subject of construction progress, here’s a graphic showing the status the 77-pontoon floating structure of 520:

(click to enlarge)

As noted, there are 32 pontoons on Lake Washington.  Some of these are anchored (those shown in dark green) some are sitting on the Lake temporarily moored (light green), and some are either under construction (orange), pending transit (yellow) or yet to be built (white).  And then there’s Pontoon U, the one shown in dark green with the orange cross hatching.  That’s the remaining problem pontoon that is now being repaired.  Work on that began in early March and should be completed by the end of spring.  After that point, in theory at least, water should only be going under and around the new bridge and not literally into it.

Pontoons parked north of Madison Park

WSDOT’s 520 bridge director, Julie Meredith, reported last month that the new floating bridge is halfway to completion, with 46 pontoons produced to date and all of the bridge’s 766 concrete deck panels for the bridge's low-rise section scheduled to be out of their Kenmore production facility by fall 2015.  And with completion of the West Connection Bridge on the near horizon, it’s just possible that from the standpoint of noise, vibration, and other intrusions the worst will soon be over for Madison Parkers.

Or perhaps not.  WSDOT will begin construction of the westbound West Approach Bridge North project this summer.

Many Madison Parkers haven't enjoyed the 520 nighttime work

[All photos courtesy of WSDOT.]


  1. Can't wait! Can we close it now? Anything to turn the park back into a place for a leisurely drive and not an extended on ramp onto a highway for a select few.

  2. Excellent article, really informative!

  3. If you didn't notice, Madison Parkers give anything that is new, or different, the stink eye.

    Really excited the Arboretum ramps are going away. Eastside residents/workers are going to have to stop using Madison and Lake Washington Blvd. to get on/off the bridge. This will eliminate the long back-ups in the Arboretum and on Madison.


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