New Year’s Resolution: Replace the Magnolia Bridge?

By Monica Wooton

Then

Eighteen years ago this month, the “New Year’s Mudslide” damaged the Magnolia Bridge, closing it for four months.
According to Joy Carpine-Cazzanti in “Critical Connection: Bridge to Bluff” in “Magnolia: Memories & Milestones”: “The 1997 New Year brought the most dramatic trouble the bridge had ever experienced. On Jan. 2, the backyards of six houses perched on the bluff, near the west end of the bridge,…slid…knocking out several reinforcing beams… The Seattle Times reported that approximately 20,000 cubic yards of earth moved off the bluff that day, enough to ‘fill Husky Stadium 12 feet deep.’”
Carpine-Cazzanti wrote that Frank Yanagimachi, the city project manager for the $5.2 million slide repairs, summed it up in a personal interview: “Part of that earth swept under the bridge between two support columns, taking some cross brace with it, before smashing into the [the Navy’s bachelor’s officers house]. More earth came to rest against one of the bridge’s footings…. If that footing had moved the section of the bridge that it supported, it could have collapsed.

2015-01-Magnolia-bridge-c19

Photo of the Garfield Street Bridge (now called The Magnolia Bridge) being built. 1930. Seattle Engineering Department.

“Officials closed the bridge…leaving only West Emerson Street and West Dravus Street to serve the 17,000 vehicles that used the Magnolia Bridge each day…. A paramedic was stationed in now-isolated Magnolia to respond quickly to any medical emergencies,” she continued.
Carpine-Cazzanti says supports that were …felled by the slide were part of a rehab project on the Bridge: “…By 1959, [the bridge] was showing definite signs of wear. City inspection found: …an uneven deck surface, exposed reinforcing steel, spalled and/or separated concrete, pronounced surface cracking, loss of support to suspended spans and an undulating movement of the bridge deck.
“The Seattle City Council passed an ordinance on Aug. 10, 1959, to provide $825,000 to rehabilitate the aging bridge, and extensive underbracing was done.”
In February 1999, a slide above the west-end …on-ramp of the bridge caused another two-month closure to stabilize the Queen Anne hillside above it, which had a history of serious sliding as far back as 1915.
The 2001 Nisqually earthquake damaged the bridge again, according to King County Department of Transportation: “Repairs after the 2001 earthquake included replacement of column bracing at 27 of the 81 bridge supports. Although the bridge is currently safe for motorists to use, it is vulnerable to severe damage in another seismic event. Continued deterioration has weakened the structure.”

2015-01-New-Bridge-(south)w

Photo of the Garfield Street Bridge (now called The Magnolia Bridge) being built. 1930. Seattle Engineering Department.

These events brought to light a series of questions regarding the safety and future of the Magnolia Bridge. According to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) website, a process to identify the best Magnolia Bridge replacement alternative began in October 2002. After four years of study and community input, in November 2006, SDOT selected a new bridge structure and path.
The SDOT website says: “The project is put on hold until appropriate funds have been obtained in order fully fund the final design and the construction work. SDOT continues to pursue a blend of funding sources in order to complete the final design…There is no timeline identified at this time regarding when the necessary funds will be secured. Estimated project cost as of 2007 was $262 million.”
In January 2014, KOMO-TV ran a story by Luke Duecy, saying, “One year after Seattle’s Department of Transportation listed the Magnolia Bridge third on its [sufficiency rating] priority list, the city still doesn’t have plans to tear it down and build a new bridge.”

Now

“One method of prioritizing bridges for replacement/rehabilitation is the utilization of the bridge’s sufficiency rating (SR)… The Magnolia Bridge has a sufficiency rating of 16.78 out 100,” according to SDOT project manager Kit Loo.
SDOT Road Structures manager John Buswell says SRs are not always reliable a good thing to look at because “its major function is to prioritize bridges for federal funding.” and may not accurately “identify or it may misidentify bridges” as needing replacement.
He offers, “Because of the consequence of bridge structural deficiencies, bridge engineers manage bridge safety very conservatively. Our No. 1 and highest standard is public safety. Long before a bridge becomes unsafe, the bridge is either restricted from heavy loads or closed altogether. There is conservatism built into the analytical process that is called ‘load rating’…. The Magnolia Bridge is currently load-rated for legal loads only. No over-legal vehicles are permitted to use the Magnolia Bridge. The ramps that go down from the bridge to the Pier 91 gate are posted ‘no trucks allowed.’”
Buswell is responsible for calling for a new load rating on the Magnolia Bridge to be completed late this year. He believes it is time to look at the bridge, get the latest safety information and begin to get decision-makers thinking in terms of replacement.
He added, “The entire budget for Washington state for these types of projects is only $38 million a year…in contrast to what a bridge like this will cost” [hundreds of millions].
Buswell says, “Seismically retrofitting has not been done in the many repairs this bridge has experienced, and it would most probably not perform as well as West Dravus or West Emerson in an earthquake…. The City Council knows the Magnolia Bridge is an issue. It has been on the minds of city government for some time.”
Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, who may run for reelection specifically representing Magnolia, Queen Anne and Belltown, comments: “The Magnolia Bridge serves as a primary connector… for commuters, buses, freight, businesses and residents. It is a major thoroughfare and, therefore, must be in good repair… for the thousands who cross the bridge every day… We must continue to monitor the safety of the structure… and coordinate with SDOT, WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) and federal authorities to ensure the bridge is well maintained and funded at a level that guarantees the safety of our community.” She did not respond to a question relating to replacement of the bridge.
Janis Traven, a Magnolia resident who worked on the Design Advisory Group for six years, points out, “That was possible because Sen. Patty Murray got funds… This absolutely needs to be moved along… The original premise for the new bridge design in 2002 was, ‘This bridge needs to be replaced.’”
Traven contends, “The Magnolia Bridge remains one of the most structurally insufficient bridges in the city. Magnolians are still waiting to learn what the city and Port [of Seattle] have designated as a really viable emergency route in the event of a collapse. There is neither funding or a plan to fund the needed replacement nor provide a fourth access for Magnolia, which was part of the discussion.”

Magnolia Bridge March 2014. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org Photo by Joe Mabel

Magnolia Bridge March 2014. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org Photo by Joe Mabel

Author MONICA WOOTON is a board member of the Magnolia Historical Society.
Posted in History | Leave a comment

Wooden Trestles and Concrete Viaducts: Magnolia’s Bridges

By Jeffrey Cunningham
President of the Magnolia Historical Society
November 11th, 2014

Then: Today, there are only three ways to enter Magnolia by car, one by train and countless ways by sea. Geographically the area that lies between Magnolia Bluff and Queen Anne Hill, now known as Interbay, was a tide flat region industrialized and settled during the early part of the twentieth century. The two current vehicle entrances serving the northern part of Magnolia require lower bridges that cross rail yards. The southern route has long had a larger raised bridge to shuttle traffic in and out from the closest point to downtown. The current bridge, spanning Smith Cove, named Magnolia Bridge was formerly known as the Garfield Street Bridge. It has been in place for more than 80 years, but it was not the first bridge to service Magnolia’s southern end. During Magnolia’s early days the bridges that connected the neighborhood with the rest of the city went through various iterations.

Hal Will discusses some of the early bridges in his essay entitled “Magnolia’s Wooden Trestles” in Magnolia: Memories and Milestones. He talks about an environment in which “Seattle’s shorelines were laced with trestles.” Timber was abundant and there was much development taking place. The first one was built on Grand Boulevard in first decade of the twentieth century. This was not “The Boulevard” which is well known to all Magnolians, but this was the old name for Dravus Street. Around the year 1912 the first Garfield Street wooden trestle was built. It was in roughly the same spot that the modern bridge is, with one huge difference: it did not meet where it does today at the southwest tip of the bluff, but at 23rd Street and Newton Street; the grade was a lot less steep than it is today. A little north of the Garfield Street trestle, there was also the Wheeler Street trestle, present in pictures from 1914. This bridge extended from 15th Avenue to Thorndyke Street. It was crossed by a diagonal trestle running along Lawton Street. Imagine having two bridges serving the south side of Magnolia! That was a reality 100 years ago; it would certainly help relieve tension with the present traffic foible of the Fisherman’s Terminal overpass upgrade. There was also the little documented South Shore trestle that seems that have connected 32nd Avenue in Magnolia to the tidelands, then snaked around the shore by Smith Cove to link up with other trestles.

This 1929 photo shows the 23rd Avenue West Trestle from the left (north) and the Garfield Street Trestle from the right (east) meeting at mid-point. This route to Magnolia was about to end when the concrete Garfield Street Bridge replaced the wooden trestle during the next seven months. Seattle Municipal Archives #29360.

This 1929 photo shows the 23rd Avenue West Trestle from the left (north) and the Garfield Street Trestle from the right (east) meeting at mid-point. This route to Magnolia was about to end when the concrete Garfield Street Bridge replaced the wooden trestle during the next seven months. Seattle Municipal Archives #29360.

In Hal Will’s essay he states that the Wheeler Street trestle burned down on June 30, 1924. It was reported in the Seattle Times that the replacement would cost the city $250,000. According to Aleua Frare’s Magnolia: Yesterday and Today this was caused by a spark from a passing train. Many ideas for replacement were proposed, even one that included a tunnel from Smith Cove to 30th Street in central Magnolia. Joy Carpine, in her essay “Critical Connection: Bridge to the Bluff” in Magnolia: Memories and Milestones, reports that very shortly after the Wheeler Street Bridge burned concerned Magnolians from both the Magnolia Improvement Club and the Carleton Park Improvement Club (now known as the Magnolia Community Club) sent letters into the city lobbying for a more permanent solution. Although these bridges had only been in place for a few decades, it was clear that there were signs of decay. In October 1925 a steel and concrete bridge was proposed. A few years of planning and discussion of the shared cost between the railroad companies, the city, the Port of Seattle and private citizens ensued. Construction began on August 1929 and the Garfield Street Bridge was completed on December 22nd 1930; the total cost of construction was $774,907. This was a major contributing factor to the Village gaining prominence as the center of commerce in Magnolia. In Gary McDaniel’s essay “Fill ‘Er Up” in Magnolia: Making More Memories, he states that center of gravity shifted from the northern area of Fort Lawton down to McGraw Street: “the opening of the bridge caused the main flow of traffic through Magnolia to reverse itself; now it entered the southeast instead of the northeast.” In 1960 the Magnolia Community Club petitioned the city to officially change the name to the Magnolia Bridge and some repairs and improvements were made.

The Wheeler Street Trestle viewed from Thorndyke Avenue West at 23rd Avenue West on Magnolia looking east toward Queen Anne Hill. The intersecting trestle across mid picture is the Lawton Way Trestle. Coutesy of Neil Smith. Museum of History and Industry #1999.67.7.

The Wheeler Street Trestle viewed from Thorndyke Avenue West at 23rd Avenue West on Magnolia looking east toward Queen Anne Hill. The intersecting trestle across mid picture is the Lawton Way Trestle. Courtesy of Neil Smith. Museum of History and Industry #1999.67.7.

Aside from that little happened to the bridge until 1997, when bad landslides on both sides of the bridge caused closures and delays. In Carpine’s essay there is discussion of Colonel David O’Denius’ and his wife Nancy’s plight when they nearly lost everything when their house at the base of the bluff near Smith Cove was completely destroyed by the landslide of 1997. Fortunately they were not home at the time and their dog, appropriately named Lucky, was rescued by police. This and other landslides as well as the Nisqually Quake of 2001 did considerable damage to the bridge. I am sure many Magnolians remember the traffic nightmare that ensued in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when these events rendered the Magnolia Bridge unsafe and unusable. The Nisqually Quake closed the bridge for nearly half a year, funneling traffic to Dravus and Fisherman’s Terminal. The biotech corporation Immunex purchased land in Smith Cove with the promises of jobs and an overpass was built on Elliot Street near the base of the Magnolia Bridge. During the acquisition of the property in 2001, Immunex was purchased by a larger corporation and the boon to the economy failed to materialize.

The January 1997 mudslide swept down the hill between two of the bridge’s support columns, knocking out cross braces and filling the navy home below the bridge with debris. Courtesy of The Seattle Times.

The January 1997 mudslide swept down the hill between two of the bridge’s support columns, knocking out cross braces and filling the navy home below the bridge with debris. Courtesy of The Seattle Times.

Now: The last ten years have not been kind to the Magnolia Bridge. A quick Google search paints an unsettling picture of the precarious state that the Magnolia Bridge is languishing in. Articles with titles such as “Though Crumbling, No Replacement in Sight for Magnolia Bridge,” from kirotv.com on February 27, 2013, and “One Year Later: Is the Magnolia Bridge Still Safe?” posted on January 29, 2014 by komonews.com, demonstrate that action certainly needs to be taken to fix the current problems. According to the Kiro article, a net was installed at an undisclosed time in case of chunks of falling concrete. King County’s website states that: “Although the bridge is currently safe for motorists to use, it is vulnerable to severe damage in another seismic event. Continued deterioration has weakened the structure.” Komo reported that the bridge is inspected twice a year and patch jobs are done routinely. The bridge is currently on SDOT’s priority list for replacement, but budget woes have hindered this development.

The west end of the Magnolia Bridge showing the steel bracings added over the years. Photo by Monica Wooton, 2000

The west end of the Magnolia Bridge showing the steel bracings added over the years. Photo by Monica Wooton, 2000

Posted in Snapshot in Time, Then & Now | Leave a comment