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The Daily Troll: Big questions about the 520 bridge

Washington state's history of bridge problems underlines a push for answers about the Lake Washington bridge project. Vulcan is a finalist for the Yesler Terrace housing redevelopment project.
A fragment from the infamous Galloping Gertie bridge collapse is seen in a Washington State History Museum display.

A fragment from the infamous Galloping Gertie bridge collapse is seen in a Washington State History Museum display. Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

A report by KOMO 4 TV is raising more questions about the construction of the new Highway 520 bridge, where the governor has already said she wants an independent review of the safety of the pontoons.

On Monday, KOMO broadcast an interview with a former state inspector expressing concern that the bridge is a "disaster waiting to happen." The inspector remains anonymous — his voice was distorted in the video — but KOMO also obtained an internal audit through a public records request. KOMO summed up the report as "scathing"; it cites problems with the curing of the concrete pontoons and puts forward a half-dozen recommendations for dealing with construction issues.

The state Department of Transportation hasn't been responding to KOMO Problem Solvers reporter Tracy Vedder, but the state and the contractor, Kiewit-General, are reportedly addressing construction issues. (Update on Wednesday: The state Department of Transportation said it had emailed an immediate response but KOMO apparently didn't receive it. It also points out an earlier interview with the secretary of transportation, Paula Hammond, that I missed and says it has been fully responsive. Details here.) The state has said it sees no reason to reject any of the pontoons.

Vedder said in an email that another report related to the bridge was being prepared for broadcast this evening (Tuesday).

Washington has a long history of major bridge failures, including the Galloping Gertie collapse of 1940 (the first Tacoma Narrows bridge), the 1979 sinking of the Hood Canal Floating Bridge and the 1990 breakup of the I-90 floating bridge. That doesn't mean we are headed to anything similar at Evergreen Point, but it underlines the value of asking questions early. Assuming the questions are resolved, this much is also a plus: The state is building a new bridge before waiting for another disaster.

Why you should be worried about bridge construction

Here's a video from the 1940 bridge collapse in Tacoma. It's been seen by 6 million people so far, hopefully including everyone working on bridge projects in Washington state.

Vulcan in pursuit of Yesler Terrace project

Paul Allen's name might not bring to mind images of public housing, but the Seattle billionaire's Vulcan real-estate firm is a finalist for a huge project redeveloping the lower-income housing area near downtown — and adding a mix of uses that includes upscale housing units.

In a press release, Seattle Housing Authority's executive director, Andrew Lofton, said that Vulcan, partnered with Capitol Hill Housing, is one of two finalists for the huge project, which will include up to 5,000 housing units, retail and nearly a million square feet of office space. The other team is made up of Forest City, a national real estate firm that started in Cleveland, and Jonathan Rose Companies, which also has offices across the country. 

The long process for redeveloping Yesler Terrace has been controversial from the start. (See recent articles here and here for examples.) Expect nothing less with the naming of the finalists. Lofton's statement said the finalists will be interviewed next month. Wouldn't it be nice — not to mention helpful in the soothing of the controversies — if finalists came in talking about how they would overachieve in serving the genuinely needy? 

Counting by hand to 55,000

The Washington Secretary of State's office is gearing up for a recount or two in Clark County, where two legislative races remain ultra-close. The office has set a Nov. 29 date for a legally required review of ballot security, accountability and ballot duplication procedures in the tight races.

The review sets the stage for a manual recount of the ballots in the two races, one of which looks critical to control of the state Senate. As of a mid-afternoon count update, Republican incumbent Don Benton is just 105 votes ahead of Democratic challenger Tim Probst out of 54,585 votes. 


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Nov 20, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

It would not be reasonable to trust the state DOT or their hired hands on this topic. The state DOT hid the problems with the existing 520 bridge for years. (Ask anyone who knows.)

The state DOT culture does not understand how to come clean about stuff like this. The most well known representative of that culture is DOT Secretary Paula Hammond - she was raised in it.

Governor Inslee has a chance to change government. The state DOT is a great place to start.

Jan

Posted Fri, Nov 23, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

If $2 billion dollars hadn't been spent to bury the project so that the neighbors could pretend it wasn't there, there might've been more money to spend on the 520 pontoons...you know, to make them more bouyanter?

Just axing...

jmrolls

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 6:19 a.m. Inappropriate

The original I-90 floating bridge opened in 1940. It had no
leaks and proved the viability of such bridges. In 1990 some
of the states DOT contractors managed to sink one of the pontoons
resulting in the sinking of some of the other pontoons that
were attached and therefore dragged downed verses some that broke
free and retained their buoyancy. Those few surviving I-90
pontoons still do not leak.
Way back in the 1930s the engineers had come up with ways to
insure the airtight integrity of the pontoons and found a way
to overcome the tendency of water trying to displace the trapped
air.

What happened? Did the engineers forgot the lessons taught by
the successful Lacy Murrow construction techniques, did the
construction contractor take short cuts, are they using sub
standard materials, or were the contract workers negligent?

Somehow the lessons learned over sixty years ago are being lost
during the construction of this newest floating bridge and the
officials at the DOT don't seem to give a darn about long term
viability of the bridge or public safety.

pete1427

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

We should change the name of this corrupt city to Allentown, anf formally put McGinn and the city council on Allen's payroll.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 4:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, Allen would prefer that the taxpayer's continue paying Mcginn. This saves Allen the expense of Mcginn's salary and benefits being added to the money that he pays Mcginn.

jhande

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