City deicer error blamed for West Seattle Bridge mess

Transportation officials say a truck driver used twice the recommended dose of deicer.
The West Seattle Bridge: Slippery when deiced.

The West Seattle Bridge: Slippery when deiced. Photo: garann

A city truck driver applied double the recommended amount of deicer on the West Seattle Bridge last week, resulting in slick conditions that led to wrecks and a two-hour road closure, Seattle Department of Transportation officials said today.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) officials told a City Council committee that a “flusher tanker” driver dumped the liquid deicer, magnesium chloride, on the bridge at a rate of 30 gallons per mile, rather than the recommended rate of 15 gallons per mile. There were at least three accidents on the bridge, and the Seattle Police Department’s southwest precinct commander said officers saw additional fender benders that probably went unreported.

A Seattle Police Department sergeant on the scene made a decision to close the overpass around 1 p.m. last Monday, Dec. 2 so that SDOT could apply sand to the slickened roadway. The bridge reopened around 3 p.m.

“The dial was set at 30 instead of 15,” said SDOT director Peter Hahn. “It's really not that mysterious, the setting was wrong and a mistake was made.”

The manufacturer of the deicer — also known by its trade name FreezGard — says it can cause slippery conditions if used on surfaces that are warmer than 40 degrees. SDOT officials said that temperature-sensor data shows that bridge deck was about 38 degrees around the time that the truck driver applied the substance.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Transportation Committee chairman Tom Rasmussen pressed SDOT and Seattle Police Department officials about whether they were effectively using Twitter, texts and the media to inform the public about situations like the de-icing mishap.

“The public is really good about alerting people right away,” Rasmussen said.

“There was practically a moment-by-moment exchange of information going from the rest of the public to the West Seattle Blog,” he continued. “Can you connect into that kind of a system, or create that, so you can have that kind of information?”

“That’s one of the things we’re reviewing is whether there are blogs, and whether there are other resources in the city, that we need to be tapping into in the traffic management center,” said Mary Rutherford, director of SDOT's traffic management division.

Traffic management center staff members monitor the city's traffic control systems and provide information to the public using Twitter, the SDOT website and electronic signage. As it stands, Rutherford said, the center gets up and running each day at 7 a.m., and is staffed by interns and one full-time staff person. There is additional money in the 2014 budget, she said, that will allow the center to add staff and expand hours.

The first accident on the bridge was reported to the police department around 12:28 p.m. last Monday and officers arrived on the scene around 12:32 p.m., according to Southwest Precinct Commander, Joseph Kessler. “At the time they started to arrive they could see cars slipping,” he said. “Our officers, when they drove up, they were slipping also.”

With forecasts calling for several inches of sleet and hail by mid-afternoon, and freezing temperatures by 5 p.m. that day, SDOT officials made a decision to “pre-treat” the West Seattle Bridge, the Alaska Way Viaduct, the Aurora Bridge and other overpasses in the city with deicer.

“We were trying to be proactive and get ahead of what the various forecasts were telling us,” said SDOT road maintenance manger, Steve Pratt, who apologized and said that he took “100 percent” responsibility for the application rate error. SDOT's lack of action during a snowstorm is generally believed to have contributed to the defeat of Mayor Greg Nickels in the 2009 primary election.

Hahn, who is leaving his position before Mayor-elect Ed Murray takes office, reassured the council that FreezGard is safe and Pratt said that since last Tuesday SDOT has put down 9,000 gallons of the substance without any incidents. “It does work well,” Pratt said. “We’ve been using it for almost three years.”

Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


Posted Tue, Dec 10, 8:14 p.m. Inappropriate

I hate to tell the "progressive" city government of Seattle anything. We all know about their vastly inflated self-perception. So, rather than give this crew of congenital, chronic, lazy, worthless underachievers the easy solution that they would reject because they didn't think of it themselves, how about if one of these semi-literate doofuses would tear themselves away from their 488th PowerPoint presentation on "Sustainability" and secretly do a Google search to find out how cities that get a lot of snow handle it?

Hint: It involves mixing salt and brine. But the "progressives" who pretty much can't do a single thing right aren't going to want to be told. So, children, Google is your friend. Maybe someday you'll figure out how to do one single thing correctly. Just don't tell anyone that it wasn't your idea.

p.s.: To quote a famous singer: "It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe." Seattle's local government runs a terrible school system. It can't be bothered to fix its streets. Its police force isn't allowed to clean up downtown. It has failed to control traffic congestion, and in fact has overtly tried to make it worse. Parks are deteriorating from lack of maintenance. The lazy city electric utility papers over its failure by jacking up rates another 25%. Seattle city government can't even get new fire stations built.

But the local government is very good at collecting taxes, paying its own salaries, covering up its pension problems, and doing corrupt deals with its cronies. In those areas, the "progressives" of Seattle are truly world class! Keeping ice off a bridge? No can do!


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Maybe if you were a little less snarky, and did your own Googling, you might know that many folks in Seattle are well aware of the salt and brine mix, and have asked for it to be used sparingly because of its impact on the environment. You also might know that one of the biggest problems around here -- as opposed to East Coast cities, or even East of the mountains -- isn't snow accumulation, but the tendency for our temperatures to fluctuate rapidly and back and forth across freezing levels. This actually makes SAND some times much more useful around here.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:02 p.m. Inappropriate

We live next to a big body of salt water. People who don't want salt used a few times a year are typical idiot Seattle "progressives" who know absolutely nothing about anything, and like it that way. May their cars crash in the next snowfall.


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 11:32 p.m. Inappropriate

There are plenty of other areas - Denver comes to mind as one example.By the way, Seattle used to do much better in snow/ice.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, they can't do the basic things keep the streets safe. Now they want to increase the rat population and city-wide stink by moving to every other week garbage service -- less service, same price, more money to waste on "more important things". What a bunch of clowns.

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

If they do that, I absolutely promise that I will be dumping garbage at the homes of city council members. They can count on it.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

For the past few months my baseline assumption has been that the stuff you write here is a kind of long-form performance art piece (a la' Joaquin Phoenix's digression into hip-hop) where the goal is to achieve a score of "infinity" in a ratio where the numerator is (Bombast*Grandiosity*Certainty) and the denominator is (Knowldedge*Accuracy*Analytical Quality).

The bit about plastics not being a marine toxics issue and now using salt on roads as not a freshwater aquatic problem, let alone any of the actual regulations that govern the practice was one of the better installations, but the last post I read positing an empirical association produce flown in from Chile and a low carbon footprint, and a few others I've forgotten, can potentially take you marginally closer to infinity on the performance-index if you apply yourself.

The odds are high that some of your best work is ahead of you, and I'll check back in a few days (or hours!) to see how the latest pieces stack up.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 7:13 p.m. Inappropriate

You're a great example of Seattle "progressive" willful idiocy. Really, you are.

First off, I never wrote that plastics aren't a marine toxicity issue. But that didn't stop you from lying about it. That's par for the course for every ideological nutcase, be it your cousin Sarah Palin or yourself.

Secondly, I actually wrote that salt water IS a groundwater issue in places where they get a lot of snow. But that didn't stop you from lying, did it? Tell me, did you go to the Republican-"Progressive" School of Lying, or does it come naturally?

Thirdly, to the extent that salt is a groundwater issue here -- which it isn't, but let's assume it for argument's sake for a second -- it would not affect much of anything, given that Seattle gets its drinking water from mountain runoff; groundwater is too deep for most plants here; and the concentrations from a handful of uses a year would be trivial.

Regulations, you say? Hey, "progressive" genius, they use road salt throughout the United States. You know, the stupid people that you actually seem to think you are superior to. The toxicity issues have been studied to death, and they still use it. This includes coastal cities. Quick, someone call the red state wingnuts in the Boston area!

And finally, the stuff that Seattle's idiot "progressive" city government puts on the roads and bridges is, in fact, salt brine. They just do it wrong, because they are too stupid and too arrogant to pick up the goddamned phone and seek advice from someone who actually knows what they are doing. God help the "progressive" idiots in this city. They'd HATE to learn anything. It might actually cause an outbreak of competence, and we can't have that!

Seattle "progressives" think they know everything. The more they think they know, the dumber they are in practice. And they are plenty, plenty stupid in these parts.


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The more important things will consist of "connecting", "communicating" and "advocating". None of these will fill potholes either, people.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Your contributions are one verging into interpretative dance. A versatile artist indeed.

Infinity and beyond!


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 9:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Groundwater? You're out of your league again NotFan. Anyone with any concept of surface water effects, salt, runoff , and salmon knows the relationships here. Stop making an ass of yourself again.

Rather to keep silent and have people think you are an idiot the open your mouth and remove all doubt
M. Twain

Tracker - on the spot - performance art - I almost split a gut. priceless


Posted Thu, Dec 12, 1:26 a.m. Inappropriate

You "progressives" really are pretty aggressively stupid, aren't you? Can also you see Russia from where you live, just like your cousin Sarah?


Posted Thu, Dec 12, 7:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Can't see Russia but neither is any logical response - only name calling in sight.

A contiuium on the performance art spectrum - and my, you do set a high standard there. With a bit more explanation on how global warming is a ruse you could put a cherry on this art installation and move onto your next project.

Your growing fan base awaits breathlessly.


Posted Thu, Dec 12, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey, we sent your favorite "progressive" mayor back to Brooklyn. We also denied you your $60 car tab increase. You did get to put your communist on the city council, but it won't be long until she's taking the same bribes as the rest of the "progressives" there.


Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »