West Seattle Bridge closure doubles commute time for doctor treating COVID-19 patients

WEST SEATTLE -- Traffic shrunk significantly since the stay-at-home orders were first issued, but a doctor who has been on the hospital front lines treating COVID-19 patients said her drive time has doubled ever since the West Seattle Bridge was closed.

“I’ve been working every day since February 29,” said Dr. Anne Lipke, Medical Director of the Swedish Issaquah ICU. “The days are long. Time with the kids is limited. It’s been a big a change.”

The West Seattle Bridge closed on March 23 after large cracks were found underneath the bridge between Piers 16 and 17. A spokesperson with Seattle Department of Transportation said the bridge will remain closed for the rest of 2020 and 2021.

“Right now with no traffic and the roundabout way, so going south on Marginal and picking up the First Avenue Bridge, it’s an hour for sure and that’s with no traffic,” said Dr. Lipke. “All of us are already taking pay cuts, and then to have our real estate value impacted with the difficulty of getting to work, added things like accessing childcare--it’s a lot.”

SDOT said the West Seattle Bridge and public safety is their top priority.

Inspections are happening every day, and work is continuing off-site with a newly hired contracting firm to come up with a stabilization plan.

The spokesperson said the bridge is currently stable, and the cracking has slowed significantly. Just a few days ago, the City released an emergency response plan on the chance it is needed.

In recent weeks, community members who now feel stranded on an island said city officials were not taking enough serious action to come up with a resolution sooner than 2022, the year that has been earmarked as the earliest the bridge may be able to reopen.

“Changes like this that happen to the road, and then having the city sort of not address them as not an urgent, or what feels like not an urgent problem reflects that it could happen to any neighborhood,” said Dr. Lipke.

SDOT is doing small changes to improve traffic at the biggest pinch points, and taking a look at communities all the way down in South Park and Georgetown. They acknowledge none of those will come close to the capacity and convenience the West Seattle Bridge offered to commuters.

The cause of the cracks is still under investigation, though transportation officials believe it’s likely due to a combination of factors.