Seattle to Get $1.4b New Portage Bay Bridge

Construction giant Skanska will be taking the lead on the project.

Source : Skanska

April 11, 2024

Author : Patty Allen

Seattle’s commute is about to get a major shakeup- in a good way. Global construction giant Skanska announced Wednesday that they’ve secured a $1.4 billion contract to replace the aging Portage Bay Bridge. The new bridge is slated for completion in 2031, which means construction crews should be getting started this August.

Why the big change? The current bridge, which connects the Eastlake and Montlake neighborhoods near Capitol Hill, opened way back in the 1960s. After decades of use, it’s getting close to its retirement age. Washington State DOT officials say its hollow concrete columns are a major risk in an earthquake, a real concern in the seismically active Pacific Northwest.

The Portage Bay Bridge sits uncomfortably close to the Seattle Fault, a major geological feature that could produce a powerful earthquake. Studies show that a major quake along this fault could cause significant damage to the existing bridge, potentially leading to collapse and isolating neighborhoods on either side. The potential for a catastrophic failure is why Skanska's project isn’t just an upgrade- it’s about protecting lives and critical infrastructure.

This isn’t just about fixing a crumbling bridge, though. Skanska plans to build a landscaped ‘lid’ over the highway, creating 3 acres of brand-new green space and walking trails for residents. Think of it as Seattle getting a mini version of its own High Line Park.

Of course, a project this massive won’t happen without some disruptions. Building a new bridge while keeping traffic flowing is a tricky task. Residents and commuters should be prepared for some lane closures, detours, and likely a whole lot of construction noise over the next few years.

This bridge replacement is part of the massive SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program, which has been tackling congestion and safety issues along this busy corridor for years. It is a long-term initiative to upgrade the SR 520 corridor from Bellevue to Seattle.

So far, successful implementations within the program include:

  • Building the world’s longest floating bridge on Lake Washington
  • Constructing smaller pontoons for the floating bridge
  • Rebuilding the highway’s Eastside segment (I-405 to Lake Washington’s eastern shore)
  • Completing the first of two west approach bridges over Union Bay

The payoff is a bridge built with modern earthquake safety standards, less traffic thanks to the new ‘lid’, and more park space in a city that loves its greens. While the next few years might be a bit bumpy, Seattle’s future looks brighter and safer.

The $1.4 billion price tag might seem steep, but the potential consequences of inaction make it worth every penny. A failed bridge wouldn’t just mean traffic snarls- it could cut off access for emergency responders, hamper recovery efforts, and cause economic losses rippling through Seattle and beyond. 

This investment in new, 

seismically safe bridges

 such as this is viewed by officials as an insurance policy, protecting the city from far greater costs down the road.

Category : Investment in Infrastructure Bridges

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