Thursday news roundup

The city inches closer to a scooter-share pilot program.


The Stranger, MyNorthwest, and Government Tech report that a plan for a pilor scooter-share program has been advanced out of committee by the City Council.

The AP and Washington Examiner cover a new petition to recall Council member Sawant.

KOMO and the West Seattle Blog (here and here) bring us the latest on the efforts to repair or replace the West Seattle Bridge.

Crosscut, West Seattle Blog, and Fox News continue the discussion of defunding SPD.

The Seattle PI covers the opposition to Mayor Durkan’s proposal for a minimum wage for Uberand Lyft drivers.

KOMO reports that a paperwork backlog at SPD is holding up the King County Prosecutor from charging protestor for violent acts.

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  1. Is Seattle really going to build an all-new bridge before they have determined what caused the first bridge to fail in a fraction of its required design life? and before they have resolved the incompetence which directly caused this problem in the first place?

    1. They have determined why it’s failing; as to the root cause, it could be one of multiple things — or likely a combination of them — and it’s probably not possible to trace it down much further without a time machine to go back and watch it happen. Forensic civil engineering simply doesn’t work that way. Such is the nature of large civil-engineering projects.

      They also haven’t decided yet whether to repair the existing one or immediately build a new one; they are still doing a cost-benefit analysis that they expect to complete this fall with a repair-vs-replace decision in October.

      As to incompetence: there is no obvious incompetence. Even if there was a design flaw in the bridge, it appears that it was designed and built according to code and best practices as of the early 1980s. That code and those best practices could have been wrong, but it hardly rises to the level of incompetence if the people designing and building the bridge were faithfully following them.

      The closest thing to incompetence I’ve seen in going through the records is that routine bridge maintenance was left undone for years — but neglected routine maintenance would not cause the kind of failure seen in the bridge.

  2. Kevin: I am a Civil Engineer. It is a guarantee that somebody screwed up the West Seattle Bridge. Public infrastructure must last a minimum of 50-75 years, depending on the structure, with limited exceptions allowed. The exceptions on the long side are dams, levees, and similarly-critical facilities where the decision has been made to provide longer-lasting structures. The exceptions on the short side are very limited and include components which are designed to wear out and can be inspected and replaced without demolishing the entire structure. Failure (or bridge closure) after only about 35 years is in fact a guarantee that somebody screwed up.

    A properly-conducted root cause failure analysis would identify the root cause(s). I did not claim there was a design flaw. I also did not claim that we would apply today’s design criteria to an older design. It may be a stuck bridge bearing which caused stresses to build up. At one point I was reading that there was a stuck bridge bearing. The purpose of a bridge bearing is to limit stresses from building up in the structure. The entire bridge has been inspected a large number of times in recent years. A structural inspector who missed something as obvious as a stuck bearing is probably incompetent or they just don’t care, or they were told not to look at it. Inspectors in public agencies get paid the same no matter what they find.

    Cost-benefit analyses are easy to adjust so they give the answer the politicians want and this is done all the time. Seattle really got the cart before the horse on this one. What do you think a bridge designer is going to recommend? They will probably recommend both repair and replacement because that is how they maximize their revenue.

    The other reason why the design is being done now is to advance the project to “shovel-ready” status so they can lobby the Feds for some funding.

    Neglected routine maintenance would be the direct result of the fact that Seattle’s leaders have decided to waste the taxpayers’ money on their social agenda instead of focusing on the fundamentals of what actually makes the City operate efficiently. You seem to be suggesting that neglected maintenance cannot be traced back to anyone’s incompetence. That is guaranteed false.

    You don’t really seem to be a person who seeks truth. I can help, but you still have to care about truth. Instead, it really looks like you have swallowed their mis-information.

    1. I appreciate your comments related to civil engineering, but keep your insults to yourself. I have spent weeks crawling through the documentation, including years of inspection reports, searching for the truth. I interviewed SDOT’s staff about this. I’ve published multiple articles on it. I am a computer scientist by training, who worked in a research lab for 17 years, so I do know a little about science, engineering, and searching for the truth. Also, my uncle was a professor of civil engineering and a recognized expert on bridge failures and I have learned much about civil engineering and bridges from him.

      The broad neglect of routine maintenance on Seattle’s major transportation structures, dating back for years, is a topic that I’ve written about. In fact, I scooped the Seattle Times’ reporters on this because I kept pressing SDOT on why so much of the routine maintenance needs listed in the West Seattle Bridge’s annual inspection reports were never addressed. Then I went through years and years of city budget documents and found that the underfunding far predates this City Council. My guess is that until I wrote about it, no one on the City Council was even aware that routine bridge maintenance was chronically underfunded. And Seattle isn’t alone; from what I have gathered, nearly every city underfunds routine maintenance.

      As for the stuck lateral bearing — which I also first reported, after it came up in an interview I conducted with SDOT staff and I pressed for more details: there are mentions of the rubber partially extruding in the inspection reports going back for several years, but no mention that it was stuck. It may be that the inspectors didn’t notice that it was stuck, but I didn’t find any obvious evidence of that. From what I have read, the first time anyone declared it to be stuck was earlier this year. It’s possible that the bearing finally stuck last year and contributed to the rapid acceleration of the cracking over the last 12 months.

      As a reminder, since it may predate when you started reading my work, here are the major articles I’ve written on the West Seattle Bridge:

  3. I appreciate your in-depth investigations which probably help to keep the current politicians honest. However, I did not intend to limit my criticism of politicians to the current city council. The money-wasting social agendas certainly go back further.

    I don’t have enough information to conclude anything about the bridge bearings, but you stated in your first response that “They have determined why it is failing” However, until there is some type of conclusion about the bearings, I don’t think the contribution of a possible bearing problem has been resolved.

    As far as I know, the cause(s) of failure are still being investigated. In Civil Engineering, we assume there is no such thing as magic. The fact is that no matter what cause(s) are ultimately determined, somebody caused it (them). Here is one way to state it: There was a person or persons assigned to provide oversight for every failure mechanism and failure mode which could have been in play. Those persons were given the authority and responsibility, and they got paid to do the job, which they failed to do. For example, the City Council gets elected and paid to allocate funding for maintenance, yet they wasted the money on their social agendas instead. Your response seems to make excuses for them and everyone else in the chain of failure.

    I guarantee that you and others need to stay on this story or everyone involved will attempt to sweep it under the rug and hope it all goes away and leaves them to their preferred agendas.

  4. The first major Puget Sound engineering catastrophe of my lifetime was Galloping Gertie, formally known as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Let’s see, what came next . . . was it the jam-up of the floater out on the Kitsap Peninsula or the pontoon that leaked on Lake Washington . . . And . . .

    The point I’m trying to make is that it sure seems like we have a lot of engineering cock-ups hereabouts, and I can’t recall anyone who ever got named As responsible for any of them. It’s like Peter Arno’s immortal cartoon, “Well, back to the old drawing board. . . .”

    We may have a statistically significant net excess of broken big stuff in these parts, but nobody’s ever going to write an Structural Engineering PhD thesis about it, because that smarty pants would be erased professionally (maybe just erased) before he hit the Print button.

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